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Talking About Trailers

What happened to trailers? Or, have they always been as bad as they are now?

This is a jumbled mess of thoughts that came into my head after seeing the trailers before Iron Man 2 last weekend. Did I mention that I have seen Iron Man 2 before it came out in the US? It still amuses me to do so.

Anyway, there were the usual host of trailers for hoped-for blockbusters – I think that Iron Man 2 is officially the start of ‘pack ’em in, big budget, big spectacle’ summer season this year – and it was slightly depressing to see trailers for films where practically the whole film was condensed into two and a half minutes, thus removing any element of surprise or mystique.

I’m thinking in particular of Prince Of Persia, which tried to cram as much of the film as possible into the trailer so that the potential audience were left in no doubt of whether they would enjoy the film, so they would make the decision to pay for tickets based on this advanced knowledge. I know that it’s expensive to watch a movie these days, especially if you have a family, but do studios have to do this ‘tell all’ approach?

It’s got to the stage where you don’t have to see some movies if you have seen the trailer. The most recent example would be (the apparently awful) Leap Year – Mark Kermode summarised the plot of the film on his Radio 5 Live show based on the contents of the trailer alone, and timed the amount of screen time left after the last story point in the trailer: there were only 12 minutes before the film ended. The trailer told you the exact plot and specific story points and everything apart from the obvious outcome – what’s the point of watching the movie now? In this case, none at all, based on the reviews for the full-length feature.

I realise that I might be a biased observer of this phenomenon because I watch a lot of films in the cinema and so see a lot of trailers in their natural environment (even when it doesn’t make any sense: before watching Crazy Heart, the two trailers shown were for I Am Love, the art film with Tilda Swinton, and Kick-Ass). I also read about films coming out and obviously have access to the internet so I can see even more trailers. But surely other people (some might say ‘normal’ people) are not so devoid of critical reasoning that they can’t make up their mind about a film without having all doubts about it eliminated? I’m not that snobbish, am I? (You don’t have to answer that …)

I wonder if the generic quality to trailers now has led to the popularity of great teaser trailers (which always makes me smile – surely all trailers are supposed to be teasers in the first place?) that have exploded on the internet. The likes of Cloverfield and District 9 are good examples, as well as the virals for The Dark Knight. I loved the teaser trailer for Watchmen, and can still watch it now having seen the film itself several times. Most recently, the teaser trailer for Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World was fantastic, a wonderful example of setting up the most basic aspects of the story (boy meets girl, boy must fight her evil exes) with a sample of the visual treats that will be on offer. It was a deserving trending topic on Twitter; Empire magazine did an online breakdown; I started saying ‘Boom’ after successfully completing things such as throwing rubbish in the bin based on Chris Evans’ character throwing Scott Pilgrim into a tower. That’s a great trailer.

I don’t think that a trailer should try to portray an entire film in 150 seconds, and it shouldn’t have to do anything apart from provide a flavour and a hook to get you interested. I know it’s difficult to cut down a 2-hour film into some sparkly enticing bits, which can lead to scenes in the trailer not appearing in the film, such as for Iron Man 2: I loved the bit in the trailer where Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man armour leaps out of the back of a plane after his helmet and turns in mid-air to shout ‘You complete me’ to Gwyneth Paltrow, but it doesn’t appear in the movie. But the prevailing attitude is to explain everything, show all the best bits and not care whether it ruins the film-going experience – the studio doesn’t care what happens once you’ve bought your ticket …

After all that waffling, I should end on a joke. The best joke about trailers, however, is not by me but by The Onion: Wildly popular Iron Man trailer to be adapted into full-length film.

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