Trailers often leave you feeling that you’ve seen an entire film against your will, don’t they? Taking this summer’s blockbusters into consideration, trailers more than ever summarise too much of the plot and spoil all the best bits, while carrying the self-righteousness of a public service announcement.
Good luck avoiding them. Bagging a decent seat at the cinema is compromised by sitting through 15 minutes of trailers, during which seven films will have their twists ruined – if you hadn’t already seen the footage, that is. Add that to trailers for trailers, TV spots, your friends sharing the latest green band/red band/international trailer, and you end up watching a film you’ve already seen through YouTube teasers.
Nowadays, the best function a trailer serves is if it’s awful, you know not to see the film. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s where 2015’s trailers are going wrong and how they can be fixed.
HERE ARE ALL THOSE TWISTS AND CAMEOS
Culprits: Terminator Genisys, Jurassic World, Sicario
Terminator 2 famously spoiled its own major midpoint twist (that Arnie-bot is a good guy) in its trailer, which also happened with Terminator Genisys – a reboot so faithful, it repeated the original’s marketing blunders. Subsequently the third-act twist was a surprise to no one, and even more of a chore. “I had a few heads ups and a few unpleasant conversations,” admitted director Alan Taylor, powerless against the machine.
With the Jurassic World trailer, Colin Trevorrow complained, “They’ve shown far more of this movie than I would have ever wanted.” Who exactly wants these surprises ruined? Two films out right now, Pixels and Paper Towns, have their final shots in the trailer. And they’re not exceptions.
Solution: No footage allowed from beyond the first 30 minutes.
THIS IS NOT THE FILM YOU NO LONGER WANT TO SEE ANYWAY
Culprit: Paper Towns
If it’s illegal to lie in advertising, then completely misleading trailers should be outlawed. Some tricks are expected – everyone knows negative critic quotes are ignored – but elsewhere it’s a lie. Take, for instance, how Paper Towns makes a major deal of its A-list protagonist Cara Delevingne, without mentioning she’s only onscreen for 15 minutes.
Solution: Every trailer must be accompanied by footage of the director facing the camera, swearing upon oath that he or she approves of the content.
FOOTAGE IS FROM AN EARLIER, DISCARDED, PROBABLY SUPERIOR CUT
Culprits: Fantastic Four, Jurassic World
When Josh Trank tweeted that his cut of Fantastic Four was better than the one in cinemas, he added an important detail – no one will ever see his edit. For a sense of Trank’s vision, the first trailer featured giant set-pieces that never made the final version because of drastic reshoots. For unexplained reasons, Planet Zero changed from red to green in between trailers. Did they think no one would realise?
Bizarrely, Hollywood blockbusters are often finished less than a month before hitting cinemas – yet the promotional push begins far in advance. Unfinished post-production work meant Jurassic World changed its CGI shots from trailer to trailer, causing Trevorrow to explain to angry Twitter followers that some of the shots were “made specifically for the trailer. The film will be different.”
Solution: Don’t rush-release the trailer with unfinished work, or else Josh Trank will subtweet you.
HALTING THE COMEDY WITH RECORD SCRATCHES
Culprits: Sisters, Masterminds, Mistress America
The purpose of a record scratch – or just pausing an upbeat song for a punchline – is to instruct the audience when to laugh. It suits broad, dumbed-down comedies like Vacation and Hot Tub Time Machine 2 with their big, obvious gags that zoom to a reaction shot or someone falling over.
But smarter, more esoteric entities like Mistress America also succumb to the formula. When all comedies are presented the same way, nothing stands out. The hotly anticipated Tina Fey and Amy Poehler comedy Sisters pauses the music 10 times in its trailer. Soon it’ll be canned laughter.
Solution: Put a record scratch on record scratches.
IN A WORLD...
Culprit: Fantastic Four
When Don La Fontaine (the originator of “in a world...”) died in 2008, his catchphrase didn’t last that much longer as studios began to recognise the inescapable cliché of a third-person narrator. That didn’t stop the first Fantastic Four teaser, in which the omniscient narrator rambles, “How did we get this far? Human beings have an immeasurable desire to discover, to invent...” Elsewhere, voiceovers in We Are Your Friends and Star Wars: The Force Awakens emerge from prominent deep-voiced male characters – only Joanna Newsom in Inherent Vice springs to mind as an exception.
Solution: Female narrators (as demonstrated by Lake Bell in In a World...)
A COMIC SKIT IRRELEVANT TO THE FINAL PRODUCT
Culprit: Zoolander 2
The “official teaser” for Zoolander 2 is just a lame sketch culminating in a few seconds of Ben Stiller breaking the fourth wall. With no actual footage from the film, it tells you nothing about the sequel other than the studio is confident the physical appearance of Stiller alone will attract audiences. Mostly consisting of computer graphics narrated by Stephen Hawking’s voice software, it was probably produced by a different creative team.
Solution: If the teaser trailer will be instantly forgotten when some actual footage comes out, bin it.
WRONG SONG CHOICES
Culprit: The Peanuts Movie
Playing a commercial pop song that’s not in the film isn’t necessarily deceptive, but it is in the case of The Peanuts Movie trailer which features more Flo Rida than Vince Guaraldi. Granted, The Peanuts Movie has a million more prescient problems, but the song will definitely not appear in the film – unless producer Paul Feig (“Snoopy will not be rapping”) is a liar.
Solution: Play a thematically appropriate song, like the slowed-down orchestral rendition of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ for The Social Network.
SHOW ALL THE BEST MOMENTS WITHOUT CONTEXT
Culprit: Bad Neighbours
If Psycho came out today, its trailer would have the shower stabbing sequence and the final act revelation – all without you understanding what’s going on. It’s understandable from the perspective of whoever edits these things: you want the trailer to be memorable, so of course you stick the amusing sight gag of Seth Rogen sitting on an office chair connected to an exploding airbag. Except that was the only funny moment of last year’s Bad Neighbours. Is there a way around this without making deliberately subpar trailers?
Solution: Ban trailers?
REPETITION, REPETITION, REPETITION
The culprit: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The fact we’ve become acclimatised to trailers for trailers should be worrying, and it won’t be long until there’s a trailer for a trailer for a trailer. Except that already kinda exists, given how many new trailers come out in intervals before release, each offering only a tiny bit of new footage each time. Maybe you heard the chatter about last week’s new Star Wars video – the Korean TV spot with only one new second of material? In the case of Star Wars, you end up seeing the same thing over and over again. Imagine being a Star Wars hater forced to see it every cinema visit – or, even worse, a Star Wars fan who can’t avoid the spoilers.
Solution: The film must come out within three months of the first trailer, or else legally it must be shelved like The Day the Clown Cried.