While attending a midnight showing of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra last week, we got a surprisingly diverse group of trailers attached to a movie that's based on a kid's property, but has no shortage of impaled skulls and throwing stars to the eye sockets (but it's bloodless, Prince Caspian-style, so it's okay!).
The one that got the biggest rise out of the audience was that of Old Dogs, from the director of Wild Hogs (get it?) and starring Robin Williams and John Travolta as swinging bachelors suddenly saddled with kids to care for and forced, one would gather, to learn new tricks (get it?). And lo, the audience did howl, and lo, I did slouch further and further into my seat. A kid is hit in the head by a ball! Williams loses depth perception after the brats mix up his meds! Seth Green is being cuddled by a gorilla that gets angry if he doesn't sing for it! John Travolta gets pecked in the head by aggravated penguins! Sweet Charlie Chaplin's ghost, that there's a knee-slapper! Immediately after came a trailer for acclaimed director Martin Scorsese's latest thriller, Shutter Island. A spooky-looking mystery starring Leonardo DiCaprio and based on a Dennis Lehane novel, it shut the crowd right up. Booming thunder and crashing waves, flickering lights in dank hallways, Jackie Earle Haley looking freaky and Ben Kingsley looking even freakier by virtue of just being there – there were murmurs afterward of modest approval, but in a crowd filled with some little kids and mostly big ones, it was a tonal turn from which the pre-show did not recover. (The cartoonish nature of the feature itself pepped them up, though.)
My question is: at a time when the MPAA seems to be making extra-clear distinctions between what used to be appropriate for "all audiences" and what is now proper for either "appropriate audiences" or "mature audiences"* to see before their movie, how in the Sam Hill did the projectionist see fit to combine such contrasting trailers? Or, if the projectionist had been directed per studio memos (as some have told me they are), how did the studio not see that a dark drama might stand amidst broad comedies, therefore making a less welcome impression on a crowd than it normally might? Does it stand to reason that a childish-looking PG-13 film is to be blame for drawing families and grown-ups alike? Or is the real problem that Old Dogs is going to be the next Paul Blart-like blockbuster and therefore cause to weep for future generations (or maybe we should lock them up on an island with dear old Leo, for their own safety)?
Then again, knowing that the mere sight of M. Night Shyamalan's name upon the teaser for his kid-friendly adaptation of The Last Airbender caused a significant amount of groans from said crowd tells me that there may be hope for the multiplex masses yet.
*The red-band trailer for this fall's Zombieland looks like a lot of fun, and would in theory only be attached to other R-rated films, but "mature" is probably the last word I'd use to describe it. Just sayin'.