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ON his way to school each morning, Tristan Rodman sees a giant billboard on the side of a building advertising "Transformers," the Michael Bay action fantasy film that hits theaters this July. You'd think that would be a good thing — advertisers love it when we spend so much time staring at their ad that we remember the product.
But Tristan, who is 13, is part of a generation with a complicated love-hate relationship with marketing. "I have to look at that billboard every day going to school, and I don't appreciate it," he said. "I've had enough."
Tristan and his friends have all sorts of strong opinions about moviegoing, which is why I got them together the other night to watch trailers for the summer's films. Unimpressed by the industry prognosticators who echo the conventional wisdom of the moment, I go to the core audience, a group of six teenagers who form our seventh annual Summer Movie Posse. Gathered at Tristan's house in the Hollywood Hills, they spent several hours dissecting 16 trailers from a variety of mass-appeal or youth-oriented films.
This year's Posse, ages 13 and 14, say they often go to a theater to be with friends, the social interaction being more important than what movie they see. Their choices are influenced by word of mouth, trailers or articles about the movie (though stories in Teen Vogue, unhappily, seem to have more influence than ones in this newspaper).
This is a generation that is instinctively wary of marketing hype. They are also well schooled in the art of deceptive salesmanship. "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer," a trailer largely made up of one long action-packed chase sequence, prompted a round of scornful hoots. "It really only showed one scene from the movie," said Ryan Ines, 14. "Why make a trailer if you're just going to show one scene, unless that's all you got?"
They were quick to notice that many of the trailers were full of quick edits and an insistent rock or techno score. After watching "Live Free or Die Hard," Tristan said: "Every trailer is like that. It has a beat or a flash of light or the screen goes dark for a second. Everything happens on the beat of the music."
With the comedies, everyone seemed to come forewarned: "It looks pretty funny," Simona Zappas, 14, said of the trailer for "Knocked Up." "But it could have all the good jokes in the trailer."
Although Hollywood continues to put great stake in the value of movie stars, these kids are more excited about such newcomers as Andy Samberg, who stars in the comedy "Hot Rod" this summer. Although Samberg is best known for "Lazy Sunday," a "Saturday Night Live" sketch that became a Web sensation, the kids rarely watch "SNL" — they're fans of Samberg from his Thelonelyisland.com comedy website. They have also, surprisingly, lost interest in Adam Sandler, once the reigning teen comedy prince. They also sneered at Nicolas Cage for being in too many awful movies and were skeptical of Brad Pitt.
As Ryan put it: "He's in the tabloids so much that it's hard to think of him as an actor anymore."
On the other hand, the boys remain fans of the Jessica babes (Alba and Biel), even though they gave low scores to the movies they appear in this summer. The older stars they liked best were Matt Damon and Don Cheadle, whom they respected for making good career choices. Everyone liked Steve Carell, even though they were lukewarm about his new film, "Evan Almighty."
The studios may be raking in millions by rolling out sequel after sequel, but if there was one common denominator about the kids' likes and dislikes, it would be the value they put on originality. The four trailers that earned the highest scores this year were from original scripts (see accompanying chart), while among the lowest scoring films — notably "Rush Hour 3" and "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" — were sequels to franchises the kids felt had overstayed their welcome.
Nobody minced words, especially when it came to bad dialogue masquerading as good taglines. After watching the "Fantastic Four" trailer, Adam Voron, 14, grumbled: "If that catchphrase 'I just bought this tux' is supposed to be cool, they're really in trouble."
Here are highlights from a very spirited discussion:
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End"
Ryan: "I know I'm going to have to see it, but I don't think I'm going to like it. It really looks repetitive. But I guess I have to go."
Adam: "It just looks horrible, so over the top, with one fight scene after another. I give it one point, mostly because Chow Yun-Fat is in it."
Simona: "We're just tired of the whole series. It feels unnecessary. They just want our money."
"Live Free or Die Hard"
Tristan: "This is the exact kind of movie 'Hot Fuzz' makes fun of. There were so many scenes that were so farfetched. I mean, you can't kill a helicopter with a car."
Ryan: "It feels really exaggerated, but I like over-exaggerated action. I'd go see it."
