Comparing the US and International Trailers for ‘The 33’ Reveals a Subtle Condescension to American Audiences

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If you watched the just-released domestic trailer for Patricia Reggan’s Copiapó Mining Accident-based film, The 33, you may well have dismissed the whole project for turning a complex story into a mere vessel for generalized audience inspiration. Huffington Post said the trailer will “hit you in the feels,” but it’d be more apt to say that it’ll pester your feels to feel until your feels become so jaded as to write whole pieces on a not-so-good movie trailer.

The domestic trailer almost looks to want to transparently sell The 33 as a generic, Oscar-baiting revision of the harrowing, yet truly mind-blowing, experience of 33 miners who banded together to survive 69 days underground on a couple days’ worth of provisions. (They at one point had to ration the dwindling supplies into a cookie per man every three days, and later divided one slice of peach into 33 smaller pieces). It sells The 33 as the kind of film that upstages the story’s personal, human triumphs with the overwrought swelling of The Great Big World’s melody in “Say Something,” which overtakes the trailer halfway in.

But wait, because the international trailer sells a somewhat different film, one that’s literally set to a different tune. All of the elements are there in both trailers — both feature intense foreboding, action, bureaucratic drama, and life-affirming, based-on-true-events sentimentality. But the marketing frills of the U.S. trailer go the extra mile to underscore all those elements until it resembles an expensive Lifetime specimen.

The U.S. trailer begins by introducing the soon-to-be-entombed 33 via Antonio Banderas’ character, Mario Sepúlveda, as he speaks to another miner about the latter’s wife’s pregnancy: “Did you get the sonogram yet?” he says, over footage spliced with a beautiful, sweeping shot of migrating birds. The international trailer, by contrast, begins with a more difficult image: a claustrophobic close-up shot of a long-buried Banderas reveling in water dripping onto his face.

And so the domestic trailer tries to hook the American audience with a notion of a perceived paradigm of happiness — parenthood — before alluding to the fact that that’s what’s at stake, whereas the original puts the potential tragedy and hardship forward. The international trailer then goes on to show the same pregnancy-related footage, but the placement is key: its use as the first image in the U.S. trailer doesn’t set up the story so much as it seemingly attempts to hypnotize Americans with the heartening, nuclear-familial pull of BABIES.

While the international trailer plainly says, in Spanish, that it’s “based on the true story,” in font evocative of cracked earth, we in the U.S. are told — in a golden font that looks straight out of a commercial for a local jewelry store — that we’re about to watch something “Based on the miraculous true story that captivated the world.” The implication here is that, yes, it seemingly captivated the world, but perhaps not quite as much America, since we clearly needed the reminder of it having been so captivating. Just in case we needed another reminder of the fact that these events were important, the trailer — which, being about the Chilean Mining Accident, takes place in Chile — shows footage of Anderson Cooper covering the story. Ah, Anderson Cooper, the great bridge! (It also features people watching in Times Square. Ah, Times Square, glistening center of Earth!)

It’s not that the American trailer is evading the harrowing nature of of the 69-day burial of the miners entirely; rather, it sets their ordeal up like a conventional action movie, first showing the characters in moments of sentimentality before placing them in danger. It overcompensates once it gets to the scarier moments, just as it does with the sentimentality. Note how the international trailer evokes horror through silence cut by the sudden sound of falling rock, and then note how the domestic trailer tries to amplify the moments where the mine caves in with added percussion.

Another, even more pointed sonic disparity between the two trailers is the music. The trailer aimed at worldwide audiences features the Chilean classic “Gracias à la Vida,” a song that — as its title suggests — profusely thanks life. However, it was also one of the last recordings released before its composer, Violeta Parra, committed suicide. In the trailer, the song’s background and pairing of melancholy and exaltation complicates and ultimately bolsters the notions of survival and brotherhood that arose within the blocked mine. It exalts everything beautiful about the world — landscapes, cityscapes, love and the calming passage of day and night — everything the miners were deprived of. But as a song with simultaneously suicidal implications, it also flirts with the potential ease of letting go, making the miners’ refusal to do so all the more interesting. Since the movie is, as mentioned, in English, it also gives the a needed sense of some Chilean national identity.

There’s none of that with “Say Something,” a song best known for its presence in So You Think You Can Dance. This is emblematic of a kind of minute condescension that presumes American audiences can’t connect to subtlety and multiculturalism. And this, when it happens enough, conditions Americans to be unable to connect to subtlety or multiculturalism. (This trailer really has to go the extra mile to exaggerate the Americentrism, too: the film’s already in English-for-your-comfort/comprehension/empathy).

As /Film pointed out yesterday, “the emphasis [in the domestic trailer] is on hope and empathy and the resilience of the human spirit.” Let’s not pussyfoot around: the emphasis is also on a bland, false universalism via Americanism, and it’s casually patronizing on emotional, intellectual and cultural levels. It panders to the same cultural myopia that’s led the country to have such geographic illiteracy, such a disinterest in foreign language education, and, quite relevantly, such a disregard for foreign films, often ghettoizing the world’s cinema into one category at the Academy and Golden Globe Awards.

It goes without saying that an advertisement aimed at a certain culture is going to cater to and attempt to emotionally manipulate that culture. But on occasions like this, it’s unnerving to see the ways in which American audiences are subtly condescended to. Surely Warner Bros., who’s distributing the film, based that condescension on a notion that American audiences weren’t as interested in a story of international crisis (and ultimate inspiration) as they would be an American one. And so the wheel of Americentrism turns based on minute instances like this, where other cultures are mediated for American consumption. When that’s the case, how can we expect that not to be Americans’ expectation?