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Sunday Discussion: Killing the Experience - Trailers Showing Too Much

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June 15, 2008

Killing the Experience - Trailers Showing Too Much

I've been getting increasingly aggravated at trailers this summer. They continue to show more and more footage so by the time we actually end up seeing the movie, there are no more surprises. I've seen it with The Incredible Hulk, The Happening, even Speed Racer. And I've finally reached the boiling point - it's frustrated me so much that I know I must do something to fight back but I'm not sure how. I can't not watch trailers, and I can't change what's in them, so what do I do? All I know is that this seems to be getting worse and worse as the summer goes on. Each movie is different, but The Happening was my last straw. When will Hollywood realize that surprises are best left to actually be discovered in the movie!

I think the problem is exactly that. The studios know that they've got to sell the movie, and if it's too hard to actually get people to see it based on buzz (as was the case with The Happening), they then show some of the really good parts that might convince people to go. Unfortunately those scenes are some of the big surprises that should be saved for once you actually see the movie for the first time. I have always had a better experience going into a movie blind, without having even seen a trailer, and being blown away. Weren't you amazed the first time you saw the fight scenes in The Matrix? I bet you'd never seen them in a trailer beforehand because Warner Brothers knew to save those great moments for the actual movie.

Go back and watch this red band trailer for The Happening. There are nine major suicides ranging from the lions to the lawnmower to the hangings to the neck stabbing to the construction site and so on. As morbid as it may be, when I went to see The Happening, I was looking forward to more shocking deaths. Alas, there were only nine - the same exact nine I saw in that trailer! And they weren't even extended or anything, I saw exactly the same thing I'd seen in a 30 second trailer months before. Not only was the script atrocious anyway, but nothing was in it that surprised or shocked me. It was as if I was watching the same bad movie for the second time - although I'd never seen it yet.

One of the few exceptions to this issue was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I believe Spielberg himself actually stepped in and made sure the trailers didn't show too much and I was in turn delightfully surprised by how much more there was in the film. Cloverfield is another perfect example where the trailers held back on how much they showed. I remember going in early to watch the second full trailer for Cloverfield that played in front of Beowulf. The first question everyone asked as soon as I saw it: did it reveal what it was? Of course not! It didn't even show a glimpse of it, except for that bit where it walked past the building. But that was the perfect amount!

I've tried to start holding myself back with trailers and clips and TV spots and footage, but sometimes I can't help it. It's so depressing to go into a movie and not be surprised by any fight scene or any cool moments because I've seen them all. I want to go into a movie and not always be thinking about "when this is going to happen" or "this scene is coming up next." That's nearly impossible in a world that's consumed with the idea of seeing everything before actually paying to see it. Moviegoers have become vastly more critical and in turn the studios have had a harder time selling their movies. Which all goes back to putting the good scenes in trailers to actually get the moviegoers in theaters opening weekend.

I believe being surprised is an essential part of the cinematic experience. I know that by the second or third time I've seen a movie, I know what to expect at every turn. But I believe the most important part of the cinematic experience is that very first showing where you finally get to see the entire movie. If that experience feels contrived or familiar, then it's just not the same. I don't know if anyone can end up truly love the experience of a movie if they knew what to expect the entire time. Why do you think M. Night Shyamalan's The Village did so bad? Because when everyone knew the end, it just wasn't the same. I just hope Hollywood realizes soon enough that trailers are meant to tease, not reveal, the movie at hand.

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  • Garrett.king
    sometimes you don't even know you've seen to much until you've seen the entire movie. I get outraged by it when I see TV spot after TV spot after TV spot, and then go to the theater only to realize that at the end of the film was actually part of the ending to one of the commercials. Trailers and Commercials (or TV spots, if you prefer) should only be there to capture the spirit and get people excited. Not to give us a thirty second to 3:30 minute movie. I've passed on movies that I was going to go to because I know what the fuckin' story already is. That's why there is no reason to go to a romantic comedy anymore. You can't create a trailer for those without giving away the entire story, even if you're holding it back. Romantic comedies (mostly) suck anyway.