Simona: "I like Justin Long. He's the guy in the Mac commercials."
Tristan: "Yeah, but he's going to be stereotyped in these movies forever."
"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"
Milena Bray, 13: "I loved the book so much that I can't wait to see it on a big screen. I just hope it was better than the fourth one, which was the worst."
Simona: "I'm always worried that they're going to take out too much stuff that's really important. Everyone has a very specific idea of what things should look like from reading the books. That's why I have such a love-hate relationship with the movies. If they get one thing wrong, I go on a rampage!"
Clara Bartlett, 14: "I think you're wrong to judge it so harshly. There are a lot of people who haven't read the book, and movies are always different from books — you just can't tell the whole storyline all the time."
Milena: "I really liked it. I'm definitely going. I was laughing the whole way and I really like that guy [Michael Cera] from 'Arrested Development.' He's great."
Adam: "You always worry whether all the good jokes are in the trailer or not. And I have to admit that I'm getting a little tired of the nerd-gets-the-girl movies. Hasn't that become a total cliché by now?"
"Rush Hour 3"
Clara: "When you're on the third version of the same movie, it always feels like such a disappointment. It just feels tired."
Tristan: "It felt like it had every possible African American and Chinese stereotype in it. It looks almost hilariously bad."
Ryan: "I liked it! I know it's repetitive, but it's been so long since the last movie that you can almost forget the storyline and start over, like it's all new again."
"I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry"
Milena: "I guess I'd go see it, but only if everything else was sold out."
Simona: "Adam Sandler is just so annoying now."
Ryan: "I thought he was funny when I was little. I wonder what happened?"
Tristan: "Who knows — maybe he is still funny, to an 8-year-old."
Clara: "I have to admit that it seems pretty good, but I don't want to like it because my parents would probably like it."
Simona: "Actually, I feel really grown up when I like something my parents like."
Clara: "I remember when my dad made me watch 'Rebel Without a Cause' when Milena came over. I was so against it, just because he liked it so much, but it was pretty good. It was just embarrassing to admit that we really liked it."
Milena: "I won't go to movies with my parents. It's definitely too embarrassing."
Clara: "It's interesting that it doesn't matter so much anymore who's in the movie. When I was younger, I'd go just because Lindsay Lohan or Hilary Duff was in it. But I've learned you can have great actors, but it can still be a terrible film."
Tristan: "I still like these guys. I think our generation cares more about George Clooney than most people think. And it's pretty remarkable that Matt Damon has put together such a great career and stayed under the radar with the tabloids."
The Big Picture runs every week in Calendar. If you have questions or criticism, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
To them, `Superbad' is this year's `Talladega Nights'
When it comes to predicting the hits and misses of the summer, never underestimate a group of pop culture-savvy teenagers, who often put more sophisticated movie marketers to shame. Last year's posse, from San Fernando High School, were largely on the mark. The kids' favorite film, "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," was a big hit, as were their other picks, ranging from a surprise moneymaker like "Nacho Libre" to obvious smashes like "X-Men: The Last Stand" and "The Da Vinci Code."
And nearly all of the films ranked in their bottom five were either outright bombs or modest disappointments. (And last year was no fluke. The 2005 posse gave its lowest scores to such duds as "XXX: State of the Union" and "Bewitched.")
Here's a look at how the 2006 posse's rankings — from movies it most wanted to see to those it could do without — matched against each film's domestic box-office results.
2006 Posse's Picks Box office
"Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby"
"X-Men: The Last Stand"
"The Da Vinci Code"
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"
"The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift"
"See No Evil"
2007 Posse's Picks
Here's how this year's Summer Movie Posse rated the trailers for 16 of the summer's most anticipated films. Each trailer was graded on a 1-to-10 scale, with the highest possible score being 60.
"The Simpsons Movie"...35
"Harry Potter and the Order
of the Phoenix"...34
"Pirates of the Caribbean:
At World's End"...25
"Live Free or Die Hard"...21
"Rush Hour 3"...20
"Good Luck Chuck" ...15
"Fantastic Four: Rise of
the Silver Surfer"...12
"I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry"...9