Adventures In Celluloid

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Dominic Corry: The problem with movie trailers

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Tom Cruise in a scene from the first Mission: Impossible film.
Tom Cruise in a scene from the first Mission: Impossible film.

In a market where movies live or die by their opening weekend grosses, trailers play a larger role in the release of movies than they ever have.

It's an extremely common complaint - and one I have made many times - that trailers give away far too much of the movie they are selling.

I've often cited the trailer for the first Mission: Impossible movie as the turning point for trailers showing EVERYTHING.

Not only do they reveal the climactic helicopter explosion which hurtles Tom Cruise onto the back of the Chunnel train, they ALSO show us the post-climactic moment where the spinning helicopter blades stop millimetres from Cruise's neck.

In the years since, the problem has not abated.

I got to thinking about this issue again while watching Wrath of the Titans, which is released this week. I wasn't a fan of the first one (was anyone?) but I got mildly excited when I saw the monster-a-thon displayed in the film's trailer.

Then I saw the movie.

Somehow, it seems smaller than the trailer. There is less in the movie than the trailer.

Would I have enjoyed the film more if I hadn't already seen the monsters revealed in the trailer? Probably.

But it doesn't change the fact that it's a terrible movie.

I have always attributed this trend for everything-and-the-kitchen-sink style of trailers to the increased corporatisation of the movie studios. In this kind of environment, every decision (even the creative ones) needs to backed by solid numbers and predetermined reactions.

So it makes sense that trailers wouldn't hold back. Why let a film be discovered by an audience over time - as so often used to happen - when you can bash them over the head with why they will LOVE it?

However, after years of delving into the amazing Trailers From Hell website, which archives hundreds of old movie trailers, I have started to reassess this view.

As Joe Dante (creator of Trailers From Hell, director of Gremlins and Explorers, and former trailer editor for Roger Corman) has said, movie trailers have always shown the most impressive moments of any movie, be they from the climax or elsewhere.

Having witnessed the veracity of his assertion first hand via the many wonders on Trailers From Hell, I am inclined to agree with him.

So why do we gripe about trailers spoiling things much more than we used to? I say it's the movies themselves that have changed, not the trailers.

For the same corporate reasons I mentioned above, movies these days tend to place much more emphasis on spectacle, "money shots" and gimmicky plot twists than a decent story or well-rounded characters.

These are elements than can be easily spoiled by experiencing them in the trailer.

If the best thing a film can offer is a nice CGI tidal wave or a third-act twist, then of course audiences will feel unfulfilled upon seeing the movie, as they are already overly familiar with its biggest selling point via repeated exposure to the trailer.

I'm generalising wildly of course, but in the days before corporations owned the studios and the marketing department dictated content, there was a greater focus on telling a decent story and giving characters well-rounded arcs. Plus they didn't have CGI to fall back on.

The rewards of these old fashioned cinematic traits simply cannot be spoiled by a two-and-a-half minute trailer. Sure, the trailer might've featured the climactic helicopter explosion or shoot-out, but the films in question didn't creatively succeed or fail on these small moments - it was the overall experience than left an impact.

So as movies got shallower and shallower, trailers became much more likely to spoil the experience of a film. To re-address the title of this blog, the problem with trailers isn't the trailers, it's the movies.

This is merely my opinion on the subject. I'm in no way against spectacle as entertainment - which it should be noted isn't exactly a new thing - and I'm not abandoning my earlier view that trailers show far too much.

In an ideal world the two elements would meet in the middle to affect a balance. Films would be less gimmicky, and trailers would be less ruthless.

I love watching trailers, even now when we're completely saturated by them. The answer isn't to simply not watch the trailers (much as I try...) as they can play an important role in anticipating a movie. But it is also a treat to go in 'clean' and not knowing anything about the movie. That still happens for me. Sometimes.

* Agree? Disagree? Am I preaching to the choir with this? Do trailers ruin movies for you? Do you try to avoid them? What are the most egregious examples? Comment below!

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