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Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood trailer is glitz and glam and little else

But Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt make up for the movie’s weird week of promos.

Quentin Tarantino has repeatedly said that his 10th film will be his last — something the marketing for his latest, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, seems to corroborate. Dramatically emphasized as the director’s ninth film, it’s also his first in nearly four years; and now its first trailer suggests he’s spent the time since 2015’s The Hateful Eight further committing to this potential final film countdown.

Deepening that lore is Tarantino’s all-out commitment to darkly absurdist comedy that’s present in the trailer, the kind that might not fully come together until we see the whole movie. And it sure seems like he doesn’t want it to, if the film’s early promotional materials are anything to go by.

Here’s the gist: Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt unite — acting together for the first time ever in a feature film — for Tarantino’s surreal take on 1969 Hollywood. Pitt plays Cliff Booth, the stunt double for DiCaprio’s leading man, Rick Dalton. The pair have a working partnership that seems to extend beyond the film set, but why, how, when, and where remain unanswered questions, among myriad others.

Further complicating Once Upon a Time’s apparent premise is the presence of several real-life members of Hollywood’s Golden Age, ranging from Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate to Mike Moh’s Bruce Lee, who are seen dancing and talking up a storm throughout the trailer.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s first trailer caps a week of other obscure promos

Tarantino is not one to show his hand too early. And both the trailer and the accompanying posters for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood are in keeping with that tradition. Critics were quick to snark on Monday’s marketing kickoff for the film — perhaps not an unfair move on their part. Take a look:

The full teaser poster for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, starring Brad Pitt (standing on the left) and Leonardo DiCaprio.
We’d like to see the Photoshop file for this one.
Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Releasing

The list of perplexing design choices runs long here. The poster above is composed of some seemingly questionable editing work — that bumblebee-yellow car in the background does little to distract from Brad Pitt’s unrecognizable figure; DiCaprio and Pitt are apparently leaning against nonexistent walls; and beyond the blurry Hollywood sign that affirms the movie is indeed set in Hollywood, there’s very little hint of what the movie is actually about.

All of this sent Film Twitter into a tizzy and almost immediately spawned criticism, along with plenty of memes.

Not only did DiCaprio and Pitt’s leans against invisible walls generate some cause for concern, but Tuesday’s similar follow-up featuring Margot Robbie did too:

Margot Robbie (left) is featured on a teaser poster for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino.
We’re getting closer to some details.
Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Releasing

This is what happens with movie marketing on the internet today

The glitzy ’60s aesthetic of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood might not do much to contextualize the simplistic design choices of its posters. But the need to deconstruct such a small part of an influential filmmaker like Tarantino’s return to the screen — and the way it plays out on social media — is familiar, and not inherently misguided.

Social media’s best-known characteristic is emboldening people to speak their truth, civility be damned. No longer are audience opinions predicated on week-of-release review or even the movie itself; oftentimes, potential viewers make up their minds about a project shortly after it’s announced, for better or worse. And easier access to studios and filmmakers means they’re the ones held accountable by the most vocal consumers, for the good and the bad.

Think of the recent uproar over a poster for April’s Avengers: Endgame, which erased actress Danai Gurira’s name from the credits list, despite her inclusion in the artwork. It wasn’t a great look for the highly anticipated Marvel film, especially considering the continued impact of last year’s Black Panther. Marvel edited the poster and offered a mea culpa within hours of the oversight, but only in response to outcry on social media.

Disney also faced scrutiny after releasing posters for Solo: A Star Wars Story in 2018; the company sparked cries of censorship by omitting characters’ weapons on Brazilian versions of the teasers, while a French pop artist accused Disney of plagiarism. Both were small developments in Solo’s long, harried road to release, but developments nonetheless — ones that can contribute to any heat on a film.

It’s doubtful that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s posters will do much to dampen the enthusiasm over a new Tarantino film, especially when this might be his penultimate release. And a badly designed poster — and an ambiguous trailer — are orders of magnitude less offensive than, say, erasing a black actress from the marquee of one of the year’s most anticipated movies. But the narrative around the film’s peculiarities began before we even saw any footage, and it will inevitably factor into how the film is received.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood opens in theaters on July 26.

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