Machete: Trailer vs. Film
History will never be able to tell us for sure whether Robert Rodriguez was kidding when he originally made the trailer for Machete. Certainly, the other guys who made fake trailers for 2007′s Grindhouse were kidding; regrettable though it is, we do not live in a world awesome enough to ever see Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS, or Edgar Wright’s Don’t. But unlike these others, Rodriguez announced, almost immediately after Grindhouse‘s debut, that he intended to make Machete for real.
But this announcement didn’t come until after he had made the trailer. Which left him with an unusual problem; instead of having a bunch of footage to pare down into a trailer, all he had was a trailer that he had to build up into a bunch of footage. Some of the trailer’s material would perhaps be useful, but for the most part he’d have to start over from scratch. And surely the process of creating a full narrative, rather than just a sequence of brief money shots, would lead him down a road that invalidated much of his tossed-off trailer, yes?
As it turns out, no. Machete is remarkably faithful to its source material. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of the shots in the trailer appear in the movie essentially unchanged. Now, many of these shots come out of nowhere, and seem pretty gratuitous in the movie, but then, in a grindhouse revenge flick of this sort, the gratuitous is the order of the day.
So let’s take a look at the original trailer1 to see what has, in fact, been changed.
The trailer begins with our man Machete (Danny Trejo, in a long-overdue starring role, especially considering his long association with Rodriguez) being hired by Booth (Jeff Fahey). As with the rest of the trailer, the film proceeds identically, with a few exceptions. For one, in the trailer, the background as Machete and Booth are in the car is a flimsy, obvious back-projection – part of the general aesthetic throughout the entire original Grindhouse project of making things look as crappy as possible, as they did in the movies that inspired it all. Rodriguez abandons this in the full-length Machete, however. It’s more Kill Bill than Death Proof – a naked, heart-on-its sleeve homage to old exploitation films, yes, but made straight, with modern techniques.
In his office, Booth hires Machete to kill the “new senator.” In the film, however, the senator in question is established, an incumbent running for re-election on a rabidly anti-immigrant platform. Illegal Mexican immigration is a topic that looms large in the finished film. Some have found fault with this, and it does in fact get a bit pedantic and broad. On the other hand, simplistic though the movie’s pro-illegal stance may be, it’s still a good deal more complex than the “boot ‘em all out” counterpoint that it lampoons. Heavy-handed moralizing is actually no stranger to exploitation cinema, ironic though that may seem from without.
Booth’s bald sidekick, who appears throughout the trailer, is played by a different and entirely non-bald man in the movie. Most of the changes we here examine seem to have been made for aesthetic or storytelling reasons. For this one, they probably just couldn’t get that bald guy.
The Dealey-Plaza-looking arrangement – convertible, pink-suited brunette wife, and all – of Machete’s attempted assassination of the senator is changed in the film to a simple political rally. This is most likely because Rodriguez wanted to associate the senator with an entirely different president. Senator McLaughlin is played in the film by Mr. Robert De Niro, rather than the random Joe (who is probably a very nice guy) from the trailer. And De Niro plays him as a 100%, full-scale, all-out George W. Bush impersonation. It’s tempting to call his performance a caricature, a comic impression, but it’s probably impossible to do W. right without at least a glimmer of the absurd.
Rather than being shot in the shoulder during the double-cross, in the movie, Machete is shot in the head. And he survives. Making him that much more badass.
The material concerning Cheech Marin’s character – Machete’s brother, a Catholic priest who uses his shotguns Florentine-style – survives totally intact. Sweet.
“He gets the women,” we are here told, and indeed he does; no fewer than four over the course of the movie, all of hem effortlessly, which is not bad for a man who looks like Danny Trejo. Two of these four – Michelle Rodriguez’ Luz and Jessica Alba’s Sartana – are actually pretty decent strong-woman sorts; intelligent, strong-willed, badass, etc. Indeed, these two are Machete’s primary allies, even beyond Cheech Marin.2 The two white women he “gets” in the trailer are, however, somewhat less powerful. And one of them is played by Lindsay Lohan. In a movie with Cheech Marin as a priest, Robert De Niro as George W. Bush, and Steven Seagal as a Mexican drug lord, Lindsay Lohan is the stuntiest casting of all. Say what you will about her, though, in this film she plays the spoiled party-girl daughter of privilege, and she spends about 20% of her screen time in street clothes, 40% in a nun’s habit, and 40% totally naked. And these are all sound directorial decisions.
