Sunday, June 1, 2014


Curator’s Note:  This is a follow-up post to “100 Ways to Die in the Movies” and contains spoilers for A Million Ways to Die in the West.

In the months up to its release I’ve found myself wondering how many methods of kickin’ the ol’ bucket we were actually going to see in Seth MacFarlane’s sophomore live-action film, A Million Ways to Die in the West. If I were more of a betting man I probably would have hosted a temp site and started taking predictions with people willing to put money where their mind was. Instead, I just speculated quietly and waited patiently for its release.

Yesterday we caught a morning screening at a nearby multiplex and there I sat, pen and paper in lap, ready to tally up the various means of death. By my observation and best guesstimation we only see thirteen people die in Seth MacFarlane’s West. (That's counting the post credit nugget of a scene.) Now I’m glad I didn’t bet the sheep farm or my future children’s college funds, because I would have predicted a helluva lot more than that!

I was merely anticipating some fun with counting during this exercise, but it turned out to be more fuel for my ongoing tirade against immodest trailers. That is to say, trailers that show too much. Here we go:

It’s not that the film is guilty of false advertising (we were never going to see a million, duh) or that I just needed to witness more carnage to satisfy my bloodlust for the genre (I’m not that psychotic). The problem is that nearly half of the deaths that we witness in the film were shown in the trailers and/or promotional material, thus lessening their impact, ruining the element of surprise and significantly affecting the entertainment of those moments.

I’ve talked about my job before, which largely deals with movie trailers, I am aware that I see more of the previews than the average film-goer. I also see them more often as I frequent the theaters on a regular basis. Still, I reckon most of the people who went to see A Million Ways To Die in the West have seen at least one TV spot or trailer and have consequently had a large percentage of the deaths spoiled for them.

The film was very well marketed, including a viral series which pretty much put a spotlight on the deaths we were already seeing in the trailer. Case in point:

Wild Animals

I’d like to see a list from the studio or filmmakers. How many ways did they actually come up with. I like to imagine that there may have been a whiteboard like the one in Cabin in the Woods in the writer’s room for this film. There’s much more “ways to die” talked about in the movie than actually shown, and I’m all right with that except that those dialogue scenes are also shown in the promos. Now, let me show a list of my own.

I’ve pulled from my notes the numbered deaths that I spotted during the film. It may not be exact, and some deaths are even assumed, so I think that this is generous if anything. I have included a “T” after the death if it was included in the trailer (again, I’m being generous). While this list will obviously include spoilers I have used the ubiquitous “man” towards the end so as to protect the weightier plot details and shield interested parties from certain cameos:

1. A miner farts T
2. Gold prospector is shot
3. Ice block falls on serviceman’s head T
4. A patron is shot at the bar
5-6. Bar fight victims
7-9. Photography accident T
10. Snake oil salesman is gored by a bull T
11. Man is shot in saloon
12. Man is
13. Man is shot at fair sideshow

Those are the thirteen ways to die in the West that I spotted in the film. If you recall one that I do not have listed you have the cinematic duty and obligation to let me know about it.

Neil deGrasse Tyson claims it “showed only twenty-two.” I’d like to see his list, I think he’s mightily mistaken (maybe he’s assuming more or being more generous than even I was). I really don’t think I could’ve missed nine!

The final number here is not important, it’s the ratio (6:13) that was shown in the trailer versus the final number.

This may not seem like a big deal and few will probably care about it (or are as affected by it as me), but it’s just a stepping stone in a dangerous path to a cinema being crippled by its own marketing. Trailers and promotional material are so very important. My Trailer Round-Up is largely what started this blog to begin with. It largely led me to where I am today in my professional life. They affect our anticipation level for any given film. They can make or break any film’s pre-release buzz. There’s not a great comparison outside of film, TV and video games, but it’s as if you heard a radio advertisement for a book you were looking forward to reading and it gave away excerpts from random chapters throughout. Why are we (the consumers) letting this happen? Why are we (the manufacturers) doing this?

If anything the trouble with trailers is only getting worse. Any given blockbuster these days will have numerous trailers and they are running longer and longer. The problem is with the lack of creativity and/or excessive showoffness at distribution companies and/or trailer houses. The problem in with the demand and/or complacency of the audience. We want more. They’re happy to give us more. And we’re all the better worse for it.

A Million Ways to Die in the West (a movie I quite like by the way) is by no means an outlying incident. Recall the trailers for Neighbors and the airbag prank they give away. It’s a great physical gag with multiple payoffs in the film, but more than one of punchlines were revealed in the trailer. British film critic Mark Kermode specially complained about that particular moment being ruined for him in his review. Unfortunately, no film exists in a vacuum and in most cases it’s their own marketing that is sucking the surprise from the final product.

Do you feel there is a trailer epidemic or do you think this is not even a problem?

For more on this topic please see two Dialogues I’ve had with fellow film scholars: “Spoiler Alert” and “The Trouble with Trailers.”

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