Movies about characters entering fantasy worlds are hard. Movies about characters entering fantasy worlds that only exist in their own heads are really hard. And those movies are especially hard to sell, usually just throwing beautiful images at the audience and disconnected lines of dialogue, trying hamfistedly to sell the idea of adventure and spectacle in a way that's been done a million times.
And then there's this first trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which premiered today at Apple (and you really ought to watch it there in HD). Directed by and starring Ben Stiller, it's an adaptation of James Thurber's famous story, about a mild-mannered man living the blandest of lives, who spends his day conjuring up elaborate fantasy scenarios in which he gets to be the hero. Even if you don't know the story-- which was previously adapted as a 1947 film-- you get the idea immediately in the trailer, without a single line of dialogue. The shot of Mitty-as-Arctic explorer, arriving in the beige Life offices and approaching Kristen Wiig's character, is breathtaking. The shots that come after that are only more so. And you don't need an ounce of voiceover or expository dialogue to get it.
The only dialogue comes in at the very end, in an odd scene that seems to only be included as a very blatant nod to The Matrix-- choosing the red car, or the red pill, and breaking out of the constraining life in that cubicle. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty doesn't seem to be the same kind of film as The Matrix in many ways, but it's a nice nod nonetheless, a way of connecting Walter Mitty and Neo and other decades of office drone characters who have found ways to escape their monotonous existences. Walter Mitty's involves Arctic treks and helicopters instead of black leather dusters and gun battles, but based on the potential in this trailer, it could be just as captivating.
With a prime Christmas release date and promises of far-flung fantasy, Walter Mitty seemed like a much different movie than the one being presented in this trailer-- and it's not too late for it to emerge as broader and more family-oriented than this trailer seems. But Eric was blown away when he saw extended footage at Cinema Con, so it's possible the film-- the first Stiller has directed since Tropic Thunder-- really is something special. It certainly has my attention .