A week ago or so, the trailer for Jason Reitman‘s latest film Young Adult hit the internet. Everyone on my Twitter feed and all the movie blogs I follow had something to say about it, most of it positive. Me? I didn’t watch it. Not because I don’t care about the film. Au contraire, I’m absolutely psyched for it as I’ve loved the director’s first three films. No, the reason why I’m not watching it is because there’s absolutely no reason for me to do so. I already know I want to see the film badly, so it doesn’t need to hook me. I don’t know what the film is really about, but I don’t have to. The people involved have a good track record with me, so why not let the plot be a surprise? And having some funny moments from the film spoiled for me in advance is not anything I desire either.
That’s not to say I have a complete hatred for trailers. I understand that they serve an important purpose in getting people interested in seeing the films they represent. Not everyone keeps up on movie news to the degree that I (and most other movie bloggers I assume) do, so they can be a handy form of publicity. And when I sit down to watch a DVD, I don’t instantly skip past the trailers shown before the film. Sometimes I’ll get alerted to films I hadn’t heard of before, or am made to change my mind on a film I hadn’t been planning on watching. I’ve discovered a fair share of films I ended up loving by watching these random trailers (the great documentary Murderball being but one example that springs to mind). Likewise, if I see a blog post about a film I haven’t heard of where the trailer is posted, I might well give it a look. But it doesn’t happen too often.
So why not watch trailers? There are two main reasons that make me wary of them. The first is the spoiler factor I already alluded to. I abhor spoilers of all kinds. It’s bad enough when it’s just a comedy trailer that gives away all the good jokes, but then there are really scary examples where the plot of an entire movie is given away. Sometimes including the ending! The Cast Away trailer is a perfect example of this.
WARNING! This trailer gives away the ending of Cast Away!
Cast Away is an extreme example, but even in cases where the ending is left unspoilt, knowing too much about what’s going to happen in a film can have a detrimental effect on how we enjoy it. There is great joy to be had by going into a movie not knowing anything but the very base premise.
The second danger of trailers is that they can be misleading. They might show a tone or atmosphere that is not in line with what the film itself has to offer. For a taught and tense thriller, the trailer might emphasize action even if there’s only one or two such scenes in the film (hello, The American). For an intelligent drama, it might make a romance the centerpiece even if that’s just a small portion of the movie. For a musical, they might try to hide the genre completely, such as with the trailer for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. And if you see a trailer for a film you haven’t heard of where oddly enough there’s no spoken dialogue, odds are it’s actually a foreign film.
Sadly, this practice makes perfect sense from a business point of view. Making a movie isn’t cheap, so the production company will want to make sure that they get as much money back as they can. As such, the movie needs to appeal to as many people as possible publicity-wise. But in trying to go for the lowest common denominator, the film might be made to look bland and cookie-cutter. People who want something different and would enjoy the film for what it is can be turned off from it. Here’s a shining example: the Bridge to Terabithia trailer.
WARNING! This trailer completely misrepresents Bridge to Terabithia!
Based on this trailer, you’d think Bridge to Terabithia would be your standard CGI-filled Narnia-esque fantasy about kids who discover a magical world filled with wonders. However, the key word here is “fantasy”. Parts of the movie does contain what the trailer shows, but in the film, it’s made clear that this is just the children playing and imagining. It’s make-believe. And it’s just a fraction of what the movie is really about. Most of Bridge to Terabithia takes place in the real world and deals with all manners of things childhood-related: friendship, bullying, family troubles, crushes on school teachers and so on. It’s not just a great children’s film; it’s a great film period, because it refuses to dumb itself down for its audience. Heartfelt and true, with plenty of recognizable situations. The trailer might well have scared off plenty of people who might have loved the movie. And that’s terrible.
Ironically enough, the crappiness of the Bridge to Terabithia trailer is actually what led me to the film. The movie itself isn’t one I see talked about a whole lot, but it kept popping up in forum discussions on misleading trailers. People kept saying how lame the trailer was compared to the wonderful movie. So I became curious and decided to add the film to my rental queue since everyone who had seen it seemed to love it so. I’m glad I did. So the trailer served its purpose I suppose, even if it was in the most backwards way possible.
Seeing an underwhelming film is nowhere near as bad as letting a great one slip you by. So never let a trailer convince you to not see a movie. They are not to be trusted.
For further reading on “bad” trailers, I recommend TV Tropes. Specifically, the pages for Trailers Always Spoil and Never Trust A Trailer. Both obviously contain various degrees of spoilers, so read at your own peril.