The Many Texts of Textless Paratexts

Curator's Note

No Minesweeper movie exists, of course, and in this respect its fake trailer is indeed a "paratext without text". In other respects, however, it refers to and feeds off a multitude of "real" texts. In fact, our awareness of these other texts is essential if we want to be able to fully enjoy the Minesweeper trailer. As well as spoofing trailer-making conventions by copying them, fake trailers parody specific movie genres, clichés or trends that happen to clog our screens at any given time. So even if the "text" the fake trailer ostensibly refers to (the movie based on the Minesweeper computer game) never got made, we hear the echoes of "texts" out there that we’re familiar with. And I’m not just talking about Minesweeper the game, but about a series of silly Hollywood ideas that were actually turned into movies (entire franchises based on certain theme-park rides or a shape-shifting toys, anyone?). Yes, we’ll find the Minesweeper trailer only funny if we know the source it’s adapting. The line, "I’m here because I’m bored," dramatically delivered by one particularly desperate sweeper, will raise chuckles because we remember playing it for just that reason – but without any immediate threat to our lives. And of course the hard-as-nails drill sergeant of An Officer and a Gentleman (and no doubt a hundred other military-themed movies) looms as large in the background as does the entire, apparently doomed genre of videogame adaptations; many of them are paid "homage" to in the trailer’s producer credit at the beginning. The real movie the trailer evokes more than any other, however, must be Battleship, based on the classic board game (and this is prophetic, as Battleship was released some five years later). The Minesweeper trailer is funny because its text doesn’t exist; it generates laughs because it plays with the absurdity of even thinking about making a feature film out of so banal a source. The Monopoly movie is currently in development. Can a little fake trailer, a paratext without a text, unwittingly have spawned an entire new breed of "absurd adaptations"?

Comments

Taylor Nygaard's picture

unwittingly spawned?

Thanks for your post Johannes. I explore very similar terrain in my post for tomorrow (analyzing another parody trailer), and I was struck by your phrasing “unwittingly spawned,” because I see these types of trailers as becoming a deliberate tool for pitching or selling a possible franchise, adaptation, or even original content. Despite being a media economy and “legitimate” platform on its own, the web is continually framed as the ultimate “testing ground” for material that can later be made into film or television franchises. You can see it with something like Awkward Black Girl or more specifically with Veronica Mars, when Rob Thomas was asked by Warner Bros. to generate a trailer prior to even the work he did for the kickerstarter campaign. Do you see the producers/viewers of this trailer as conversant in these industry practices or simply spoofing the absurdity of some properties being adapted?

Ellen McCracken's picture

Additional categories of transtextuality

Great post, Johannes. I think some of Genette’s other categories of transtextuality are useful for analyzing this fake paratext. You delineate a number of implicit intertexts available for viewers and these all depend on individual cultural “competencies” of various viewers, their recent and far off experiences, etc. Following Genette, you might group some of the implicit allusions you list into his other categories of transtextuality. Metatextuality is when a text comments on another text, sometimes critically, through an implied or explicit allusion. Architextuality is a text’s dialogue with a genre or genres. Hypertextuality is a text’s relationship to a predecessor, the transformation of an antecedent, usually without commentary (G. calls the predecessor the hypotext and the new text the hypertext). The question of residual signification also seems important. Stuart Hall, for example, wrote about the politics of signification whereby a political movement such as the Black struggle in the 1960s succeeded in overpowering the negative significations of the word black: Black is beautiful, black is powerful, etc. So in this fake trailer, where photographic representations of human beings replace the avatars of the game, how is it that viewers don’t cringe when the mines explode? Of course the parody is clear in so many ways, but the visual impact of the explosions might not work so well as humor for viewers with recent experience of realistic war movies, deaths of friends or loved ones, or simply empathy for far-off victims of mine explosions. So, you might want to discuss varying kinds of audience reception to this fake paratext.

Erik Clabaugh's picture

Perpetual Liminality

Hi Johannes, and thanks for this great post! You make a number of interesting points. However, for me, what really stood out was how your clip captures the condition of perpetual liminality that seems to characterize the “paratext without a text” (to the extent we can agree that such a thing exists).

If, returning to Victor Turner, we understand the liminal phase as one of ambiguity and transition, then we might think of the Minesweeper trailer as forever occupying this uncertain terrain. Because there is no Minesweeper film—at least not yet—this clip serves as a kind of threshold to nowhere. Its promise is perpetually unfulfilled.

Consequently, viewers are sent off in a variety of directions in search of ways to resolve this ambiguity. Ellen’s comment above illustrates this quite nicely. With no evident primary text to anchor it, this paratext forces us to grapple with its utility. In doing so, I believe we might (re)discover some of the more nuanced functions all paratexts perform.

Johannes Mahlknecht's picture

UNWITTING VS. "WITTING" TRAILERS

Hi Taylor. Hmmm, I think didn’t mean that the “Minesweeper”-trailer ACTUALLY inspired the film versions of “Battleship” and “Monopoly” (and possibly other such adaptations to come), let alone that the makers of the trailer thought that the game would be worth adapting for the big screen (in fact, I believe they would be the first to laugh in disbelief should that ever happen). And I also think that since the “Veronica Mars” kickstarter-trailer relied on a real, popular tv series and that it featured its creators and stars AND was backed by a big studio, it belongs to a different category altogether. After all, here the “honest” intent of wanting to make the (now finished) text of the paratext actually happen is evident. And this apparently new practice of producing “spec”-paratexts actually isn’t that new. To design speculative posters, and sometimes even so-called “mood trailers” prior to getting any greenlight whatsoever is a fairly common thing at markets surrounding the more famous film festivals (such as Cannes or Venice). Would-be filmmakers show them to potential producers to make their ideas for films look more attractive (images often say much more than words, after all). My brother Daniel Mahlknecht, a local film producer himself, has kindly made me aware of this practice - such markets generally being accessible only to film business people who usually have to pay a considerable entrance fee. I remember one such poster he brought back - for a project called “Doomsday Gun.” The poster, as I remember it, featured the face of a grim-looking Kevin Spacey next to the image of a huge, futuristic (and, consistent with the poster as a whole, rather trashy-looking) bazooka. I just checked and found that it actually got made as a TV movie and even features Spacey (although now Frank Langella replaces his face on the poster). So in this sense the originality of the “Veronica Mars”-kickstarter campaign only lies in the fact that the producers “went public” with the proceedings of what used to be an insider-event.

Angelina Karpovich's picture

Great post, Johannes! I was

Great post, Johannes! I was struck by how much our examples and analyses complemented each other, and my post will link back to yours and reinforce your point about the multiple intertextualities within the fake trailer genre.

Can we talk about the fake trailer genre yet?

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