My New Year’s Eve celebration consisted of hauling my sorry ass out to see the new Star Wars, The Last Jedi. But wait, before you take off faster than an imperial dreadnought in pursuit of the rebel command ship, this isn’t going to be about Star Wars. You’ll have to see it yourself and draw your own conclusions about that. No, what I want to talk about here are the previews that appeared, one after another, in a seemingly endless parade of things yet to come, for a full half hour before the main feature finally rolled its way onto the Imax screen at the local theater in Oldsmar, Fla., where I saw it.
We’ve been used to seeing previews – previews of coming attractions, the complete and more prosaic term for what otherwise are known as movie trailers – since time immemorial. They, along with advertisements of gaudy and over-dramatized containers of popcorn and soda pop, were the kind of thing that seemed like a lagniappe – a little something extra – we got ever since we started going to movies as kids. One, two, or three previews were what we came to expect, and that was fine.
No more. I lost count of the number of previews that paraded across the screen in advance of Star Wars. Some went on for a few minutes, others for maybe a minute or so, still others for what must have been less than that. The closer the release date, the longer the preview, which probably makes a kind of logical sense, though I didn’t see anyone taking notes about when to expect any of these future films to appear in the wild.
As this endless parade of previews rolled on it became painful to me, each time hoping the main feature was about to start, only to be hit with yet another green screen proclaiming that the following preview had been approved for . . . whatever . . . “appropriate audiences” being the most common one. After about the fifth or sixth trailer, I found myself groaning when yet another green screen appeared. And still they continued.
What really struck me, though, more than the sheer number of previews, was what they depicted which, in fact, is what motivated this posting. And that was the dystopia that, again and again, in preview after preview, was presented as the vision of the future. A future where machines gain the upper hand. Where humans and machines merge and become indistinguishable. And where odd, even extinct, creatures appear and engage in mortal combat with humans or their proxies in a quest to dominate the earth or, if not the earth, the neighborhood.
Before you assume I’m a wienie about such things, let me say that I don’t have anything in particular against dystopian fiction. I’ll even occasionally engage in such dire views of the future myself. It’s hard not to see dystopia as at least one plausible outcome of the course we’re now on. If one or two of the movies presented in the previews the other night were of dystopian futures, I would have taken that as an reasonable balance and hardly found any grounds to remark on it. But that wasn’t the case, and dark future visions occupied the overwhelming majority of the previewed films.
The other element overwhelming the balance of the previews was violence. Again, I can be a fan of violence, and I don’t mind seeing a bit of blood and gore in an action film. But repeatedly in the previews, along with the dystopia, came endless scenes of violence, conflict, use of massive force to influence the course of battles. Never mind how unrealistic some of the violence appeared to be, there it was. Even in the last preview, which was for Disney’s upcoming new Frozen film, there was a certain edginess to it.
It being an Imax theater where I saw all this, and me sitting in my preferred location just a few rows back from the front, I felt immersed in the strum und drang of the previews, as well as their equally jarring soundtracks. I have no doubt this added to the impact that the previews made on me. Still, I had to wonder what all this says about Hollywood’s view of the world, its vision for the future. Judging by those previews, the people who are producing movies these days see nothing but a bleak and foreboding future, a future where technology takes over and drives a violent society that bears little resemblance to our own, except to its worst elements. Which leads to my next question, whether Hollywood simply sees things this way, or is driven to help bring about this dark future?
What is clear, though, is that Hollywood sees the world through its own prism, and that view bears little relationship to reality, at least reality as most of us experience it. It’s true that we look to the makers of movies to create new realities, to take us out of our mundane lives if even for just a couple of hours, to make what we see on the screen larger than life. And all that is fair enough. But is the reality created one of endless dystopia, violence, and dehumanization? Is that what we have come to expect out of Hollywood? What we can expect from the future?
Next time you’re at the movies, check out the previews, and see what answers you come up with.