Tuesday, March 20, 2012
The Lost Art of a Good Film Trailer
Posted by Courtney Small
The Hungers Game opens this week and I would be lying if I said I was not eagerly anticipating the film. Part of the reason is that I am a fan of the book, the other is the fact that the official trailer is extremely effective. Unlike the Twilight series, the marketing for The Hunger Games has managed to capture the interest of both men and women who never even knew the books existed. The trailer does a great job of explaining the basic premise of the film while still managing to keep the actual events of The Hunger Games a mystery. While some would say, “isn’t that what all trailers do?” the truth of the matter is studios have lost the art of making a good trailer.
There was a time when trailers were somewhat of a big event. I would go to the theatre early to ensure that I did not miss any of trailers before the feature. There were many occasions when the trailers ended up being better than the film I was there to see. So what happened? What has changed to make the truly great, or at least memorable, trailers now seem so few and far between? Well the medium in which we consume trailers has changed. Trailers are now launching online before they hit theatres or television sets. On top of that, with such a large quantity of media being consumed on a daily basis, the appetite for more and more information has grown. Studios are now competing with leaked videos and stills of footage taken from when films were still in the shooting stages.
As a result, it is no longer sufficient to have just one trailer, but you need to have a couple of teaser trailers leading up to the official trailer, not to mention the numerous television spots. The problem with all of this is that studios need to include new footage with each new advertisement. All this extra footage is actually hurting films as they are giving away too many of the key moments in the film. I am starting to loose count of the number of times in the last year I have said to myself, while watching a trailer, “well I now know how this one will end.” In many ways trailers are no different than going on a first date with someone. If there is some mystery left about the person you are more likely to see them again. If you feel like you know everything about the person after your initial meeting then what is the point of pursuing things further?
Giving away too much in a trailer has been a problem for as long as trailers have been around. I understood the need to spell things out for audiences thirty to forty years ago. Yet audiences today are far savvier and do not need to be handled like children. However, that has not stopped studios from going into too much detail. A perfect example of this is the trailer for the Amanda Seyfried starring thriller, Gone. The film is about a woman who is trying to save her sister from a kidnapper that had abducted her years earlier. No one believes the killer exists, but Jill (Seyfried) knows he is still out there. This film should be an easy sell, but the trailer pretty much walks us through every beat the film as to offer.
The only thing worse than being walked through an entire film in two minutes, is having key scenes spoiled. Which is why I never understood people’s fascination with seeing exclusive extended footage taken directly from a film? I already know I will be seeing The Dark Knight Rises, so what is the point of seeing the opening six minutes months in advance? If you cannot sell me on the film within 2 minutes, how is six minutes with no real context going to help matters? Even in mere two minutes trailers some studios still find ways to ruin key scenes. Two examples that come to mind where the trailers for the films Drive and Haywire, two films I really enjoyed. Drive was the only film of the two that I went into having not seen a single trailer beforehand. In both cases, trailers extended footage of key action scenes where shown in the trailer. Haywire in particular showed way too much of the Gina Carano and Michael Fassbender fight, which is pretty much the centerpiece of the entire film. Though the sequence was still entertaining, their fight would have been far more jaw dropping had the trailer not given away so much.
Another strange thing is that many trailers are giving so much away and yet still leaving a large portion of us confused as to what the film is about. John Carter is the most recent victim of this type of bad trailer editing. From all accounts, I hear that John Carter is actually a rather entertaining film. However, I never got that from the trailers. In fact, until the reviews starting coming out I had no idea of what the film was actually about. Sure there were some cool images in the trailer, but without proper context the “wow” factor is just not there. Compare this to the full trailer for another high concept blockbuster, Prometheus, and the differences are glaring. Prometheus is rumoured to be an Alien prequel but you need no prior knowledge of the franchise to get a firm understanding of what the film is about. In fact, you would not even know the film takes place in the same world as Alien judging by the trailer. However, the trailer for the film is no less stunning. It clearly establishes who the main players are and what they will be doing in the realm of the film. Similar to The Hunger Games, Prometheus offers up everything you could want from a trailer.
I know we live in a time where studios must compete harder than ever to get the paying customer’s attention. However, instead of trying to over extend themselves, it is time for studios to really get back to the art of crafting effective trailers again. Regardless of the medium in which the advertisement is consumed, the one thing that still manages to get me excited to see a film is a well made trailer. I do not need to be walked through a film, or shown over-the-top action sequences, or even extended footage from a film. All I want is in that two minute is to get a decent understanding of what the film is about while still leaving some mystery which will entice me to want to see the film when it is finally released. Is that really too much to ask?
What are your thoughts on the state of modern day film trailers? Let us know which ones you enjoy or despise in the comments section.