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C'mon Hollywood: Are trailers ruining movies?

06.04.2013

I love movie trailers. Always have, always will. Like a music video highlight reel, they can be pretty damn sweet. Sometimes, they’re a finely crafted tease that show very little, but still manage to intrigue. Mostly, it’s a crapshoot in terms of content, editing, and presentation. You get some beautifully chopped trailers and some awfully hacked ones. Lately, though, it seems like many moviegoers are complaining more and more about trailers ruining the movie, even prompting theater owners to suggest that the length be cut back (trust me, eliminating 30 seconds still leaves plenty of room for spoilers). It’s a divisive issue, as there are those that are perfectly content with the current crop of trailers and those that feel slighted.

Trailers began as a series of commercials for upcoming features that were played at the END of a movie (hence, the word “trailer”), which were meant to entice viewers to come back to the theater for future shows. They also served as a block of ads that would “break up” the features playing in a loop during the early days of cinema. Patrons could buy a ticket and stay in the theater for as long as they wanted, watching as many features as they desired. The trailers that played at the end were meant to help break the spell and keep the turnover brisk.

Now, things are different. Trailers are the biggest, most effective marketing device used to lure viewers to theaters. Each one carries some semblance of a narrative three-act structure in a typical two-and-a-half minute runtime, while playing BEFORE the movie. It’s been the standard for decades and many have embraced the format, even looking forward to it. In fact, many often say it’s the best part of going to the movies. Trailers have become a mainstay in the industry and will continue to be, as they reach the largest amount of people in a variety of media (theaters, TV, internet, social media, etc.). But, is it getting out of hand? 

One of the common complaints from fans about trailers is that they give away the entire movie within their “three-act structure.” And, it’s a valid point. Consider the trailers for FAST AND FURIOUS 6, which, after seeing the movie twice, really does run through the entire film (and even has an extended 3.5 minute trailer to boot!). From the opening to the closing of the trailer you can accurately guess the flow of events in the film, minus a few twists and a hell of an end credit scene. Personally, I loved the trailers and thought they were cut wonderfully, but many felt that they basically spelled everything out, which is accurate for the most part. Almost every big action beat is in the trailers.

Another film that flooded the marketplace with trailers is IRON MAN 3. The first few trailers left everyone buzzing with excitement. The first post-Avengers film had a lot riding on it with a level of anticipation that was about as high, if not more so. The trailers felt epic, action-packed, mysterious, and leaned toward a much darker tone than we’d seen in prior entries, lending it the moniker of The Stark Knight. Then, the movie came out and all hell broke loose. The movie was hardly dark and took some serious turns that were vastly different than what we were sold in the trailers, which were both brilliant marketing and a dick move all at once. The question is, however, did the trailer do its job? Instead of getting what we thought, we got something different, but it served the bait and switch that was in the film as well. In that sense, the trailers mislead us, just like the movie did, but with a purpose that served the controversial plot. So, you have to wonder: Did the trailer ruin the film by not giving what it teased or did it serve it perfectly by emulating the very nature of its narrative?

Let’s examine another trailer series: MAN OF STEEL. We got our first teaser last year, featuring some voice over and a few snippets of footage. Everything was subtle. They played it close to the chest and it was more than enough to get audiences intrigued. The second trailer gave us much more, confirming some of the hype (i.e. more action) and left us with some of the actual score, rather than the common use of music that will never be featured in the finished film. The final trailer, which features the most action-heavy material is much shorter than the second, yet manages to entice and intrigue without letting the cat completely out of the bag.  Out of the three, it seems like MAN OF STEEL is an example of how to do it right, although the final judgment will come when the film is released in a few weeks.

Given these examples and the many more floating out there it’s hard to say definitively if trailers are actually ruining movies or not. Certainly, trailers have revealed plot twists, even if out of context, but I think it comes down to personal preference. For those looking to go into a movie “cold,” trailers can be relentlessly spoilerish. For those who love the hype, they can be an essential part of the movie-going experience. And while it’s easy not to watch the trailers at home or on the Internet, when faced with 20 minutes of “trailers” at the beginning of a movie in the theater, it’s hard to turn away. Perhaps, this is a situation where there is no real solution (unless they put trailers at the end of movies again?). Everyone has a different trigger that draws them to buy a movie ticket. Some will go blindly, while others need to be sold on the whole package. So, what's a studio to do?

Let's hear what you think: Are trailers ruining movies or just part of the experience?

Extra Tidbit: What's your favorite movie trailer? Some of my faves include: 300, The Matrix, The Fifth Element, Armageddon, Mission: Impossible, The Avengers, and hundreds more.
Source: JoBlo.com

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