  • chrisUK
    over in the UK we have to endure trailer overkill aswell as delayed release dates for most (not all, but most) movies so it's incredibly hard NOT to have a film spoiled before viewing. Take Transformers last year, it was shown nearly a month after the US release date, i had to basically not visit movie sites on the net so i could avoid the spoilers πŸ˜› Oh, and before The Matrix the studio actually put out a 'making of' program prior to release (on free TV no less) which basically spoiled 99% of all the effect shots and big moments...at my first viewing i was left thinking about WHEN the cool moments were going to happen instead of being surpised by them (my own fault for watching the TV program i know!). However, the worst case of a studio spoiling a movie was when i attended a premier of Fantastic 4: Silver Surfer: they showed a long 'making of' progam immediately before the film started, in the place of trailers. Before i realised exactly what it was going to show i'd already seen Dr Doom come back and the Surfer vs Galctus, i had to leave the cinema and wait 20mins for it to finish!
  • Couldn't agree more. I love "teaser trailers" that only give us a hint of what the movie is and why we want to see it, like they did with Cloverfield. There should never be any scenes that are essentially spoilers in a trailer.
  • darrin
    i love this article. i agree totally. What's the point going to see a film if everything is already given away.
  • Spielberg almost always controls his advertising. Abrams and Co. probably got a restrained CLOVERFIELD simply because they brought it in so cheap and they knew their audience. All other mentions do not. Fox took a lot away from Manoj on HAPPENING, Marvel probably didn't decide on their real HULK ad campaign until IRON MAN opened big.
  • starvs
    I've always been incredibly critical of this, I refuse to watch any previews for TV shows. I know I'm going to watch LOST next week, I don't need to see whats going to happen. It's harder to not what movie trailers though, as frequently I'm not sure if I'm interested in the movie yet. But once I know I'm gonna see something, I try and just block out all info until I see it. The worst trailer I think is Death Race. They show (imply at least) that Jason Statham's character is going to be double crossed right in the trailer, shouldn't that be a fairly important plot point?. I mean of course they could pull the double reverse in the film, and be trying to mislead us in the trailer. But either way, it just doesn't need to be said, it doesn't even add anything to the trailer.
  • Fenris
    In total agreement..... but surely commenting about trailers being bad fro ma site that shows trailers is a bit hypocritical ? espescially a Wall-E world site lol !
  • Michael
    I'm SO glad that you wrote this article! You hit the nail right on the head. I think that there should be a rule that only scenes from the first half of the film can be used in the trailer and no major plot points should be revealed.
  • Rigo
    well heres a perfect example for the hulk tv spots... SPOILER AHEAD As the movie neared to the end, and have seeen the tv spot with Iron Man talkkin to the general, it didnt catch me to suprise for an ending, other than the final clip with Edward sittin down. I do think the tv spots and in some cases previews/trailers do ruin the moviee experiencee. Good thing The Dark Knight hasnt been givin it all out, and i really hope it stays that way..
  • Nunya
    @Alex - "I can't not watch trailers, and I can't change what's in them, so what do I do?" Why can't you "not watch trailers?" Is it because you earn your living from a website that promotes films? I don't know if you get paid directly from distributers (I often suspect this considering the fervor with which you champion some movies), or if you make money strictly from advertising on this site. I do know, however, that you often mention the "swag" or "flash" you get. From simple movie posters to this "wonderful gift I received from one of [The Fall's] publicists." http://www.firstshowing.net/2008/05/28/the-fall-just-as-amazing-on-paper/ So, you ask what can you do? I ask, do you really want to know the answer to that?
