Saturday, January 9, 2010

Trailers - Mostly no, but yes at the movies.

Everyone loves film trailers - when they're not 30 minutes long or riddled with product promotion. I'm no exception. I love the roller-coaster of wincing and smiling that precedes the main show. They come in every flavor: boring, hysterical, exciting, traumatic...

You have choices when the lights dim; you can step into the lobby or sit along for the ride. Yet even bad trailers can make a crowd laugh (the worse, the better). And you only need one great or funny short to save the stint - 15+ minutes of marketing, no less. As such, the whole experience - a big part of the ritual of seeing a movie - usually feels worthwhile.

Maybe the trailer experience only works in the moment, though. On the net, I only search out arthouse/smaller-market pix and foreign film trailers (both the crazy and the non-crazy ones). In the rare moment of channel surfing, tv trailers are to be avoided (save for revered artists like Cronenberg, Blanchett...).

Actually, I can rattle off many reasons to avoid film ads. I just have to think about things that bother me most when I'm safely nestled in stadium seating... A must see is a must see, so no spoilers please. There was no way I'd miss Bale as Nolan's Batman, or Attack of the Clones (if only I'd known). Studios needn't unveil a single "big" moment or surprise for anything I anticipate that much.

In fact, I'd rather they didn't. They should let a really cool scene save a picture that may have deeply-flawed writing, acting, or direction. These moments, if unexpected, may really help people walk away with better feelings about the film.

Further, I can't imagine what the studios really expect from such revelations. The audience for many major releases is often pretty specific - people either would or wouldn't see Lord of the Rings, Ghandi, The Godfather, Aimée & Jaguar... I figure spoilers are pointless since the audience members will either (a) see it no matter how little the trailer reveals, or (b) won't see it no matter what the ad shows.

Dramas: Certain aspects are frequently obnoxious or wildly inappropriate. The trailer score and voice-over are the most common detractors. This is especially true for the voices and music possessing that distinct "for your Oscar consideration" tone - often laughable, always annoying.
our troops deserve better trailers

I have general contempt for trailers 6 months in advance of a release date. 2-3 months is fine. Middle of next year = despicable/aggravating/lame. According to AICN, there will be a trailer for The A-Team next week - for its June 11th release. Both a movie and a trailer that no one needs! Money well spent...

I'm torn between delighted mockery and irritation over film commercials that build to a climax with a drumbeat on every cut: "You'll [bang!]. Guess [bang!]. The end [bang!]. In [bang!]. 2 minutes [no drumbeat, cue the credits]." Apparently, this (from 1:15 on) is how artists tell us there will be tension or action in their picture.

Trailers for Eddie Murphy's films, sadly - everything about them, especially the voice-overs: "America's former best comedian is going to talk/look funny in this wa-acky kids movie. He'll probably play 3+ roles in a picture where a man learns that he can talk to couches."

The same applies to Adam Sandler's and Rob Schneider's movie trailers (thank you South Park for stinging Rob hard.

I'm ambivalent on those for Robin Williams' flicks. They're excruciating, but quite laughable if your funny bone kicks in before your gag reflex. It's acceptable when you can laugh through the pain; damn Catholic upbringing...

I must also point out those film adverts that feature a white guy's voice-work trying to sell movies to the minority audience members: "But when Eugene Levy is forced to be Queen Latifah's butler for a month, he's gonna learn what's dope (clip of Levy with a blunt, coughing), how to get chill (clip of Levy trapped in a walk-in freezer), and what it means to be... phat (clip of Martin Lawrence as a 280 lb. woman sitting on Levy).

And, while I'm at it, all Martin Lawrence trailers (as well as the movies they belong to). The glitter fell off that star at least a decade ago. This must be stopped.

Nor can I forget to mention one of the biggest things that Hollywood forgot how to do: the Romantic Comedy. A once-worthy genre, it's almost completely composed of dreary/pointless work by people who should know better, but love large checks. It's so bad now, I don't mind calling them "rom-coms..."

I do not hate the un-discriminating actors involved (Kate Hudson, McConaughey, and Hugh Grant are only a few). I'd like that kind of money too. But look 70 years ago at Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story, or even 15-20 years ago. Say Anything, The Princess Bride, and Four Weddings & A Funeral have little competition today (Amelie, then?...).

These newer Rom-Coms are universally unfunny and unwise (about life, love or people), and often fail to generate any romantic chemistry (two attractive people smiling isn't enough). The commercials for these movies do little to mask the flaws - it feels like someone hard-selling a burning car. Much like the Robin Williams ads, they can cause immediate laughter (from shock, gall, malice). But they can be also as pleasant as seeing your parents deep-kiss.

One 15 minute stretch of pre-show can contain every single complaint I've described. Yet the pure ritual of cinema is such that not only do most people accept them, many virtually require the trailer experience. Some care nearly as much for catching trailers as getting a good seat.

I can't really blame them. All you need is one There Will Be Blood or Hot Fuzz. Those could redeem Big Momma's House 2, followed by License to Wed, followed by The Hot Chick.

The avenues for escape are numerous, but not always necessary - the audience will find a way to enjoy the ads. Many do this by making fun of them, while some just let them wash by with no real impact. Many others, of course, will look forward to any of the advertised trash (those rom-coms take advantage of the most hopeful/desperate romantic weaknesses in people). I've always been amazed, though, that I am so enthusiastic - if only in the moment - for something that I'd almost pay to avoid any other time.


  1. Hilarious! Sharp analysis. I've felt the same way about movie trailers but couldn't quite put my finger on what was so annoying about this practice until reading this post. It was only a few days ago that I complained about what I call "kitchen sink" trailers where a movie's entire plot is given away. Why would/should a viewer want to see it now? Worse still, there have been times when a great movie is grossly misrepresented by its trailer. In many ways this is the cinematic equivalent to a drive-by.

  2. =) Drive-by

    I remember a few times where the "surprise plot" really worked for me. "Malice" comes to mind; the trailer showed a character drama about surgeons with lethally-big egos. I also remember my young jaw dropping when "Predator" turned into a sci-fi film.

    Thank you so much! You left me a message right when I started my longest blog-drought...


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