The Greatest Teaser Ever Told…

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Shortly after I wrote my piece on the recent teaser trailer for Star Trek Beyond, I noticed that the film’s co-writer Simon Pegg let his own thoughts on the action-driven vignette be known.

It was very action-packed. I didn’t… Yeah. It was surprising. I find it to be kind of the marketing people saying, “Everybody come and see this film, it’s full of action and fun,” when there’s a lot more to it than that. I didn’t love it because I know there’s a lot more to the film. There’s a lot more story and a lot more character stuff, and a lot more what I would call Star Trek stuff. But you know, they’ve got to bring a big audience in. They’ve got to bang the drum. To the Star Trek fans, I’d say be patient.

(Note: if you haven’t read the Star Trek Beyond post already, scroll down the page and read through it before continuing).

Pegg’s final words asking Trek fandom for patience mirror my own advice, noting that this teaser trailer is not for you, but aimed at a different audience the studio is hoping to pull in from The Force Awakens. No harm in that. Star Trek Into Darkness was technically a success at the box office ($228m in the US on a $190m budget), but came nowhere close to the profit margin for Abrams’ Star Trek released three years earlier ($257m on a $140m budget). Ensuring the longevity of the franchise on the silver screen requires more than a competent and engaging finished product.

My call for caution regarding something as ultimately insignificant as a teaser trailer, though, reminded of how difficult such an argument can be with regards to a Star Trek movie. For most films (and film franchises, for that matter), the teaser itself is almost entirely forgotten once the next extended preview drops a few months later. It’s certainly forgotten once the movie is released, and can be judged on its own merits. Star Trek is a rare franchise for which a teaser trailer is inevitably considered to be of great worth. This is because – if you didn’t know already – one of (if not) the greatest teaser trailers ever made comes from a film in the Star Trek canon.

Behold, the teaser trailer for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, from the late spring or early summer of 1991:

Star Trek VI Teaser Trailer (be certain to watch before continuing!)

This, dear friends, is how you tease an audience for your upcoming motion picture. Not a single frame or musical cue from the actual finished product is to be found. The narrator, a gentle grandfatherly-sounding Christopher Plummer (who played the villianous General Chang in Star Trek VI) telling us of the journeys we as an audience have taken with the crew of the Enterprise. As we are invited to take one final trip with these characters, a montage of their past adventures scrolls across the screen. The camera pans out, and we come to realize that the images from episode and film are superimposed onto the body of the ship itself. An imagined starship made of literal dreams and memories of its creators and fans. The noise of the warp engines flares, and the trailer concludes with the screen shooting to black as if the Enterprise itself warps through its threshold. Text giving the release date of STA 12 R 13 D 91 ATE fills the screen, as the musical accompaniment concludes with a triumphant cadential fanfare.

Given how climactic the ending the trailer plays, one can forgive the fact that the eventual release date would turn out to be one week earlier on December 6.

What makes this piece so powerful lies in how every bit of the teaser is borrowed from the past. The superimposed scenes ranging from the second pilot episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before” to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier are only the tip of a warm and nostalgic iceberg. The sequence of the Enterprise going into warp was first created for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and later recycled for The Wrath of Khan. The music comes from the late James Horner’s closing credit crawl for Khan, also used for the opening credits of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. We have seen and heard every bit of this trailer before, whether we realize it or not. This seems paradoxical for a format predicated on “teasing” a new movie to an audience. But the sequence works because whoever created it understood what the movie was, why it was made, and who it was made for.

It still gets to me, this teaser, almost twenty-five years and an entire lifetime later. Only a handful of films will ever make a similar impact on a person. A teaser trailer, though? Seems impossible to believe.

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