  • Big Zero
    Good statement!!!! Half of cinematic joy is mystery and suprises. We've all seen thousands of movies and tv shows, so they should guard what they have to show us, as the average person is jaded from so many bad experiences, wasted time and money...I can't believe "trailer overkill" hasn't reduced movie sales enough to make them stop doing it yet. Long live the olden days when there was still so much to discover from opening flicks at the theater.
  • GreenRyan
    I agree, trailers show way to much. We need to change this. That being said, stop whining about knowing everything. If I may quote you... "I've tried to start holding myself back with trailers and clips and TV spots and footage, but sometimes I can't help it. It's so depressing to go into a movie and not be surprised by any fight scene or any cool moments because I've seen them all." ... so stop watching all the crap they put out, control yourself man.
  • I co0mpletely agree. Just watch the trailer for DEATH RACE!
  • Squiggly_P
    i think the best type of trailer would be one that just showed a clip from early in the film and that was all. People don't need to see anything at all after the first half of a film, and they certainly don't need to see what kind of ending battle sequence or final scene is going to be like. If the film has a good set-up and a good cast of characters, then it should be something that people will want to see regardless of how many explosions they can cram into the trailer. Look at Cloverfield. They only showed clips from the first 10 minutes of the film for the first teaser and people were really jazzed to see it. Then they made the second one and showed probably more than they needed to to get people more excited. Something tells me that most trailers aren't cut by the director, or that the studio has just a lot of control over what goes in and what doesn't. I think a lot of directors would be less likely to throw in all that spoilage than the studios would. And why do they even make so many teasers and trailers now? Why not just make one trailer that gets played in theaters and on TV a couple of weeks before the thing opens? That's all you should need to get people interested in seeing a flick. Sometimes I think they should change the name of the 'Marketing' division of a lot of companies into the 'Smack People Across The Face' division.
  • smackyou
    Nothing else better to talk about?
  • REAL6
    All i can say is, Trailers nowadays compaired to back then show too much. They take away the magic. But the real problem is: WEBSITES LIKE THIS ONE, SLASHFILM, AINT IT COOL, ETC, THAT LET YOU KNOW EVERY FUCKING THING ABOUT THE MOVIE. Thats the problem!!!
  • Tim
    with trailers, i think you should limit yourself to the teaser and main theatrical trailer, stay away from 2nd and 3rd trailers and TV spots, music videos, featurettes - watch all those after the movie.
  • Nettle
    #16: This site doesn't throw on the spoilers so much as other sites. Most people are kind enough to mention when they're going to post about spoilers and Alex even had a post once talking about how he refused to post the image of Two-Face because he didn't want it to be "that" kind of site. I don't think it's as easy as just not watching trailers. We, as humans, are innately curious and love being fed information (or at the very least information about movies). If movies didn't come with trailers, no one would see them; we need to know what we're paying to see. The problem is that they put too much into a trailer. For example, in Speed Racer, the bad guy is trying to seduce Speed into siding with his company by being sickly sweet, but in the trailer we've already seen that he's a bad guy and we know his motives; the whole thing was pointless. I'm frankly appalled that the first Dark Knight trailer showed Dent about to get burned and a tiny clip of the good side of his face with only a little bit burnt. Doesn't anyone else think it would be better if that fact was completely hidden?
  • Nettle, for the two-face thing I will disagree because everyone pretty much new he would be in the film and it doesn't really show when or how so I think that isn't major really.
  • Leon
    In relation to this issue and Wanted, I too am getting a little fed up of the studios showing more than they need to. I think with the 4 trailers (red band inclusive) already out, I already have an idea of what the ending will be, and the twist that is supposed to knock our socks off. I do think trailers show more than they need to. I guess studios feel that they have to hand everything to us on a silver platter today to get us watching their flicks.
  • Something that I think it a bit worse than trailers giving away too much are TV spots revealing too much. I remember there being TV spots (and newspaper ads for that manner) released to capitalize on the success of Spider-Man 2 that revealed a major plot point (Mary Jane finding out Peter Parker was Spider-Man and getting together with him -- though it's not so spoilerish now, since that fact was all over the ads last year for Spider-Man 3). I guess the studio figured that most of the people who wanted to see the movie already saw it at that point, however it probably ruined the tension of that storyline for the people who HADN'T seen the movie at that point.
  • REAL6
    Nettle, i agree with you to a point. But at the same time. Just my opinion "Dont knock me" but they throw too much info out there weather they warn you about a spoiler or not. It just looses so much magic. you know what i mean. How we were kids and you're like, O MY GOD!!!!!!!!!!!! But i shouldnt talk, im on all the sites looking at info. hahahahahahahaha But you know what i mean πŸ˜‰
  • I agree in general, but not in the case of THE INCREDIBLE HULK. The trailers did not excite at all, yet the full movie experience was fantastic. This is certainly the surprise of the year. The solution is simple, as some of you above must have already stated,...don't watch every friggin' trailer that comes out. I watch teasers and theatrical trailers...and that's it....and that's enough. The real problem is not the trailers giving up too much, but the movies not having any more to deliver.
  • Dom
    Well.. very thought provoking subject. I too get really cheesed off these days, and often wonder what sort of jerks and half wits they have working in Hollywood making big bucks on production management but have very little knowledge about film and audiences. I bet these guys never even sit in on screenings and get a vibe for the movies they're selling. It's so heart breaking to see good movies mis treated by mass media marketing, and the sad thing is its such a money making business that no one will stand up and proclaim anything different - actors want their million dollar chques and the directors want to keep making movies and will make sacrafices in order to do so. Anyone remember the effect the first Jaws trailer had? Think people think!! Cloverfield has proven the formula works.
  • Wife said the same thing about Wall-E trailers.............................. I am still going to watch it
  • Jeremy
    @ Shane seriously. for all the movies i'm really excited about, i dont watch the trailers, and wall-e is definitely one of them. One reason is because my television and computer screens will not do any justice to what a big screen will do for its visual effects. but, that movie is gonna be LOADED with greatness, and the trailers, as much as they probably show, is probably only a fraction of the entertainment it will have.
  • harrison
    yea im getting tired of knowing everything before i go into the theatre, we already know the good guys going to win in 99% of movies, so give us a few good scenes and leave us wanting more i have to say i was dissappointed earlier, they premiered the pineapple express trailer during the celtics/lakers game tonight and didnt show enough, its a family channel i guess so they had to leave the weed out, made all the blood and guts on the cop cars windsheild look more like mud, not a trailer thats going to draw a lot of attention
  • LMS
    Watch the trailer for Quarantine and they totally give away the ending. It's horrible.
  • K
    Best trailer ever for a movie.... The Matrix. Gave you nothing except "what the hell was that..." and then when you went to watch it was like "WOW!". Completly blown away, wasn't expecting that. I agree the studios need to stop giving sooo much away in the previews. Should be just one trailer and that's it, not half a dozen and then mini clips and then behind the scenes, etc. Enough! Don't give the movie away before us (the fans) get to watch it.
  • REAL6
    Harrison, i agree with you on the 99% Thats why i loved the ending of the movie THE MIST!!!
  • I know their job is to entice you in to see the film but whatever happened to them teasing you in. Now it seems they just run through the whole bloody movie. I saw Syriana recently and there was nothing new in the film that wasn't in the trailer which seemed to be in the same chronological order as the film . The Jarhead trailer currently running deliberatly gives the impression that it's some kind of action packed war film by showing the few moments of action and gunfire when it clearly isn't and the X-Men 3 trailer seems to show all of the money shots, like the Golden Gate bridge being torn apart and this big battle. The Bond trailers always seem to run through a standard trailer tickbox system. Moody shot of bond, action shot of bond, bond girl exiting the sea or a swimming pool with water cascading from her body, dis-satisfied look from a superior, bad guy doing something bad, glance of marketable car/watch etc, bond kissing girl as he rolls over onto her in a dominant way, big explosion and a final look to camera. Amazing how they want the trailer to be memorable to make you see the film but then assume you'll forget all that you saw just as you enter the auditorium. This never worked best than with The Two Towers. All the trailers showed Aragorn charging into battle at Helm's Deep as did the movie poster yet after seeing these we are meant to genuinely believe that he dies half way through the film (naturally forgetting of course that the third film is called Return of the King, which further killed any tension and revealed the shallow stunt for what it was). The time when trailers were seductive, enchanting items that gave a hint but nothing more seem long gone.
