It is always fascinating to observe the stunned, and at times perplexed, looks that come my way when I admit that I still have not seen the latest Star Wars teaser trailer. You know the one that not only marks the triumphant return of Han Solo to the franchise, but has also caused many around the globe to squeal with the same delight as pre-teens at a One Direction concert. The response to such a confession is usually either “oh man, the trailer it is so good” or “how have you not seen it?” The latter of which is often uttered in such a way that the thinly veiled “get with it old man” tone cannot be ignored.
While the fact that I have not seen the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice teaser either may suggest otherwise, I have not been stuck in a Captain America style block of ice for months. I am simply making a conscious effort to recapture that genuine element of surprise that once made the cinematic experience so magical.
Naïve as it may sound, I miss the days when one could walk into a theatre, with very little knowledge about a film, and be taken on a truly eye-opening ride. There was actually a time when you needed to see Jurassic Park to find out which dinosaurs are friendly and which are deadly. Nowadays we are being be told months in advance that Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady will being teaming up with Velociraptors to fight an even greater foe in Jurassic World.
This is not to say that I am anti-trailers by any means. They are a valuable promotional tool that, while at times divulging too much information, is often a key deciding factors for audiences trying to figure out how to best spend their hard earned dollars. Granted, I will never understand why some theatre chains show spoiler filled pre-show behind-the-scenes featurettes for the film you are actually there to see, but I digress… In my humble opinion, trailers are most effective when they provide exposure to, and sell audiences on, films that might have otherwise gone under most people’s radar.
The problem with films like Star Wars, Jurassic World, and many of the big brand franchises, is that they are already well-known commodities.
It is not enough for studios to simply release one or two trailers to whet the public’s appetite. Companies are now turning teasers trailers into their own mini comic con style events. All of this even before the three full trailers and several television spots are released. Like trained circus animals we have been taught to celebrate the commercials for the commercials. It has gotten to the point where teasers trailers are being dissected and discussed as much as, if not more so, than the actual film themselves. If you factor in the number of “first look” click bait exclusive images, casting announcements, and other film related news that floods social media with the fury of a dam bursting on a daily basis, it is a wonder that people even bother to watch the actual films anymore.
Imaging going to a restaurant and having to endure multiple waiters build up your anticipation before you even get a chance to see the actual menu. The meal itself becomes less appetizing when you have spent months following its construction every step of the way.
Frankly, there is just too much information coming out these days. It is bad enough that studios are announcing projects years in advance, but they also need to keep pumping out content to ensure that our attention does not swim off the hook they initially baited us with. Of course, a bulk of the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of us movie lovers. The basic principle of supply and demand is the cornerstones of any business, and like unruly children in a toy store we are demanding everything under the sun.
While reflecting on Marvel’s strategy of announcing their film slate years in advance, in his National Post article, film critic Calum Marsh points out that the practice has had major ramifications on how audience now consume film. He notes that “we’ve come to prefer anticipation to reflection — to thinking idly about a film that’s coming soon than to thinking seriously about one that’s already out.”
I cannot help but think back to Marsh’s words whenever I observer my Facebook and Twitter feeds fill with exclusive Suicide Squad on-set images of Margot Robbie in her skimpy Harley Quinn shorts; pictures of Stephen Amell wearing his Casey Jones outfit for the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, or the rabid discussion surrounding the Captain America: Civil War casting news. The latter being unveiled a scant two weeks after Age of Ultron hit theatres.
Apparently we can’t even wait a month for the corpse of a box office behemoth to become cold before aggressively trampling over its body to grasp at the next piece of film news being dangled before us.
The curious thing about this current “need to know now” culture of movie fandom is how quickly it leads to exhaust and backlash. Remember when many online were hailing the Man of Steel teasers as the comic book equivalent to Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. Yep, that happened. The buzz about the film made it seem like the rapture was upon us. Funny how many of those same individuals were quick to rip the film apart when it did not meet their lofty expectations.
When exiting one of the biggest blockbuster of this year, Furious 7, I could not help but smirk upon hearing one teenager, when discussing his disappointment with the film, remark to his friend that “the Paul Walker running on the bus scene was cool, but [he] had already seen it multiple times in the trailers”. He proceeded to list off several other things he had seen and read online in advance of opening night. The element of surprise was gone before he even stepped into the theatre. He was merely watching the film going through the motions of piecing together all of the released information into something less than what his anticipations had been.
