The dangers of watching trailers and why I try not to

17 Oct

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.

Have you had any particularly bad trailer experiences? Please leave a comment.


Posted by on 17 October, 2011 in Misc.


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16 responses to “The dangers of watching trailers and why I try not to

  1. Movies - Noir

    17 October, 2011 at 14:45

    As always, interesting post and I pretty much agree with you. I do occasionally watch trailers, but most of the time it’s for films I’m not sure about and want to see how they look. I also dislike long trailers because, as you noted, they tend to give away and show way too much. The best trailers are probably teasers that are around 60 seconds. One such teaser was the one for Inception. After I had seen the teaser, I knew I wanted to see the movie.

    Most of the time I refuse to watch trailers for movies I know I’m going to watch. There’s really no reason to spoil it in any way. And I also agree with you that the mood in the trailer can be totally different from the movie. And when that happens (which unfortunately is often) you pretty much mess up the whole experience when you do watch the movie and expect something totally different.

    One trailer I remember enjoying and made me want to see the movie a lot was for A Single Man. Doesn’t give away too much, but shows the beauty of it very well.

    I won’t go into bad trailers because there are just too many of them ;)

    • Emil

      17 October, 2011 at 14:55

      Good point about teaser trailers. They’re generally a good thing as they at least have the sense to not give too much away. One that stands out in my mind from this year is the teaser for Super 8, which just featured a spectacular train crash and something banging against a door of a train car. That teaser alone was enough to sell me on the movie.

  2. Nostra

    17 October, 2011 at 15:52

    I”m exactly like you when it comes to trailers, usually I don’t watch them. I also try to read as little as I can and go in fresh. That way you also don’t have any expectations of what is going to happen. If you have seen lots of movies you usually have the experience to deduct a lot from a trailer, thus spoiling the movie as well. So what do you do at the cinema and the trailers are on? Do you watch them?

    • Emil

      17 October, 2011 at 16:32

      Yeah, I watch them at the cinema. Avoiding them there is more trouble than it’s worth. I just try to avoid being negatively swayed by them too much, and hope to hell they’re not of the spoiler-y variety.

      I too avoid reading about films I want to see, for much the same reasons as I avoid trailers. The Dark Knight is a good example where I managed to avoid most of the advance hype. I didn’t even know that Aaron Eckhart or his character was in the film before I sat down in the theater and a friend mentioned it to me. All I knew about the film was that it was Batman vs The Joker directed by Nolan. It’s not like I needed more incentive to see it.

      • Movies - Noir

        17 October, 2011 at 17:28

        Interesting about trailers at the cinema. I’ve actually looked away a couple of times when I really didn’t want to see a trailer as I knew I was going to see the film and didn’t want it spoiled. As long as I don’t see what’s happening on the screen, I’m fine. Luckily, it doesn’t happen very often ;)

  3. Scott Lawlor

    18 October, 2011 at 13:03

    I did a post about this a while back, it got onto IMDb hitlist, one of my best days.

    Anyway I am with you totally. I think trailers are so naughty lately.

    I LOVED the Sucker Punch trailer, and yet the film was awful.

    WARRIOR trailer let’s us know exactly who is in the final fight of the film. SO that is slightly ruined.

    I try and stay away from them, but it is so easy to get carried away.

    Great post matey Love it!@!!

    • Emil

      18 October, 2011 at 17:27

      Thank you! Both for the kind words and for warning me about the Warrior trailer. Need to stay away from that one by the sound of it. The movie seems good based on what I’ve heard.

      • Scott Lawlor

        19 October, 2011 at 09:54

        Warrior is excellent matey.

        I have a post going up today all about SPOILERS and my love/hate for them.

        Should give it a go!!


  4. Alex

    26 October, 2011 at 15:17

    This is a fantastic post, one that I agree with whole heartedly. I think most horror films get the worst trailer treatment. Granted, this is one of my least favorite genres, but if you watch the trailer to Jim Sheridan’s “Dream House” then you’ve watched the entire film.

