Movie trailers are increasingly becoming as popular as films themselves, and for seemingly innocent reasons. They give us glimpses into the world that we can’t wait to see, or a hint at the type of characters that we will be following on their 90-minute adventure or, in some cases, they ruin the entire movie before we even get that first fistful of popcorn into our faces. In an age where even trailers have their own trailers, no one seems to ever stop and ask “is this a good idea?” Admittedly that’s a pretty loaded question for some who anxiously await trailer dates and mark them on their calendars as if it was the actual film being released, but it’s one that we as movie fans should begin to ask.
To be fair, making a movie trailer can’t be an easy thing. Just think about it – out of 90+ minutes of footage, you are tasked with finding the absolute best 90-or-so seconds of it that will get people excited for the film, give them hints at the story, and not spoil the whole thing. Not to mention some of that time has to be dedicated to a long drawn-out reveal of the movies name and the end credits.
What actually winds up in film trailers is usually a mix bag of big explosions, snappy dialogue, and often times the biggest plot twists in the movie. The teaser trailer for 2008’s Children of Men is one the biggest offenders in the past decade. If you have not already seen the movie, the fact that a certain character is pregnant, which is spoiled in the trailer, is one of the biggest and most dramatic reveals in the movie. By showing that in the teaser for the film, they essentially just ruined the entire first act of the movie for you.
Prometheus is another big victim of the over-zealous movie trailer. It’s meant to be a big surprise towards the end of the film that there is a derelict ship under the caverns they are exploring, linking back to the original Alien movie. But what appears in the trailer? A clip of the scene that shows the diagram of the ship and spoils the whole thing. In general, Prometheus is a film that got totally misinterpreted and had its reputation ruined in large part because of trailers and pre-release hype. The trailers were fantastic and teased a movie that would be the second coming of Alien and, while what we got wasn’t near that level, the film was still more than passable. But thanks to that overhyped trailer Prometheus suffers from an unbalanced level of hate considering just how good of a movie it is. It goes to show that even making a fantastic trailer, while serving well for the movie studio, can permanently tarnish the reputation of a film.
I’m not saying Prometheus is a perfect movie, or even a great movie, but it absolutely does not deserve the hate it got thanks to the massive amounts of hype it received prior to its release. Imagine going into the film cold and not knowing what was coming – it would be a much different, and more importantly enjoyable, experience.
So what is the point? Are those cool 20-30 seconds of video over saturated with flashy camera angles and potentially spoilerific scenes worth it? Especially if it’s a movie you know you want to see just based on the premise alone, I can’t fathom why you’d want to ruin the entire thing for yourself just to hear a single line of dialogue or something else that doesn’t really change your opinion of the movie.
Even more recent trailers, such as those for Interstellar, have been taking away huge chunks of the experience before the film was even close to coming out. Way too many plot points, big visual reveals and other details of the film are being spewed out in trailers when we should be waiting to enjoy them in our comfy theater seats on a massive screen in front of us. Instead, we’ll know they are coming and be anticipating them. It’s a movie about needed to colonize other planets, directed by Christopher Nolan and stars Matthew McConaughey. You know, or you would if you looked it up, that a Christopher Nolan film is going to be dark and atmospheric so you know the space shots are going to be gorgeous, you know McConaughey has become a great actor as of late, and you know the story is going to be a grand adventure of loss and exploration based on the premise alone. Why do you need to watch all these spoiler-loaded trailers to tell you that? You don’t.
I completely understand the desire for trailers from the perspective of big movie studios as they generate the hype they want and get more people excited about the movie, but as nothing more than a fan of movies it is amazing to watch people purposefully ruin movies for themselves to watch an ad for something they already know they are going to see in a theater.
One thing I should clarify is that I don’t think this applies to every film, and there are some genres where movie trailers are perfectly fine. Big summer action flicks and super hero movies are prime examples of how a trailer succeeds. You still run a small risk of seeing a cool explosion that will partially ruin a movie for yourself but, otherwise, there really isn’t a whole lot that can be ruined for most summer movies. Even if they do have a great story that gets spoiled with a trailer trying to do too much, it still does not ruin the experience. Nobody goes to see Iron Man for its story – they go to see Robert Downey Jr in all his glory and see some stuff blow up, and that’s perfectly fine.
With that all said, almost every other genre of film is better served if you go into it completely cold. Just think about how much better drama and sci-fi films would be if you went into them without seeing an in-depth rundown of their plot and pivotal scenes in previous trailers throughout the year. Comedy is the biggest victim of this, as a lot of the time you will see every single joke worth laughing at in the trailer. Dark Shadows for example, was another dark Tim Burton/Johnny Depp love child that mostly failed as a comedy thanks to all its jokes being spoiled beforehand. There’s nothing worse than going into a comedy movie and realizing half way through that every single laugh you might have gotten from the experience is one you have seen before and, worse yet, you anticipate them coming and take yourself out of the movie entirely.
Big proponents of movie trailers often assert that a trailer helps you decide whether or not to see a movie. But, when you really think about, does it? Does seeing those short couple scenes really help you decide whether or not you are going to spend $10 or more to see a movie in theaters or waste a precious Netflix queue space on it?
I propose that there is almost nothing you can gain from a trailer that you can’t gain from one or two minutes skimming and doing even the tiniest bit of research on sites such as Letterboxd or, of course, IMDB. Looking at who is in the movie, who is directing it, who wrote the screenplay and what studio is releasing it will give you a wealth of information that you would not get from that flashy pointless trailer you love. Even if you are not familiar with a director, take a few seconds to see what films they directed in the past to get a general idea of what this upcoming film might be like (I prefer Letterboxd over IMDB for this, as it is a quicker and more visual site).
In an age where the entire internet of knowledge is waiting for you to dig into it, it’s insane that we base our movie choices on short, curated, spoiler-filled clips instead. Especially if you’re using the saving money argument of watching trailers, surely a few minutes of your time researching the movie is worth potentially saving yourself from seeing a bad movie and more sure-fire than a trailer.
Even if you think I’m a insane and/or and idiot, just try it. Wean yourself off the small hits of trailer-cocaine and pick out one movie to go in cold on. Watch the film then go home to watch the trailer and notice all the things that would have been spoiled if you had chosen to watch the trailer. Did you know you wanted to see the movie before going in? I’m guessing yes. If you hated the movie, really think about if the few scenes featured in the trailer would have swayed you or not. I’m willing to bet no. At the very least, watch the first trailer you see and, if the movie clearly appeals to you, make a mental note to avoid trailers from there on out until the full film comes out. You will thank me, I promise.
And before you make the argument that I’m just being a jerk and stopping you from enjoying something – what am I trying to stop you from enjoying? It’s certainly not movies, because I’m suggesting ways to actually enjoy a movie more. And it’s certainly not getting excited about movies, because there are many more ways than trailers. All I’m doing is easing you off your addiction in hopes that you will see the light of the movie trailer-less lifestyle.
So join me, movie watching brothers and sisters, in bringing down our oppressor known as the movie trailer and once and for all stop the insanity of YouTube trailers playing ads before them and, worse, having a trailer for a trailer playing an ad before it; wherein you are literally watching an ad on an ad for an ad. Free yourself and enjoy Fury, Interstellar, The Birdman, and other great upcoming movies without having them ruined before they even get a chance to impress you.
What do you think? Am I right or wrong? Should I be locked up for good, or given a nobel peace prize? Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter.