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What’s the Deal with Movie Trailers?

My god we’ve had a lot of movie trailers lately! In the past week and a bit we’ve gotten new trailers for Ant-Man, Terminator Genesis (I refuse to spell it their way, don’t let a dyslexic guy come up with your title Paramount!), Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Batman v. Superman, and Fantastic Four. We’ve had more trailers released than movies and you can be sure if they were compiled together for cinematic release, Movie Trailers: The Movie would do better at the box office than The Longest Ride. It feels too much and begs the question, are we being oversaturated with movie trailers?
Yes. Yes we are. But aside from that, the responses to these trailers spark more interesting questions. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was met with almost universal acclaim, Terminator Genesis was met with almost universal derision, and the rest I mentioned were equally met with love and hate for debate by internet commenters without anything better to do. Why is there so much reaction and opinion to what are essentially advertisements? Is there a formula for good trailers?
Trailers were originally meant to be adverts for films and in the early days emphasized the glamour, the plot, and the stars. Of course back then seeing a film in cinemas was likely the one chance you’d get to see it. There was more of a once in a lifetime mindset to seeing movies. But as the decades rolled by this became less apparent due to re-releases and eventually home video. Trailers could be a bit more unique. Famously great movie trailers such as Alien, Jaws, Star Wars, and Psycho showed very little character or glamour and concentrated more on imagery. Choosing select scenes and careful editing, they gave us an implication of the plot without a lot of details. Hell, Psycho showed no clips from the actual movie and consisted of Hitchcock walking around the set talking about vague plot details, but stopping himself just enough to preserve the mystique of the film we still knew little about. But that would never work today. We expect trailers to give us a satisfactory idea of plot, characters, and tone. But doesn’t that seem a bit gratuitous? Aren’t we being precocious expecting this much from mere advertisements?
Well that’s just it. Trailers aren’t just advertisements anymore. We live in an era where most of us don’t see trailers for the first time in the cinema but through the internet and social media. Most major movies these days are franchise films (a discussion for another day) and so rely on familiar characters and situations. If the franchise is already successful enough they don’t need to try and bring in new audiences. Avengers: Age of Ultron was going to be one of the most successful films of the year even without a trailer. So then what’s it for? To create and develop hype. And this isn’t exclusive to movies as even TV series’ such as the admittedly cinematic in scope Game of Thrones are getting trailers for each new season. Franchise trailers don’t need to sell you on plot or characters so they show a mix of the familiar faces and places but with new out-of-context sequences and dialogue to provoke speculation, and thus excitement and hype. This is further fueled by the release of way too many teasers and trailers for singular movies to tease more and more. This is particularly true of Marvel movies. Hype is important in solidifying a franchise’s success. Avengers could be crap but it’s still going to be rally successful because of the way the trailers have been constructed. When films try to minimalize their trailers to the basics like in the old days, the response is never quite as positive. A lot of people disliked the Batman v. Superman teaser (it’s a teaser! It’s still a year away people!) because it didn’t show much, even though what it did show (Superman and Batman gearing up for a fight) was exactly what’s promised in the title. Indie films, horror films, and Awards season films will often have more subdued trailers as they don’t have nearly as much hype or obligation to hype as franchise films.
The formula for movie trailers changes with the times and with each time comes new standards of what’s good or bad. Had Terminator Genesis been a smaller sci-fi film from an original concept (maybe something along the lines of Ex Machina), no one would care that it potentially spoiled a major plot point. And in light of that trailer people tend to forget that in 1991 Terminator 2 spoiled the fact that Schwarzenegger was a good guy this time round, a plot point that is presented as a twist in the film itself. And while discussing a film trailer can provoke interesting ideas, we shouldn’t take them so seriously as to judge the quality of a film itself based on a few minutes of footage that at its core is advertisement and hype, and in a number of cases today have more trailers on the way. I may personally prefer the less is more route to get me intrigued for a new story or concept, but even I can fall victim to the hype of some franchise trailers, most notably Star Wars which admittedly caused the childhood fanboy in me to squeal. And I’ll probably be just as excited when the next two trailers hit before the films’ release in eight months. There are too many trailers being released right now and too many more on the way but don’t get too bogged down in them. You’ll either like what you see or not, and presumably that will influence whether or not you see the finished product. They’re no indicators of quality as even some of the worst films have had great trailers and vice versa. It’s important to remember that from time to time.

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