Sunday Discussion: Killing the Experience - Trailers Showing Too Much
by Alex Billington
June 15, 2008
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.