Please note that there are potential spoilers discussed in this article (duh), so proceed with caution.
For a very long time I have had a problem with film trailers, particularly those that give away the action in the third act or final set piece in a bid to get people into cinemas to see the full film. In the last 18 months I have made a more concerted effort to visit the cinema and subsequently have been exposed to more trailers than ever before. The more of them you see (and the more of the films you subsequently see), the more obvious the conventions they use are. They usually fall into two categories: the ones that spoil the end of the film (I’m looking at you, Fast and Furious 6) or go to lengths to spell out the entire narrative in the space of 2 minutes and defeat the purpose of going to see the whole film – most romantic comedies fall into this category.
On the whole, I prefer not to see any trailers or spoilers before a film’s release as I prefer to be surprised, either pleasantly or not, about the film’s contents. The only time I have fully appreciated trailers is when they have pointed me towards a film I wasn’t previously aware of that piques my interest. I acknowledge that I am perhaps an oddity in is respect, but I don’t need the latest set news or leaked footage in order to be excited about a film’s release. In this respect I am very much in favour of the JJ Abrams/Christopher Nolan approach of almost total media silence, with a gradual dripfeed of information building to the film’s release. I’m as excited as anyone about the forthcoming Interstellar and Star Wars Episode VII, but I won’t be seeking out any further information on them ahead of release – I will however have to go and see them on release day (or as near as possible) in order to avoid unscrupulous spoilers.
They also have a habit of blatantly lying to the audience, again in a bid to get bums on seats in the auditorium. My earliest memory of this is with Star Trek: Insurrection, released in 1999. The trailer implies that the Enterprise is involved in a full-on war with the Federation, taking part in epic space battles and standing up for principles that the Federation should be upholding. As it turned out, the space battles hinted at in the trailer were clips taken from the previous Star Trek film, First Contact, and the entire film was nothing more than a feature length version of a story that wouldn’t be out of place on the television series, albeit one given a movie sized budget. Disappointment doesn’t even begin to cover it. I understand the need for a bit of creative editing to pull in an audience – the movie makers are in it to make some money after all – but making the film out to be something that it isn’t will not endear you to those who have seen the trailer and, perhaps more importantly, will potentially make them think twice about paying money to go and see the next installment. Somehow this theory doesn’t apply to Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise which continues to make huge amounts of money despite repeating the same old formula time and time again.
More recently the trailer for Godzilla did something similar. Whilst I still enjoyed the film very much, the trailer heavily emphasised the presence of Bryan Cranston (no doubt profiting from his recent role as Walter White on Breaking Bad) as a man obsessed with the nuclear creature(s) and implies that he’s central component of the story. Instead he’s unceremoniously bumped off after the first act and we’re left with a human personality vacuum for the remainder of the film. From that point forward Godzilla emotes more than the emotionally stunted character portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. This is yet another example of a film not living up to the promise of the trailer, and it starts to grate after a while.
My only other complaint about trailers isn’t anything to do with their construction or existence, but more to do with the cinemas that show them. My main cinema, for budgetary reasons, is Cineworld. They show a vast number of trailers for forthcoming films, yet while their film selection is generally quite impressive, in many instances the films they advertise don’t appear in their cinemas. Frank is a film I am really interested in seeing, yet despite seeing the trailers for several weeks ahead of its release it never showed up in my Cineworld. I will get to see it eventually – Dom Hemingway was another film that was advertised at Cineworld but only got a 9.30pm screening at the nearby Odeon. As I finish work at 4pm and live 35 minutes away from the cinema, a 5 hour wait just to see one film wasn’t feasible. I eventually got to see it a year later, and I expect it to be similar circumstances for Frank and all of the other films I’ve missed so far in 2014. Despite seeing an average of 2 films a week at the cinema, there’s still a lot I miss.
I’m of the opinion that we should get back to the days of just showing quick, 60 second teasers that don’t give everything away and do just enough to get an audience interested. We don’t need to see the explosive finales of these films, nor do we need to know the entire plot before we go to see the film proper. Just tell us the basics so we can say yay or nay and leave it at that. It may also mean that we don’t have to spend 25 minutes before the film’s advertised start time sitting through adverts and trailers. Let’s face it, this can’t be a bad thing. Unless you’re frequently late to a film – in which case start arriving earlier.