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"Asteroid City"🚀 trailer takes → close encounters of the nerd kind

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

The first trailer has dropped for "Asteroid City," Wes Anderson's latest feature whimsy, which seems set to have its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival in May prior to a June 16 wide release.

The story takes place in 1955 in a desert town famous for its mammoth asteroid crater, on the occasion of an alien visitation (or invasion). The film stars the usual celebrity gaggle of deadpan Anderson co-conspirators (including a sultry Scarlett Johansson, above) — although notably not Bill Murray, who has been in every Anderson film since "Bottle Rocket," the Texas writer/director's 1996 debut.

Sure to be one of the most talked-about films of 2023, here are five fast takeaways from the trailer:

★ "Asteroid City" satirizes the look and feel of 1950s "Red Scare" movies, replete with the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb off in the distance. It's also owes a debt to Steven Spielberg's 1977 sci-fi movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and to Jordan Peele's UFO thriller "Nope" from last year. The latter film is especially brought to mind by the trailer's carnival scene, which recalls the doomed spectacle seekers of the Jupiter's Claim amusement park in "Nope."

Steve Carell is the new Bill Murray. His as-yet unnamed character, looking like an old-style newspaperman with his saucer-shaped eyeshade, stares off in to the distance of one scene, perhaps looking for a UFO. It's reportedly the role originally written for Murray, who had to skip this one due to Covid and other life issues. Carell, who makes his screen debut in the film (as do Tom Hanks and Matt Dillon) answered the call for a replacement.

Matt Dillon's character offers both a cameo and a clue. The "Crash" actor plays an auto mechanic fixing the family station wagon of the road-tripping dad played by Jason Schwartzman, an Anderson film regular. Dillon doesn't seem to get a lot of screen time, but note the "French Press" logo on the car in the pic, right below where he's behind the wheel. It's a shout-out to Anderson's previous film, "The French Dispatch," which premiered at Cannes, and also a nod to the programmers of the fest, who have reportedly already selected this film for a 2023 world premiere.

★ Anachronism alert: The whistling skiffle tune "Freight Train," heard in the trailer, was a hit on the UK pop charts in 1957 , two years after the events of "Asteroid City." Sung and strummed by Scottish singer/guitarist Nancy Whiskey, who performed with Chas McDevitt's Skiffle Group (see above), it's at least from the right decade. But Anderson could have fixed the timing issue by using the original version of "Freight Train," which was written in the early 20th century and also sung and played by Elizabeth Cotten, a North Carolina folk and blues pioneer. Cotten was originally robbed of credit for her song, a crime the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame helped rectify when it inducted her in 2022. Trivia note: "Freight Train" helped spark the British skiffle craze of the 1950s that brought together the pre-Beatles group the Quarrymen, featuring John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. They regularly performed the song, with Lennon singing lead.

★ "Asteroid City" was shot on Kodak film, a rarity in the digital world of 2023. It accounts for the bright colours and sunny sheen of the film, which was lensed on Arriflex cameras — which incidentally is the same brand (but not same camera) used by Jean-Luc Godard for his seminal 1960 crime drama "Breathless," one of the greatest of all French films. Another wink to the programmers of Cannes, perhaps?

Follow on Twitter: @peterhowellfilm


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