Machete does in fact run up on top of a limousine and toss some machetes down into it, though that limousine’s contents are different, because of course we have a different senator in the film. He does this, in both versions, in a sweet-ass vest, covered in knife blades. It is a vest so thrilling that it gets its own reveal in the movie; Machete takes off his jacket and we marvel at the combat-ready garb below. Trouble is, this scene appears after the limo scene – after we’ve already seen the vest. This is, perhaps, the downside of Rodriguez’ overall fidelity to the trailer; getting all the scenes he wanted in there may have necessitated putting them in a sloppy order. Maybe even intentionally sloppy.
In the scene in which we learn that Machete is a federale3 a sheet of paper with his magnificent mug is printed out that reads, in part, “Alias: Machete.” In the movie, however, when Sartana pulls up his file, we get a glimpse of his real name, though no attention is brought to it. This real name is “Machete Cortez.” And so a basic quandary facing expectant parents all over the world is solved.
Of course, the instantly iconic shot of Machete standing on a car, blade raised, with a crowd of machetes similarly raised before him, survives intact. And it actually mirrors an earlier scene in the movie, in which Sartana stands on a car and delivers a speech rousing a group of Mexicans to action. Upon this speech’s completion, the crowd is in a fervor, and fully incited. This appears to occur because the script called for it, or perhaps because Jessica Alba is physically very attractive.4
Remarkably, the shot of our title character opening his trench coat to reveal a veritable ocean of blades, covering every available surface of clothing, does not survive. Granted, it is arguable that there is no very good reason for one man to have that many knives on his person. But why should that fact have any relevance? This is a movie in which people swing by their own intestines, for God’s sake.
Another odd absence from the film is the badass “Machete’s Body Shop” sign, replaced in the full narrative by a much, much simpler one, just black letters on white. Again, this is the more sensible option; Machete has not been the patron of this institution for very long at all, when it appears, and it follows that the full-scale logo is as yet undesigned. But then later, as in the trailer, Machete attaches a machine gun to his motorcycle, using a plate on the bike that is by remarkable coincidence a perfect fit for it. Then he shoots some guys while flying through the sky on the bike, propelled by the force of an explosion. And all of this is super-great. It can be difficult, therefore, to figure out just where exactly Rodriguez draws the line, and why. Seemingly at random, he plays it straight, or goes gonzo. Certainly it’s a better film when he chooses the latter.
Thankfully, he chooses gonzo more often than not. Almost all of the trailer is in the film, and yet it fails to be a terribly representative trailer nevertheless, due to the colossal amount of stuff that Rodriguez apparently came up with afterwards. Nowhere in the trailer is there any sign of the gratuitous Jessica Alba shower scene. Or of Machete killin’ guys with a half-dozen scalpels attached to a white cloth belt. Or of the bit where the back doors of an ambulance open, and two sexy nurses get out and pose. (With submachine guns!) If this does not sound like satisfying cinema to you, then, well, you probably will not like Machete. If it does, though, then it is time for you to grab at least seventy weapons and stab your way to your local movie house, see this movie, and then blow it up.
Edited by Matthew Schneider.
Special thanks to Ted Spas.
- Available on the Planet Terror two-disc unrated edition; failing this, well, this is a short video of pop-culture significance – where else could one find such a thing? Nowhere, that’s where. ↩
- Even beyond Cheech Marin. Chew on that for a spell ↩
- Of which much is made in the film, even if Danny Trejo, wonderful actor though he is, makes as convincing a federale as Lemmy Kilmister would make an MI6 agent ↩
- Poor Jessica Alba. She’s given a powerful character, and she tries so hard. And yet, and yet… ↩