Introduction (get .pdf)
In these two essays I will first say what I see. For example, in a fictional advert, a child sits down to draw a picture of a house. It has some adult figures in the picture, classic potato people and a flat house with four windows. The implicit style was that of a child.
Then I'll say what the meanings are for each feature discussed, how they are communicated and what devices are used. In this example the advert has connotations of home, family, love and the need of these, as we can assume from the very fact the child has drawn this that the adult figures most likely represent its parents, and the house is their home. Empathy – putting ourselves in the child's shoes – allows us to “read” much more from the picture. Imagination allows us to fill in the blanks.
Finally I will talk about the intentions of the creator, be it artists, designers or directors. The advertiser in my example is trying to create a feeling of the child's need of family and home.
Stubbs the Zombie (Rebel without a pulse)
This video game trailer starts off like an explicit stereotyped drive-in B-movie horror flick, with all the standard things, including the football college jock and his girl in a car, overlooking the town of “Punchbowl”, at the classic American “make out” spot (out of the way of civilization, surrounded by trees which we can infer afford privacy and freedom from authority figures). The music chosen is Ben Kweller's rendition of “Lollipop” which along with the characters' head-bobbing, signifies their innocence and the innocence of the 50s era in which this trailer is set.
“Stubbs the Zombie” gets up and joins in by dancing, giving connotations of a recent' previous ‘life. The jock and the girl notice Stubbs behind them and the true nature of the game is revealed as the epitome of the word “violent”. As we see the girl get her brain eaten, the jock backs up and falls out of the car, dazing himself. As he rouses, there is an unsteady camera angle, fading in with a rippled effect. The music stops and we have a moment of peace. The music resumes with its next cheerful verse and we feel a bit more comfortable: we could infer this was a dream or similar. He goes to see if his girlfriend is O.K. As he looks over she suddenly (and startlingly) stands up, “zombified”, and she heads for him just as, “bang”, she's shot. The police have arrived.
I feel the intent of this opening scene is to lull us (especially if were an American audience) into familiar, comfortable things. The sudden and extremely graphic violence strikes a contrast with this, adding to its shock value while at the same time introducing us to the assumed genre of the game. The boyfriend's recovery from his daze is perhaps an attempt to poke fun at the horror genre a little, by using a tired ploy to lull the audience into a degree of security by giving the impression that all is well, in order to set them up for the next shock.
Stubbs is now driving the car and is backing it up in to the police car. He misses the policeman and then drives off, but first he takes out an organ which oozes green stuff and we instantly realise from its revolting appearance that this is a harbinger of something unpleasant. He throws it into the window of the police car, there's a puff of green smoke which then explodes with fire, and the consequent demise of the policemen is implied, but not seen.
The intent of this scene is to introduce us to the central character, and its use of sick humour as a counterpoint to its previous attempts to shock us, is presumably an attempt to make us laugh with relief and identify with the zombie character.
We then are told “BE the zombie…” by a voice with forced passion, implying this would be desirable and slightly mystical or does this imply ‘be the rebel' and disrespect authority? We are then shown some of the game play, which loses the flow of the trailer, although I think the intention of the director is for this to be a signifier for you to purchase the game. In a sense the inclusion of this is a splash of cold water in the face – it reminds us it is a game, (which at this point is quite welcome!) but in my opinion it lets the rest of the trailer down as apparently the game isn't actually as stylish and slick as this trailer would have us believe.
The trailer then returns to show the jock quite evidently running for his life. Stubbs catches up and hits him with the car he's still driving, and (explicitly) kills him.
The trailer wraps up with the tag-line “Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse”, signifying a link with the era and film genre of the 50s icon James Dean. I infer the intention is that we are now meant to empathise with the zombie character and wish to take his role in the game.
The film trailer “Syriana” from www.apple.com/trailers
First the Warner Bros. Pictures logo is shown in black and white, to go with the rest of the colour scheme. Slow classical piano music carries us to the next title for “Participant Productions”. The narration begins with a soft, slow paced female voice telling us a variety of gloomy statistics about oil, including the fact that oil is running out and 90% of it is in the Middle-East. The lulling voice is itself a contrast to the stark and worrying facts it conveys. The intention of this I believe is to instantly set up a discord in our minds.
As this dialog completes, we are shown George Clooney's character walking rapidly away from the background, and with a sudden “boom” and a fireball we realise he was walking briskly away from the site of an explosion. He doesn't flinch, whilst mayhem is inferred from the screams around him. From this we can assume that he was aware of the explosion and quite probably the cause of it. His relatively cool behaviour implies that he is probably quite used to explosions, and we can guess that he is likely to be in a line of work where this is routine.
This sets the tone for the rest of the trailer which is a series of rapid “sound bites” and accompanying visuals, clearly with the intention of creating pace and drama.
The “from the makers of Traffic” title is shown just after the scene with the explosion, and at this point the Arabian music starts as a sinister background while the title fades to real traffic in Washington DC. This one trick helps to link in our minds the two separate geographic locations: while we watch the American seat of power and its bustling and prosperous city, were are effectively reminded that this wealth owes much to the Arabian world.