  • Django
    The perfect example of this is the posting of the old Indiana Jones trailers, a month back. Those trailers were like an art form all by themselves. Establishing shots, slow reveals, etc. Trailers today have so many shots per second that it's hard to be drawn in for any other reason than to pause and look at "frame 1:16" to see that FX shot they snuck in. I agree that Marvel probably had to reshuffle their Hulk cards after Iron Man came out. It really seems like the Norton cut was ready to go, which would've provided slightly over 2 hours of Bruce Banner's struggles, as represented in the early trailers. Then, approaching opening week, the script changed completely to become an "Epic Adventure" and then an "Action-packed Reboot". In the end, it appears they made the right choice, since Hulk ended on top for the weekend. Would it have had even better results if it had more of Norton's scenes? Or did the "action-cut" allow the audience to overlook the FX, simply b/c they could never catch a breath to take a second look? In any case, if trailers are any indication of the confidence a studio has in its product, the Incredible Hulk AND the Happening clearly had box office jitters. Whereas something like the Dark Knight strides along w/ supreme confidence, revealing next to nothing of itself - as of yet.
  • This has been a heated debate topic in my circle of cronies ever since the trailer for Robert Zemeckis' What Lies Beneath essentially gave away the big secret of the 2 hour plus movie. Talk about a buzzkill! Ever since then I make a conscious effort to try to screen what it is I'm seeing about a film before it comes out. This includes those silly BTS shows that come out the week before the movie does, or the red carpet premiere specials. I simply started recording the programs for viewing after I'd seen the films. The Rise of the Internets added another dimension to my avoidance techniques. Now we have sites itching to spill the beans on all the movie content they can get their hands on. For instance, I wanted to find a logo for the Cloverfield movie to send to a friend who asked me what my plans were for the upcoming weekend (the weekend it was due to be released). I did a Google image search for "cloverfield" and the first thing to pop up was an artist's rendering of the monster. I shot myself in the foot on that one, but seriously... who's posting spoilers like that the week before a major release?? Bastards, that's who. Those The Happening trailers, even the green band one, gave away far too much of the goods to be labeled as anything but bad advertising. Combine that with the emphasis the studio was placing on this being M. Night's first R-rated movie and I feel a bit manipulated that I didn't see what I thought I'd be seeing. I usually don't unwittingly fall for the ol' "best parts in the trailer" trick, but I feel like I did with this particular film. There were no surprises on the big screen that weren't on the small screen first. That's not the way to treat real movie fans.
  • Devon Shaw
    This is actually getting bad enough to the point where I can specifically identify which scenes in trailers are from what part of the movie, based on their logical implications. I started doing this as an experiment about a year ago, and so far have an excellent track record... effectively ruining the movies I so diligently flushed out. It's not just that Hollywood films are becoming increasingly formulaic and risk-adverse, but their promotional campaigns are too. There are, of course, notable exceptions. You specifically mentioned Cloverfield, which I found to be an excellent campaign championing the 'Less Is More' concept to viral success. Perhaps my favorite however, is the third and final trailer for foreign thriller [β€’REC], which didn't actually show any scenes from the movie... instead showing only a night vision recording of how terrified the screener audience was. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfgZlMYj_NU Truly incredible promotion technique. Made me want to see it more than ever.
