Movie Trailers Are Evil

The point I’m at in my movie watching life is the point in which every film is a little more predictable then it might have once been. Films like The Prestige and 21 Grams I can see the end coming from the very beginning. Films like The Painted Veil I’m able to guess how each scene will end just as it begins. You can see the movie dissolve in front of your eyes just as it’s being created. Not an enjoyable experience by any means. Is that because I’ve gotten smarter? Or that films have gotten dumber? Perhaps a little of both. For both The Prestige and 21 Grams, they both thought they were being clever by showing hints of what was going to happen later in the film. Anyone paying attention could have easily figured it out, and since all of the characters in each film were so incredibly narcissistic, the journies weren’t all that fun either.

But that’s the movies. You’re at least sitting there watching it. But what do you do about the trailers! You haven’t even paid to see the movie yet, and the studio is already ruining what could amount to some of the most intense scenes in the film. The new trailer for Live Free or Die Hard has just been released on-line. I’m not going to say where, cause I’m of the mind that the less seen the better. Unfortunately, in my excitement I started watching it. I was a good thirty seconds in when the film showed me how one of the big action sequences ended. How it ended!!! It even fed me the clever line MacClane says afterwards. I’m irate! Wasn’t the teaser good enough. To know that John MacClane was strapping down for another adventure was for me. Did I have to know the intricate details of the story’s setup. No! This has gotten so bad in recent times that I’ve stopped watching trailers for big budget tentpole films all together, for no other reason but to save the experience for the actual movie, and not have them wasted in a ten second clip. Thus far I have yet to see the new Spiderman trailer. My friends think I’m crazy when I close my eyes and plug my ears. But who wanted to know that Tom Hanks got off the island in Castaway, who wanted to see what the kracken in Pirates 2 looked like before the film. Who I ask…WHO??? Not me! Why can’t I find out what’s under the water when I see the movie itself. The film spends so much time not showing you, building up to that moment, and thirty seconds into the trailer you see it! Isn’t this completely antiproductive when a filmmaker and a crew and a writer and an editor have spent years designing a film to build to a moment like that, and a studio head comes in or whoever comes in and says, “Show me the kracken!” Or they show a scene from Children of Men in which they are already in the darned boat!? They spend the last third of the movie trying to get to the boat…and you’re going to show it to me in the preview?! For me it’s the smallest of visuals that can destroy the end of a movie. Maybe I pick up on too much. Maybe because I’ve studied film to death that one visual says more than an entire play of words does for me that I’m able to do this. Still though, every now and then they make a really tight trailer. It’s relevant to the style of the film, it captures the film’s essence without giving too much away. But it’s rare these days. I wanted to barbecue the guy who put together the trailer for Miami Vice. The line alone when Colin Farrel asked the person on the other end of the line if they knew what foreboding meant… here, here it is…it makes me giggle every time I listen to it…the character doesn’t even know what foreboding means!

I’m surprised I even found this trailer, actually a teaser. They don’t have it posted many places. I remember people laughing in the audience when it came up. Foreboding isn’t to describe something happening in the now, idiot!

Usually though teasers are a little better. They show without telling you everything.

But even when you run across a great trailer, you have to be careful for its illiterate 2nd cousin…the 10 second tv spot. Suddenly the time you had in a minute teaser in which there was a little time to work your way around the big moments are all shown in the 10 second spot!!! Very obnoxious. So very very obnoxious. Let’s use Hot Fuzz as an example. Great trailer: gives you a bit of the setup, shows you who the actors are, and then who it’s made by. But it does it in a very entertaining way. You want to see the two guys from Shaun of the Dead team up again…who wouldn’t. But it leaves a big question mark as far as what the actual story is about, but I don’t have to, I already want to see it. They’ve done their job! Then sitting there, watching Comedy Central, and up pops an ad for Fuzz. I get a little excited, then my eyes bulge and my jaw drops because in those ten seconds they show nothing but who the heroes are fighting against. They tell you the punchline to the setup of the story! Over and over and over and over again. Now I honestly don’t feel as strongly about seeing the movie, because I get it. Sure it will be fun, and I may still go see it, but I know! Who would have loved to walk into the Sixth Sense not knowing that the kid talked to dead people, which was the first thing you found out in the trailer.

