Because fans should be critical, too

Immediate Thoughts on the “Korra: Book Two” Trailer

I’ve watched this trailer twice, and each time has left me with an unbearable sense of emptiness.

It wasn’t necessarily what I was seeing that made me so depressed. In fact, what I saw looked amazing. The sheer scope and beauty of the imagery made me momentarily forget that this was a preview for television animation. Hell, it almost justified co-creator/art director Bryan Konietzko’s response to accusations of white-washing, which mostly consisted of his explaining the challenges of his job as opposed to addressing the race issue head-on. Almost.

No, it wasn’t the imagery in and of itself. Rather, it was the tone and manner in which those images were presented that did me in. For the life of me, I don’t understand why the trailer had to be so damn somber. I mean, yes, every single trailer these guys have put together has been rather somber. But here’s the thing: the somberness of Avatar/Korra trailers has never been particularly exciting. And isn’t the point of a trailer to excite you for the impeding release of the proposed feature? Something that leaves you wondering things like: “I sure can’t wait to hear that line in context!” “That’s a funny/cool/bizarre image; I’ll have to see the film/show to find out what that’s about!” “This is an interesting concept! I want to see where they go with this!”

Essentially, the ideal trailer creates a kind of mystery that at once: 1) is ambiguous; and 2) perfectly conveys the tone of the work. Here are two of the most perfect trailers in the history of cinema: Dr. Strangelove and Alien.

Unfortunately, the Book Two trailer for Korra is all ambiguity, no tone or mystery. Sure, there’s the occasional image that makes you wonder what they’re getting at–I was particularly intrigued by the occasional flat background that, I know now, are the backdrop for the back story of the very first Avatar–but the overall presentation is more off-putting than inviting. If the entire series is as pleasant as this funeral march of a trailer, then I don’t want to see it.

It doesn’t help that the Track Team’s soundtrack is absolutely tuneless. Typically, they make up for their lack of melody-making skills with atmospherics, but this time they blew it. It’s beyond me whether the music was supposed to convey any mood besides “unfinished.” They’d have been better off just getting the rights for a Brian Eno track to set the trailer to. At least Eno’s tracks can provoke an emotional response of any kind.

But I’m getting sidetracked. So far, these are all just technical nitpicks that avoid the real issue: it appears that Book Two (and beyond) will be devoted to exploring the inner workings and mythology of the Avatar universe more deeply than was allowed before. And the obvious question to this is: so what?

More to the point: why I should care that the creators are exploring the minutiae of their fantasy world when–as Book One sadly proved–they weren’t even capable of deeply exploring (let alone recognizing) the underlying social theme of the single situation in their own story? (That is, of course, the issue of privilege as it pertains to Benders and Non-Benders.) Hell, they couldn’t even develop the characters in an adequate fashion.

Fantasy–any form of storytelling, really, but most especially fantasy–is only worthwhile when its emotional/intellectual core is somehow connected to the real world (and not strictly in a political sense, mind you). Sadly, Korra fails this simply prerequisite because the handling of its central conflict completely misses the point that it initially appeared to be implying.

Through all this rambling, I suppose what I’m really trying to say is I no longer trust creators Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino anymore. Despite the inclusive of more writers and directors (presumably to make the production process, rather than the creative process, easier), I can only see Book Two and beyond as a self-indulgent purgatory for everyone involved. Considering this was a trailer made specifically for Comic Con, where only the most dedicated fans go, I can only hyperbolically suspect that the rest of Korra will be an exclusionary circle jerk in which all the participants wear urban sombreros. Unless the writing is actually much better and less contradictory, I have no hope for Book Two.

That said, if I do end up watching Book Two, it will be strictly for the blog and as a critic. I hate watching something strict as a critic (this is one reason I’ve never discussed those boring Avatar comic books in an actual post).

EDIT: I want to make something clear: it’s not the trailer in and of itself that depressed me. It was the accumulative effect of the trailer and its exclusive nature, my disappointment in Book One, and a fear that Book Two would be more of the same for the next few years. That said, I did overreact; it was pretty foolish of me to get so emotional over a trailer, even if it wasn’t a particularly good one.

Also, last night, I was inspired to re-edit the Book Two trailer and set it to other music. I can’t say it’s any better than the trailer was as presented at Comic Con (there are lots of technical issues), but I had fun making it.