Sure it was the young man’s own fault for not having the will power to avoid the relentless coverage, but he is simply a by-product of the era we now live in. One in which our insatiable demands for constant content is quickly siphoning all the mystery and magic that once made going to the movies such a treat.
Brilliant article … Well stated. I’m a sucker for trailers and press stuff, if it’s released, chances are I’ll see it. But it’s true what you’ve written. Nothing has ever replicated that feeling I got after witnessing ‘Jurassic Park’ in theatres for the first time, as press just wasn’t as obtainable back then.
“If it’s released, chances are I’ll see it.” Frankly, it is getting harder and harder not to see it these days. The constant information spreads over social media like wildfire. Partly because no one wants to feel like they are the last ones to join the conversation.
I’m on board with ya here 100% I haven’t seen any of the trailers you mention and never plan to, the element of surprise is so important. Great read.
I think we take the importance of the element of surprise for granted these days. You mentioned that you have not seen the trailers mentioned. Out of curiosity, do you avoid all trailers and film news? Or just the ones for films you know you will see regardless.
I don’t go out of my way to avoid them, but I don’t go out of my way to see them either. A trailer, a tidbit, that doesn’t interest me. Why not build the suspense? I love the new Mad Max movie so much cos I went in totally blind!
What does strike me as odd though is this notion of ‘how haven’t you seen so and so trailer?’, rather than ‘how have you not seen this MOVIE”. Its bizarre and I don’t quite understand it if I’m honest, but I don’t understand a lot of shit that most people do, ha!
I agree that the element of surprise is losing it’s luster. As an audience living in a “what have you done for me lately” society, it would be nice to have a little mystery again!
Do you find that, being part of “what have you done for me lately” society, your overall disappoint in the final products has increased as a result of the all the hype that constant film news creates?
I definitely think the hype machine has done damage to the ability to manage expectations rationally. Look at a film like the Amazing Spiderman 2. I did not hate the film, but the marketing blitz they put on the consumers put the expectations at a virtually unattainable level. In turn I truly believe the film received much more negative attention than it would have if the ad bombardment was more subdued.
An excellent article and I agree wholeheartedly. Hearing news so early and seeing images makes me less inclined to dip into Twitter, but unfortunately sometimes it’s very difficult to avoid.
Agree that is it is very difficult to avoid hearing/seeing early film news these days.
I’m very strict in not knowing much of movies going in, which basically means not reading about upcoming movies and not watching trailers. Doing both is sometimes very hard as so much is put in headlines as well….but usually I manage to go into the cinema pretty much blindly.
I commend you for your discipline. You are right that avoiding both is very hard at times. I usually try to limit the amount of film news and trailer I consume for films I know I will see regardless – only viewed the Ant-Man trailer for the first time when I went to see Age of Ultron again – but even blocking out the all that informational noise can feel like a chore in itself. This is especially true when you factor in the eye-catching headlines.
I couldn’t agree with this piece more Courtney. Great thoughts. Sometimes for me a trailer, even one I know is going to be laden with spoilers and plot-rich detail, helps to actually heighten excitement. I carry that excitement into the theater, and I usually try to know something about who has made the film so I can anticipate how likely it is that my expectations shall be met. On the odd occasion my expectations are exceeded, even after watching trailers a lot. But all of this is to say that this is a ridiculous amount of prep work when talking about going somewhere to be entertained.
Very good point regarding using trailers as a tool to more accurately adjust your levels of anticipation going into a film. My usual philosophy on trailers is that one should be all I need to gauge if I am going to see a film. After that I try and go radio silence on film news and subsequent trailers. For high profile stuff I know I am going to see regardless, take the James Bond film Spectre for example, I try to avoid information about it all together. No amount of film stills, casting news, trailers, etc. is going to change the fact that I will be seeing the film.
Same for me. I’m limiting my exposure for Spectre. But like you said there’s nothing that will keep me away from a film I hope will be my favorite of the year. 🙂
didn’t have time to read this right now but i firmly believe trailers and previews are ruining cinema.
the previews before films and trailers should be limited to under 1 min and 30seconds.
In a perfect world I that time limit would be ideal. Unfortunately I think studios would just offset the shorter trailer running time by dumping even more news and images from their films online.
thats probably true.
i just read this and i agree wholeheartedly.
i, myself, tend to avoid as much promotional material as i can if i plan on seeing a film. its nigh impossible to avoid previews at the cinema but i only watch 1 full trailer online and then that’s it. i don’t mind looking at pics (like the reveal of Crossbones on set or all of Ryan Reynolds “Deadpool” pics) but its the trailers that contain footage of the actual that i want to see that i try as hard as i can to avoid.
i think it was “Superbad” or some other comedy like that (maybe “Ted”) but all of the good jokes were used in the trailers to try and put butts in the seats and then by the time i saw the film it wasn’t even funny. the trailers got all the best parts and nothing was funny any more.
like you said, its the moviegoers’ fault and its up to us to attempt to recapture this element of surprise if we want it.