    Your “Cast Away” example is spot-on, I remember being PISSED the first time I saw that trailer in theaters.

    Look at the trailer for Soderbergh’s “Contagion,” regardless if a character gets killed early in the movie, I don’t want to know that they will be killed, simply from the trailer.

    I try to avoid trailers as much as I can (I know next to nothing about Steve McQueen’s “Shame” and I hope to keep it that way), but sometimes, they’re unavoidable.

    The adverse to this is the second trailer for “Paranormal Activity 3,” which appears to reveal all of the film’s major scares, but actually contains not one scene from the movie itself. We’re mostly complaining about how trailers reveal too much, but what about ones that contain only deleted scenes?

    • Emil

      26 October, 2011 at 15:35

      Thank you for the kind words, Alex. I’m definitely with you on horror trailers. They tend to be particularly bad at ruining any big scare. It’s rare to see a trailer for a horror film that focuses on the atmosphere these days.

      I haven’t seen the Contagion trailer, but I had heard somewhere already that somebody died early. Thankfully, I’ve forgotten who it was already, but even knowing that someone will is enough to have some degree of adverse effect on me when I see the film, I’m sure.

      Trailers that have scenes that don’t appear in the films themselves are an interesting case. On one hand, sure, it’s technically false advertising. On the other hand, it can be very effective. As long as they convey the overall tone and content of the film, I’m okay with them. Particularly for comedies, it often seems that they will use scenes from the actual film, but with a punchline from an alternate take or so. This is actually a practice I can get behind, as it tells you about the film but leaves the laughs intact for when I actually see it.

      Of course, if you start throwing in stuff that isn’t in the movie just to deceive, I want nothing to do with it. Always a flipside to everything.

  5. m.brown

    27 October, 2011 at 04:17

    Emil, I just wanted to start by saying this website is fantastic, man. Love what you’re doing here (it’s actually kind of embarrassing in a way [um, as a fellow blogger], but inspiring too).

    Anyway, your case about trailers is almost flawless. They are a necessary evil that we as film fans simply have to live with. Certain movies, as you’ve pointed out, don’t require any visuals except those you imagine when hearing about the cast, crew and plot. For me, Super8 was one of those films, but damned if I didn’t enjoy the trailer immensely anyway…

    I remember when I first saw the trailer for Jarhead in the theater. The arresting images and the overpowering bass-filled soundtrack (“Jesus Walks” by Kanye West) completely owned me. I honestly enjoyed the trailer way more than the film itself (not to say that it was a poor film, by any means).

    I think there is a very similar pattern in movie posters as well. Some detract from the experience, while others only enhance it. But that’s for another day…

  6. Emil

    27 October, 2011 at 08:38

    Thank you! I do recall Jarhead having quite the cool trailer, even though the details of it are fuzzy at the moment. I ended up enjoying the fim itself too, luckily. A somewhat different take on the war genre.

    Posters are of course a mixed bag of their own, but I’d say for them the upside is bigger than the downside. It’s extremely rare for a poster to lessen my eventual enjoyment of a film, but they often provide a visual image for me to associate the film with in my mind. Plus, there are plenty that are quite beautiful in their own right.

  7. dirtywithclass

    28 June, 2012 at 03:54

    I guess i am going to have to be the odd man out and say i don’t mind trailers?I mean the ones like cast Away are pretty bad, but i’ll watch a well made trailer that isn’t too spoilery on occasion

    • Emil

      28 June, 2012 at 09:07

      The problem is knowing what trailers are good and which are bad. The internet can be helpful in this regard, fortunately.

  8. Alex

    1 August, 2012 at 20:29

    I remember watching a trailer of LOTR2. I never read the books and didn’t know that… *SPOILER*

    …Gandalf came back alive. That totally ruined it for me.

    • Emil

      10 August, 2012 at 10:52

      Oh wow, that’s unfortunate. I remember reading the books for the first time when I was in my teens, and that part was a big surprise. I wonder what effect the movie would have had on me had I not read the books first.


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