Shouldn’t there be some mystery left for when you walk into the theater? Don’t people want to be surprised anymore? Obviously studios don’t seem to think so anymore. I remember reading somewhere in defense of the Castaway trailer when we see Hanks getting picked up by a boat. The guy had the nerve to say, people want to know what’s going to happen in the movie, that’s what makes them want to see it. I was always flabbergasted by that statement (though this was not verbatim.) Yes, people want to know what the movie is going to be about, but not HOW IT ENDS, numbskull…

Addendum 4-05-2007

I did actually really like Miami Vice, and the line from the teaser was missing from the film…thankfully.

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5 Responses to “Movie Trailers Are Evil”

  1. Paul Martin Says:

    You’ve touched a once-raw nerve here, something I used to get passionate about, but have lost (some but not all) interest over time. I can relate to the closing eyes and blocking ears thing, I do it myself, to the amusement of my partner and son. Or I go for a walk into the kitchen to do something to miss the spoiler. Because spoilers is what they are.

    I learnt some ten or more years ago that walking into a cinema knowing NOTHING about a film was the best way to enjoy it. I did that with Saviour, Blood and Wine, Elephant and others. How much enjoyable was that? Heaps, I can tell you, and I’m sure you’ll understand.

    Now I’m much more serious about films, average four or more a week, get invited to media previews, receive production notes and write about them. I never read production notes before seeing a film, and if I’m going to write about it, I wait until I’ve brain-dumped my thoughts about it before reading.

    One of the reasons I gradually got to this point of going to media previews was to be able to see a film free from any hype, promotion, spoiling, etc. It’s a real luxury and a joy, to be able to see the film as the director intended – to allow the story-teller to tell the story without some jerk giving you the punch-line.

    A strategy/policy I have developed over the years:
    (1) If I intend seeing a film, avoid any reviews, trailers, teasers, anything.
    (2) Failing (1) and I do see a trailer, if it’s a synopsis of the film in question, don’t go to it. Why? Because I’ve already seen it. It’s given me a summary of the whole story, and I don’t need to see it again.
    (3) My observation is that films that have trailers that summarise the whole film, or give away all the best bits, are not worth seeing. A truly good film has enough confidence in its ability to attract bums to seats that it just gives a taste of what its about – no spoiling plots, no spoiling dialogue, no spoiling outcomes.
    (4) I may ignore at my peril all of the above, but it is ALWAYS to the detriment of the cinema experience.

    Why do studios do this? I think it’s because the average person sees four films a year on the big screen. They’re not as discerning, not as conscious of the cinematic devices and don’t take the cinema experience that seriously. “OK, so I knew what was going to happen, but I had a good time anyway”. Cinema is a social entertainment activity for most film-goers. For me, I want it to be a bit more profound than that. The studios are not catering to me and that market. They will do whatever it takes to attract people to come see the film, and people are responding. Otherwise the studios wouldn’t do it. Blame the market.

  2. Paul Martin Says:

    As an addendum, it is also my policy not to reveal plot in a film review, and it bothers me endlessly when reviewers do this. When I read about a film, with the intention of working out whether I want to see it or not, I don’t want to be told what I’m going to see.

    Having said that, I understand that there is a need for genuine discussion of a film, including spoilers, assuming the participants have seen the film. I always appreciate it when writers place a spoiler warning, and I’ll skip those parts.

    Paul,

    That’s funny. I hate it when reviewers spill the beans as well. I’ve even gone so far as to not read book reviews before reading books. I clearly recall opening up an issue of Entertainment Weekly, not to read anything specific, and there, in the middle of one of the pages, spelled out in a bold-printed blurb, they gave away how the 6th Harry Potter book ended. I shrieked and through the magazine across the room. I read nothing anymore. It still impresses me that so many people gathered together and said nothing of the ending of “The Sixth Sense”. A few months of the audiences and film critics gathering together as one to save the experience for the viewing of the film.

    I don’t know though if the studios always respond to the marketing. It’s strange how audiences will respond to something one year when they may not have the year before. “Ghost Rider” surprised even me, but I comment on this in one of my more recent postings “Criti”size”ing up the critics.”

  3. Josh Says:

    I agree–if not so passionately. I’ve skipped many movies because the preview bottled the whole experience so well that I was no longer interested.

  4. Paul Martin Says:

    Josh, there are numerous films that I’m not even sure whether I’ve seen them or not because of their long trailers that summarise the whole film. I must be predictable to my partner, because whenever that happens, I turn to her and say the same thing: “we don’t need to see that one, because we already have”.

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