More people have been talking about the trailer for the sci-fi/horror film Morgan than the movie itself. It’s partly because the commercial and critical response to the film has been less than lukewarm, and partly because the clip was the first to be created entirely by artificial intelligence.
At the request of the filmmakers at 20th Century Fox, IBM used its supercomputer Watson to build a trailer from the final version of Morgan, which tells the story of an artificially created human. First Watson was fed background information on the horror genre in the form of a hundred film trailers. It used visual and aural analysis in order to identify the images, sounds, and emotions that are usually found in frightening and suspenseful trailers.
Watson then analysed Morgan and identified the key moments of plot action from which a trailer of the film could be generated. Only the final act of putting the sounds and images together to create the trailer required human intervention.
So how did Watson do? The trailer features the familiar visual and narrative devices that have been the staple of horror film: the reclusive “mad” scientist, the businesslike “investigator”, the eerie soundtrack including the main theme and a lullaby that evokes themes of childhood and innocence (contrasted with images of physical violence and bloodshed others). In fact, the iconography featured in Watson’s trailer reaffirms what many film theorists say are the generic conventions of horror films, based on iconic examples such as the 1931 version of Frankenstein.
But is the purpose of a film trailer just to repeat the generic conventions that characterise a film? While some trailers clearly do this, or simply trumpet the presence of star actors, others highlight the film’s spectacular possibilities. Early film trailers often described the wonders of the emerging technology of cinema such as synchorised sound (Vitaphone) and Technicolor and many still underline the historical moment of the film. Others focus on explaining the story and conveying the movie’s look, feel and themes“ for the prospective audience.