The plot is introduced over the percussive Arabian music, and the scene for the film is laid out in a series of montages of oil refineries, desert backdrops and board rooms. This provides a vehicle for the film-makers to lay out their stall, and as a result we get a taste for the style of the film as much as the content. Where the initial juxtaposition of the explosion after the calm introduction ensured that right from the start we are aware that underhanded actions and crimes are being committed, the subsequent scenes reinforce this impression, by including violence both explicitly (as we see George Clooney's character grabbed from behind by several masked figures) and implicitly (a character approaching him threateningly with a razor just as the scene fades; a scene with some sort of targeting computer; a car chase showing men with guns etc.).
At the culmination of the trailer, the titles now sequentially build the names of the actors out of letters from previous names, implying an intellectual puzzle and linkage between the characters the actors portray. A jigsaw of words is made as the “n” from “Clooney” slips down to provide an anchor for the word “Damon” to build around. The movement of the letters is reminiscent of a draughts piece advancing down the board, implying an advancing plot or scheme, and the games played in the oil industry. This last theme was very apparent in the previous plot synopsis. The titles then result in a word grid built around words significant to the plot, all centered around the capital letter “I” – its very shape implying an oil pipeline running through the middle of the words “oil; C.I.A. lie; syriana; die; win; oil” . The word Syriana becomes picked out in red, symbolic perhaps of blood, hot desert or burning oil, and the remaining words vanish, leaving us with the title of the film, stark against a black background.
In the case of “Stubbs the Zombie” the director seems keen to inject as much humour and style as possible into the trailer, in order to convince us that this is all in fun. At the same time by borrowing its style by parodying an icon such as James Dean, the director has tried to signify the retro-style of the 50s rock ‘n' roll era, for a game which simply provides us with a gory world of violence to roam in.
‘Stubbs the Zombie' is closer to horror films such as ‘Shawn of the Dead' , “Lost boys” and “Mars Attacks” than it is is to the ‘Resident Evil' films and computer games. A horror comedy with a twist, you're playing the Zombie, a green skinned, murderous James Dean!
“Stubbs' unending thirst for gray matter will send citizens of Punchbowl screaming, and bring out the authorities in force. The bodies he eats can come back as zombies—useful for diverting the attention of cops and other enemies. What's more, Stubbs can tear off his own arm and use it to possess people, or pull gut grenades out of his own abdominal cavity. If that doesn't do the trick, he can also emit explosive bursts of flatulence that will daze any bystanders.”
Stubbs the Zombie by Peter Cohen for MacWorld
Although the game in reality is violent, as one can see from the quote from MacWorld (above), this advert gives connotation of a stylish, funny although twisted game.
This trailer does what it sets out to do as it gives the game a retro stylish persona, with its slick graphics and the new version of golden classics as the sound track, for example ‘The Chordettes' Lollipop re-worked by Ben Kweller and Mr. Sandman re-worked by Oranger. However people do not play games for sound tracks and in my opinion, the director has done a good job or selling this game, event if the game play is bad. This game is out now and seems to be doing quite well in stores.
On the other hand the film trailer for ‘Syriana' is a complete puzzle of events see quote (below).
“From the players brokering back-room deals in Washington to the men toiling in the oil fields of the Persian Gulf, a political thriller with multiple story-lines that weave together showing the human consequences of the fierce pursuit of wealth and power. As a career CIA operative begins to uncover the disturbing truth about the work he has devoted his life to, an up-and-coming oil broker faces an unimaginable family tragedy and finds redemption in his partnership with an idealistic Gulf prince. A corporate lawyer faces a moral dilemma as he finesses the questionable merger of two powerful U.S. oil companies, while across the globe, a disenfranchised Pakistani teenager falls prey to the recruiting efforts of a charismatic cleric. Each plays their small part in the vast and complex system that powers the industry, unaware of the explosive impact their lives will have upon the world.”
Peter Travers for Rolling Stone
This trailer does portray the film very well summarizing the points the story is trying to express, without giving away the stories themselves.
The idea of the many pieces making the whole is very well portrayed in the titles.
This trailer for an up and coming film with an all-star cast, should be a great success, and the trailer is a signifier for this. The small clips added together in the trailer don't give the stories away but they din interest in the mind and also give the idea of a puzzle fitting together.
Some bad points are that the idea of many stores forming one global issue is very abstract and for many people the intellectual style of the advert would mean that they were put off, when these could be the very people the director is trying to get through to with the apparent politically motivated film. These people being the average ‘Joe' voter across the world, especially in Western culture.
While on the one hand ‘Syriana' is meant to be portraying a possible future, picking up on an issue that is so strongly in peoples minds of recent years, on the other hand ‘Stubbs the Zombie' is a complete and utter fantasy, right down to the appearance in the game of hover cars (in the 50's!). However both adverts have slick graphics and are well conceived, which in my opinion just by itself succeeds in implying that the product advertised is also of similar quality.
Electronic resources (NOTE: these links where valid at time the essay was written)
Peter Cohen. (2005) Stubbs the Zombie. About Mac Publishing, LLC. [WWW] http://www.macworld.com/weblogs/gameroom/2005/12/stubbszombie/index.php
[viewed 4 January 2006]
Peter Travers. (2005) Syriana. Rolling Stone Magazine. [WWW] http://www.rollingstone.com/reviews/movie/_/id/6165451?rnd=1136398799781&has-player=true
[viewed 4 January 2006]
Syriana. (2005) Apple.com. [WWW] http://www.apple.com/trailers/wb/syriana/
[viewed 18 October 2005]
The Cinema Trailer. (2005) [WWW] http://www.stubbsthezombie.com/gallery.cfm
[viewed 18 October 2005]