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13 responses

  1. Rosemon

    http://elventhespian.tumblr.com/post/55941534656/book-2-recap-part-1
    Someone’s been to the convention and has posted the recap of the first episode. I don’t really know why Korra is mad all of a sudden with Tenzin, or how Mako has now become “the perfect understanding boyfriend” via 180. Though Mako’s confusion as to how to please Korra may have something to do with the fact that David Faustino, his voice actor, says he relates to Mako because “women confuse him.” Is this even Mako, or an inconsistently written Gary Stu? Unalaq seems pretty preachy as well, though he doesn’t seem trustworthy, like Tarrlock. Somebody pointed out that Varrick and Unalaq seem like less interesting “expies” of Tahno and Tarrlock from the first book…

    July 20, 2013 at 8:01 am

  2. Jonas

    I normally agree with you man but to be honest this trailer almost gave me goosebumps. I love the look and the tone of the trailer. I agree season 1 was very flawed but I don’t mind the creators exploring more of the fantastic world they have created since that’s what you do in a good season of television. Also so far the reactions I’ve heard from the premiere are quite positive and it gives me hope that one of my favorite writers wrote the episode (Tim Hendrick).

    Anyways it’s just a trailer — and it’d be silly to assume it’d be representative of the entire season — as few trailers are.

    July 20, 2013 at 8:08 pm

  3. Dman

    The animation looks amazing! It looks more like theatrical release then mere television! I am very excited.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:47 pm

  4. rosemon

    There has been a version of episode 1 leaked, though the quality is supposed to be crappy: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B9Q8gaX2H5Q7UElyYk1rTG8zMDA/view?sle=true&pli=1

    July 21, 2013 at 9:40 am

  5. rosemon

    http://thats-not-a-toilet.tumblr.com
    If you cannot see the file, then some tumblr has already covered some highlights of the episode and provided the actual quotes as well as pictures of the episode screening.

    July 21, 2013 at 9:48 am

  6. rosemon

    Though maybe the upload and/or file might have viruses…so it’s best to look on tumblr for spoilers than downloads, but there was some ruckus about some youtuber from Britain trying to leak the episode and getting called slurs for it, even getting into trouble with Nickelodeon.

    July 21, 2013 at 9:51 am

  7. Grindal

    I agree there is a lack of focus on the trailer and it isn’t one of the finest pieces of work from the Track Team, but I don’t think that automatically means there is no hope for Book 2. Take the trailer for Book 1 of Korra, for example. Regardless of any opinion on the show, the first trailer when viewed with a knowledge of what actually happens is pretty much irrelevant. Basically a bad trailer doesn’t mean a bad show/movie, though I won’t disagree with you that it wasn’t a great trailer. Yes, it was made for comic-con, and was more nostalgia oriented, but weren’t you at least slightly intrigued by seeing The Library and Wan Shi Tong? Don’t judge a book by its cover, or a show by its trailer.

    July 21, 2013 at 7:34 pm

  8. rosemon

    Hiya, sorry for spamming, but since the video sucks, here’s a transcript of the episode: http://dongbufeng.tumblr.com/post/56105565943/book-2-episode-1-transcript
    Some key bit of missed dialogue that struck me was that Tenzin called Korra’s air-punching “Korra style” and not the real one. Is it me, or does it look like how Korra would fire-bend, but only with air. That’s how it looked like in that season finale.

    July 22, 2013 at 11:38 am

  9. JMR

    Nick has also released the first three minutes of the first episode. “Spoilers” of a sort ahead if you don’t want to know anything from the coming season until it premiers.

    It features pretty heavily the introductory scene of the new “Officer Mako”. And by all the gods of all the world’s people through all of time, I cannot stand how hard they’re trying to make us like him. It’s made even worse by the fact that they have no goddam clue why people dislike Mako in the first place. Has anyone ever said “Y’know, the problem I have with Mako is that his ass isn’t bad enough. Maybe if I see him do a few sweet jumps on a motorcycle and hear him spout a few one liners I’ll be able to appreciate him”?

    On a more minor note, President of Future Industries Asami is also introduced. Her scene features a guy walking up to her and bluntly stating that no one will do business with her because of her father, a fact that she should already damn well know as the President of the company. There are far better ways to clue the audience in on key information, guys.

    July 22, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    • I’ve seen the first three minutes, and much like Mako himself, they don’t possess, don’t impress me; just upset my mind.

      Also, you can call me petty for saying this (I’m even tempted to write a post on it), but the fact that co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino loved Man of Steel so much explains way more than I thought possible. There are actually many parallels between that and Korra, but not for the better. (For the record, Man of Steel is the single worst film I’ve seen this year.)

      July 24, 2013 at 10:23 pm

      • JMR

        I didn’t see Man of Steel, but I do remember thinking that Dark Knight Rises had a lot of the same problems going on as Korra, especially regarding the Equalists and handling the whole “Attack of the Proletariat” aspect.

        I’m annoyed because I’ve been trying so hard to muster any scrap of enthusiasm for the second season, and now apparently the beginning of the first episode is practically nothing but “Isn’t Mako great, guys?” Ugh.

        July 25, 2013 at 10:00 pm

  10. Amonymous

    no matter how much the story may disappoint, you can pretty much always expect them to deliver mind blowing visuals

    July 30, 2013 at 12:52 am

    • Most definitely. In that respect, Korra is to Avatar what Prometheus was to Alien.

      July 30, 2013 at 9:09 am

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