The plight of movie trailers
The first time I was ever blown away by a movie trailer I was sitting in a theater in 2010 with my family to see “Inception” — now one of my absolute favorite films. The last trailer to preceed the film was for “The Social Network,” directed by David Fincher (“Fight Club.”) An eerie choir cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” accompanies a montage of close ups of Facebook pictures and profiles. It simultaneously grabbed my interest and made me feel uneasy. The trailer then introduces the characters and the primary conflicts without giving away too much. It cuts away from every scene quickly forcing the audience’s attention to stay on the screen; “Creep” continues to play over the entire trailer, building on the aforementioned unease. Once the trailer ended I felt like Fincher was trying to tell a story of something gone wrong, and I wanted so badly to know what that something was.
Trailers have been an effective way of marketing films since Nils Granlund showed a series of slides to market an upcoming Charlie Chaplin film at Loew's Seventh Avenue Theatre in Harlem in 1914. Recently, a lot of film trailers have become far too saturated with content. They reveal too many plot points, present the film as something it isn’t, and a single film often has up to four or five different trailers which borders on the ridiculous.
A recent example is the new trailer for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” You know the trailer for your new film may reveal too much when both the director and one of the stars publicly say that people shouldn’t watch the trailer. The trailer seems to reveal two major plot points. First, that Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, “Paterson”) kills Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher, “Star Wars: A New Hope”) and second, that Kylo Ren and Rey (Daisy Ridley, “Murder on the Orient Express”) will work together on a mutual goal instead of against each other. Star Wars isn’t a unique case: a plethora of films make the same mistake, particularly action films.
The trailer for “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” directed by Guy Richie (“Snatch.”) does a great job of presenting the vibe of the film, but also tells the audience the entire arc of the plot. The American and the Russian spy have to work together, there’s conflict, they fight over the girl, they get over said conflict, they save the day and they’ll work together in the future. The trailer even goes as far as to end with the last line of dialogue from the film. What is the point of seeing the film if we know everything about it?
“Drive,” my favorite film of all time, is even guilty of having a poorly marketed trailer. It fails not in revealing too much of the plot, but rather it completely misrepresents what the film is. The trailer presents a film filled with car chases, fast-paced action, and lots of dialogue. “Drive” is none of those things. The film is famous for its lack of dialogue and slow stylized action scenes. I don’t know what the hell they were thinking when they put this trailer together. A woman even sued the film’s distributor on account of the trailer being misleading.
Blockbuster films will often have several trailers accompanying a single film. The upcoming “Justice League” film has four trailers alone, along with releases of clips from scenes in the film. Why is this necessary? The name of the film alone will attract enough of an audience, so I don’t see a need to oversaturate the market with content.
Trailers should introduce the world the film takes place in without revealing too much plot. They should inform the audience of the primary characters and conflicts, but only enough to generate intrigue. Fincher’s “The Social Network” is a perfect example of this. More recently, the “Blade Runner 2049” trailer did a great job of showing viewers just enough to get them interested. Trailers have become so misleading and filled with spoilers that I’ve stopped watching them until the internet confirms it won’t ruin the film.