The Style and Substance of Edgar Wright’s Movie Trailers

Director Edgar Wright has not only provided us with some of the funniest movies of the 15 years but some of the most visually inventive. Not content to just point a camera and have the actors be vaguely funny in front of it, Wright uses every frame available to him and combines it with whipsmart writing to create movies that don’t feel like anything else. That’s what has lead to him not only being one of the best filmmakers of the last two decades but one that hardcore film fans will clamor over at any available opportunity.

With his latest movie Baby Driver hitting theaters this weekend it’s a good opportunity to look back at the trailers for his previous four directorial efforts and see how they’ve sold his unique cinematic vision to audiences.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Just look at the visual style that’s on display as the trailer opens. Simon Pegg’s Shaun is introduced with a bit of misdirection, showing his dragging zombie-like feet before eventually revealing no, he’s just still waking up. But really, that sequence that follows tells the audience right away everything they need to know about Wright. It’s’ a quick montage of toast being topped with jam, teeth being brushed and more. When the zombie apocalypse actually kicks in the laughs ramp up but the camera cuts, musical cues and staging of both the laughs and the action make it clear this is not our usual comedy, nor is it our usual zombie flick.

Hot Fuzz (2007)

Once more the first image that greets the audience in the trailer is of Pegg’s feet, though this time he plays an obsessively by-the-book police inspector. The following montage once again establishes a lot about the character, showing how he was sent away because he was too good, and what the movie is going to look like. The setting might be a quiet English village but the action is non-stop and the flashy cuts and consistently-moving camera shows there’s more going on here than in your average action comedy.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)

The only movie (before Baby Driver) Wright made without collaborators Pegg and Frost didn’t mean he ditched his unique visual style, which is clear in the trailer. The same sort of super-slick look and feel is here as is the fact that he has more on his mind than just mildly-funny dialogue. True, the special effects owe greatly to the incredible look of the source comic, but it really took someone with the sensibilities of Wright to make them come to life. It very much looks like it’s on-brand for the director while also being something that’s outside his usual wheelhouse.

The World’s End (2013)

This trailer takes a slightly different tack, setting out the basic premise of a group of childhood friends who reunite to finally finish the pub crawl they started 20 years ago. Again, the quick cuts and funky visuals show that we’re dealing with someone who knows how to frame a shot. Not just that, but how to have every frame be part of the story. So we see the very unusual situation they find themselves in as they return to their hometown. Cool music accompanies and underscores the action, which is also reinforced through the little bits of dialogue that are shared.

It’s About Substance, Not Just Style

While the visuals are certainly at the forefront of the trailers for Wright’s movies, there’s more going on.

Those visuals are just what’s most easily noticed by the casual viewer. Look at what’s going on with all of these, though, and you’ll see that the visuals tell you a lot about the tone of the movie and the attitudes of the characters. Pegg’s introductions in those three movies are both immediately able to be comprehended and then surprising as those expectations are upended. Frost often plays the foil and is shown reacting in some manner to what Pegg’s characters are up to, but he also gets some of the best bits because of that.

The characters in Edgar Wright movies don’t react like similar characters in other movies would. When Ed in Shaun of the Dead sees Shaun being attacked by a zombie, he gets them to turn so he can get a picture. When the group on The World’s End finally realize there’s an alien invasion happening in their town, Gary’s suggestion is they go finish their beers.

These trailers need to convey the visual aesthetic, those unexpected character moments and the high concepts of the stories. It’s not just a zombie movie, it’s a zombie movie that’s also a relationship comedy. It’s not just a police procedural, it’s an action comedy that’s hyper-aware of how self-referential it is toward other movies.

Those outrageous concepts are part of what have attracted people of discerning tastes to Wright’s movies. The trailers for his movies – and this is certainly a trend that continues with Baby Driver – sell all of this, promising audiences an experience at the theater that’s unlike the latest lazily-named Will Ferrell or Jason Bateman comedy. There’s a lot going on in the movies and that’s all on display in the marketing for them.