  • I forgot to add..... I think the Inc. Hulk's marketing gave away far too much too. But they may have felt they had to throw a lot of action at the public to overcome the large mountain of ill will surrounding the Green Guy after Ang Lee's much-maligned version. So they went for last-minute overload there, even revealing the Tony Stark scene. I can't say I blame them for that, though I don't think it was necessary.
  • chrisUK
    on the subject of spoilers...theres a 7minute clip of Wanted going around...i had to watch it. one word: AMAZING. crazy action, humour, F-bombs, Angelina Jolie, Doge Vipers...bending bullets... theres also a bit of a homage to one of the first ever uses of 'bullet time' from Full Contact (old HK flick), old school animated bullet style! Glad i booked the opening day off work. The scene is on Youtube now (taken down elsewhere) and it doesn't show anything the trailers haven't, but the script seems to have been tightened up a bit and it looks more complete. It's like the summer of 1999 all over again...
  • Ricky
    This is an interesting topic to discuss because it moves in so many directions aside from just personal preference when it comes to the movie going experience. For us, movie freak types, there's a certain excitement that comes just with a new preview, but for the rest of the world a movie preview is just another commercial. Think about how much attention you pay to just any old commercial. You may know it's an edible product, you may recognize the label, but can you recall the storyline of most commercials? That's probably how half of America views previews, so Hollywood could put every secret in a preview and most people wouldn't even be able to recall it the day they go into the theater to actually see the movie. With Hollywood fledgling like they've been over the past few years, they're really left with little option but to show the most exciting parts when it comes to the types of films you see in the summer, but they don't always so this with your average dramas. Those films have to survive on word of mouth. Think about films like Gone Baby Gone and Redemption. Both were great films that had pretty bland trailers, and they didn't attract enough attention off the bat and were swallowed by the flashy previews during the fall season. It's really a mess of a cats cradle for the studios, because who do they cater to...the die hards who will see the movie regardless or, what essentially amounts to the swing voters who may or may not see the movie? Blowing their wad and exposing that one exciting scene may be what makes the difference that gets people in the door, giving the film the necessary boost to make it into a franchise (ala the Underworld movies). So in a way, the previews do work for those of us who love movies as well. But I agree a great movie is a great movie and the studios need to learn to recognize a hot hand when they have one and not show their cards to early because word of mouth will sustain a movie much longer than a preview. I think Wall-E is going to pull this off beautifully, and Juno did a nice job of this as well. Hancock and Wanted on the other hand are going to be victims of what you're claiming. I think we've already seen most of both of those films and it's just a matter of putting the cool scenes in a chronological order. I tend to get the most excited about movies when the preview doesn't make any sense, like Pans Labyrinth and the Fall. I must have watched the preview for The Fall ten times and I still had very little of an idea of what the film was actually about going into the theater. Also fast moving previews are a good way to stir attention without revealing to much. Adding emotion with editing techniques really seems to get the audience going. The new Clone Wars trailer seems to do an alright job of that, Across the Universe did an alright job, and one of my favorite previews of all time did this so well to this day I still like the preview more than the actual movie: Ransom.
  • I think the problem is that studios market continually a big money shot in all the trailers but then expect the audience to forget about this when a scene in the films looks like it's going in a different direction to that of the trailer. ie Aragorn leading the Helms Deep defence yet we are supposed to believe that he's died half way through the film.
  • avoidz
    Death Race is the worst offending trailer so far this year for me, too; they showed the entire movie plot in two minutes. I guess all the noise and explosions are what they want you to go for, not the story 😐
  • Trailers are good when they entice you and let you know what you're getting into. The worst trailer I saw was for 'Georgia Rule' which painted it as a lighthearted coming of age comedy. Turns out it's about child molestation, alcohol abuse and family coming together! Way to pull the rug right under people. I know that's not a great movie, but seriously sometimes these trailers out and out lie to the audience. That's a bigger issue to me than when they blow the whole movie. Just my two cents.

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