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Movie Trailers and Gender Targets Essay

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As the marketing strategies of the movie industry have evolved over time, so too have their movie trailers. With the realization of the marketing potential of movie trailers, marketers recognize the need for such trailers to target the audiences that best suit the product – that is to say the movie – that they are trying to sell. Movie trailers that are not clearly tailored to a designated audience cannot add value to the film’s box office potential. For movie trailers to succeed in luring a film’s potential audiences properly, they must make a broad range of assumptions about the targeted demographics cinematic desires. This applies not only in terms of socio-economic standing and age bracket, but gender as well. Movie trailers do so by leveraging a film’s content and its formal qualities through various editing strategies. This paper argues that the primary trailers for two action thrillers, 2006’s 007: Casino Royale and 1994’s Speed utilizes these techniques to target men as their intended audience.

            The trailer for 1994’s Speed is arguably a more primal (not to be confused with ‘primitive’) encapsulation of male targeting in movie marketing than 007: Casino Royale. There is a focus on spectacle, with a close secondary emphasis on characterization within the trailer. The trailer’s elements can be bifurcated along explosions and chase scenes or intense, if not elementary, characterization. The principle lead of the film, Keanu Reeves plays a morally unhinged police officer named Jack Traven, and the emphasis of the trailer is upon Traven’s questionable sanity, specifically his vacant disregard for human life and personal consequence. This essentially gives the film license to exhibit the iconographic forms which Kramer (1998) maintains are central to action adventure films: “the human body as weapon” in which audiences empathize with the physical sufferings of the protagonist and subsequently revel in “triumphant violence and its attendant satisfaction” in the sadistic victory of “seeing the bad guys suffer and die.” As such, the first scenes of the trailer emphasizing Traven’s personality provide the justification for the spectacle to follow. To that extent, the trailer to Speed is simple in its agenda: target the male audience’s desire to see men in action, with women being an absent market. As such, Speed’s approach to gender targeting does not stereotype women so much as it ignores them altogether. The film’s content is essentially reduced to what great lengths Traven will go to in order to resolve situations of distress.

By contrast, 007: Casino Royale editing strategy exercises a bit more nuance. Instead of focusing on choice excerpts to highlight the most exciting moments of the film for men, it attempts to construct a loose narrative that plays to assumptions of what male moviegoers and female moviegoers want to see, but without foregoing the stereotyped construction of gender roles that is the stock and trade in Hollywood movie marketing. The principle male lead of the film is the eponymous 007, played by Daniel Craig, and is constructed as a morally ambivalent agent with little to no remorse towards killing. The principle female character, Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green, is constructed as a regal figure who gradually surrenders her professional demeanor in favor of an attraction towards 007.

007 is frequently depicted in the trailer as possessing many stereotypically masculine qualities, not just in terms of the typically male-encoded role of the action hero, but in the patterns of language and behavior that he exhibits. The trailer opens with 007 interrupting his conversation with another man by killing him in cold blood. Murder notwithstanding, 007’s penchant for disruptive interruptions reinforces the stereotyping of forceful personalities with the masculine gender, whereas females would be more liable towards cooperative interruptions (Smith & Granados, 2009).

            Smith & Granados (2009) maintain that “males are more likely than females to have a determinable job and to be shown working.” Furthermore, it is noted that females are less likely to be depicted in “positions of occupational leadership” with “discernible goals.” While Smith & Granados are speaking primarily of the roles of females in prime-time television, movie trailers are no different in this regard. While Vesper Lynd possesses a moderately prestigious occupation as an agent for Her Majesty’s Treasury, the trailer for Casino Royale, in serving as a marketing piece for the film rather than as a faithful approximation of the film’s narrative, downplays her responsibilities as a financial liaison in favor of emphasizing narrative components which appeal to the film’s intended male audience. As such, she is frequently depicted as a woman in peril and more than once depicted following 007’s lead in frantic moments. Even brief conversational excerpts depicted relegate her to situations that bring 007’s no-nonsense attitude towards killing and his rugged good looks into sharp relief.

            Thus, despite Smith & Granados report that females possess flexible gender schemas – as evidenced by the increasing professional prestige that females possess in films such as Casino Royale – the role played by Eva Green retreats from any meaningful mold-breaking by being written back into the functional role that media has consistently ordained upon women. Vesper Lynd within the trailer merely exists to emphasize the masculine qualities of 007 and subsequently soften them to create a more sympathetic masculine figure and then to surrender her strength and independence as a woman in peril who must rely on him.

            In effect, the trailer to 007: Casino Royale attempts to create a more nuanced display of gender but without threatening its appeal to male moviegoers. It does this in order to rope in the female audience that may substantially enhance the box office potential of the film. Whereas Speed focuses on one crazy cop going after one disgruntled demolitions expert as a destructive spectacle across L.A., 007: Casino Royale constructs a romance that is lightweight enough not to dilute its action thriller classification. The personal narrative then of 007 is of someone who discovers the capacity for emotion that lies underneath his chiseled personality. Just as Vesper Lynd is subservient to the advancement of 007’s character, the romantic narrative is subservient to the box office ambitions of the film itself.

            Ultimately, what the marketers of 007: Casino Royale recognize is ignoring the potential of a female audience like Speed does would be shortchanging the extremes of the box office potential of action thrillers like 007:Casino Royale’s.

REFERENCES

Smith, S. L., & Granados, A. (2009). “Content Patterns and Effects of Sex-Role Stereotyping on Television and Film.” In J. Bryant & M. B. Oliver (Eds.,), Media Effects. NY: Routledge.

Kramer, P. (1998, October) “Women First: Titanic, Action-Adventure Films and Hollywood’s Female Audience.” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 18:4 (October 1998): 599-618.

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