Plenty can be said about the value of silence in both a movie trailer and a full feature. Regardless, we're not really a culture that's conducive to accepting silence, particularly when nearly every movie trailer provides a tidal wave of sound or decibel level higher than when the featured movie begins. The same thing can be said for generally quieter independent movie trailers where the barrage of noise is a misplaced studio consensus of grabbing mass attention.
That's why it was a brilliant move of Sony Pictures to place elements of silence into the middle portion of the teaser trailer for this June's "White House Down." What makes that so notable is the use of silence in an action movie, which would have been deemed audience anathema by a studio executive just a few years ago. Combined with brilliant action sequences and even some lightweight moments within sheer moments of terror, "White House Down" may have to be voted as the most compelling trailer of the year so far.
So what makes those moments of silence so effective? In this case, it doesn't start off with silence (something that should still be considered), and instead goes into silent mode after seeing a few harrowing minutes of Washington, D.C. up in flames. Once those unsettling moments of destroyed D.C. landmarks are assimilated, the action sequences with Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx go mute.
Yes, it likely grabbed a lot of short attention spans seeing Tatum (as Secret Service agent John Cale) shooting a gun and not hearing a gunshot. Likewise, during sequences where Cale attempts to rescue President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), we see the requisite explosions without anything more than a musical ping that slowly builds. Of course, it then goes into a fury of sound at the end after the tension of the midsection grabs hold.
If you underestimated the power of silence in movie trailers, then you may have just seen something soon emulated. When I wrote on the subject back in 2009, I referenced the 1941 trailer for "Citizen Kane" as the greatest example ever of using quiet moments to not only garner attention, but also throw people off the trail on the plot. This isn't to say "White House Down" can hide a single detail when the basic plot outline is self-evident.
Beyond the effectiveness of silence, though, what else did the "White House Down" teaser do right? If you include the earlier mentioned comedy after moments of vivid terror, then you've also scoped out what makes this trailer so interesting. While the "Die Hard" school of filmmaking may have created one-liners within serious moments of violence, we have yet to see movies that have the same while portraying terrorism within U.S. government institutions.
Whether that goes over badly or helps sell the movie, it's a daring idea that may set a precedent. In that regard, "White House Down" may end up besting "Olympus Has Fallen" considerably in creativity if it lives up to its trailer. Even if it doesn't, let's hope for at least one other aspect: The same use of silence during action sequences in the movie itself.
Those with tinnitus from years of taking in high decibel movie sound may appreciate an approach where the visuals resonate more than what they hear.
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