I happened to see the Star Wars trailer because a morning show I had on actually did a cold open with it. I’m not sure I would have sought it out yet otherwise.
Until a movie is near to being released I don’t much care what is happening with it. I don’t follow casting news. I do admittedly look forward to seeing the trailers of some movies I’ve heard about. Those are usually the commercials I like the best during the Superbowl.
I’m old enough to remember a time when the only way you saw a full trailer, though, was before a movie in a theater. A sign that for quite a while now there has been a serious market for consuming them is that after the trailer for Independence Day (1996) came out, with the scene of the Empire State Building being destroyed, people went nuts for it. A sizeable enough group of people actually bought tickets for the movies just to see the trailer and then walk out, that they were given credit for artificially increasing the box office for whatever movie it was being shown in front of. I think the same thing happened for The Phantom Menace trailer in 1999.
One of the things I’ve liked about completing the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They lists is that I simply was watching a movie because it was on the list. I would deliberately start them not even knowing if I was watching a comedy or a drama; a French film or an American one.
Too much info can come from anywhere, though. Even Netflix has spoiled multiple movies for me with nothing but their three sentence blurb on the DVD sleeve they mail – “Tells the story of Dr. so and so, who was caught performing abortions and hanged for it.” Gee, thanks Netflix. It’s to the point now that I don’t even read the DVD sleeve before I put it in my player.
I too remember the Independence Day and Phantom Menace trailer craze, be actually bought tickets to Wing Commander just to see the trailer…now that is dedication. I am fine with seeing trailers in a theatre as it is part of the moving going experience, but the other outlets of acquiring film news are really starting to irk me.
It is interesting that you brought up the morning show’s cold opening of the Star Wars trailer. A similar thing happened to me when a popular morning show in Toronto managed to get exclusive on-set images and interviews for Suicide Squad, which just happened to be filming in that particular area one night.
Trailers are good if they just add to the element of surprise such as Inception. You just want to know what’s gonna happen in the movie. Internet is another factor that contributes to killing the element of surprise. Primal Fear was spoilt for me by an Internet user. It deeply effects movies which are built on twists such as Memento or The Usual Suspects.
It is a wonder they even bother to make films with major twist any more. I remember when the Crying Game came out and critics and media were advised not to reveal a key plot point. For the most part everyone complied. That would never happen today, especially considering how fast information spreads online.
Yeah, there are even people out there who are like ‘I have watched and enjoyed the movie, so let’s just spoil it for another guy’.
What a wonderful article, enjoyed it very much! I am a huge fan of superhero movies and as they are now the new norm in the film business there are many trailers coming out about them and news and behind the scenes photos. My friends always tag me and ask them about them and I totally agree that there is no more surprise in these movies. You can almost spell out how every movie is going to develop just based on the trailer. I hope in the future people realize this and change is brought about.
I think it will only get worse in the future. It has gotten to the point where even the major studios do not seem as up in arms as they once were about images leaking.
I can’t say much more different that hasn’t already been said by others, but this is a tremendous post. And it could just be me (and a duh! realization), but I feel that you see more revealing stuff for the blockbuster-type movies (Terminator: Genisys, Furious 7, The Amazing Spider Man 2, etc), than more smaller fare. I do very brief (not many) trailer analyses of new things, but I try to make them of movies that can’t really be considered big ones.
It is somewhat hard though not to avoid them, though, if you are a person like myself who likes to get their seat early, not be a disturbance, etc. But I suppose if you try hard enough, you can avoid the unnecessary overkill.
We definitely see more revealing content for the blockbuster fare than we do the smaller films. I think this has to do with the fact that the majority of mainstream audiences are engulfed in the “geek culture revolution” that cinema has now become. They do not care so much about the small indie because chances are good they will not see it.
100% agree here. I think Jurassic World is going to suffer the most. There have been too many reveals in the trailer. I would like to go into a cinema completely unaware about a film a few times. It is why TV is winning me over. The shocks are more intense these days.
I think Jurassic World will still make money (especially internationally), but I am curious to see if it has any staying power in theatres. I agree that the marketing has given away too much of the story so far.
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