By a more accurate name, we wouldn’t watch, and in fact, we would stay as far away from them as possible. Trailers are, in essence, spoilers, lengthy promotions that ruin the film and something that should be avoided at all costs.
That is, at least, if you’re a faithful cinephile looking for the best possible movie-going experience.
Trailers, as we know them, are actually not – they trail nothing. Back to the Future Part III had a trailer because it was shown at the end of Back to the Future Part II. It was to tease the audience to see the next chapter of the film they just saw. The first reported trailer was for a 1913 film, ‘The Adventures of Kathlyn,’ that was showed in Coney Island.
So, over the last century, trailers in their original form as clips that followed a feature are gone.
In these form as previews, though, they have changed as well over the last half century. Silly and over the top during the 40s and 50s and more artistic in the 60s and 70s, trailers seemed to really pick up in the 80s and 90s, especially with memorable voice-over artists leading the way. Today, however, they are the master crafts of editors, they are works of art in and of themselves, and they are their own industry (The Dissolve has a great brief history on trailers, for more information).
Still, they are still poison for the viewer.
Film audiences are conditioned to get excited about trailers as they are basically a short, provocative film. Surely, trailers have their use today, especially when filmgoers take care to decide how they spend extra money and precious time, but for the most part, let’s say 85% of the time, they are spoilers and nothing else, and you’re only hurting yourself in watching them.
In 2013, the most egregious example of trailer abuse was Fast & Furious 6. If you watch, you are catch glimpses of cars flying in tunnels, a tank on a highway, Vin Diesel launched through the air, and a fist fight between Michelle Rodriguez and Gina Carano. What you also see, is a giant cargo plane being taken down by a group of cars, crashing dramatically to the ground, with a lone car smashing through the nose of the plane in a burst of flames.
It’s a great trailer, yes – but it makes the film not only irrelevant, but wasted. If you didn’t figure that this nighttime tarmac scene was part of the grand finale, you would have eventually as you watched the movie, ticking off everything else you’ve seen, knowing that you haven’t gotten yet to ‘the airplane scene.’
Sure, it’s part of the Fast series, and it’s not meant to be cunning, but why get a tease of the awesome, outrageous escapades when you don’t have you. Exactly how many people are going into this movie not knowing what they are getting? That is to say, is there anyone who saw the trailer and was surprised, for better or worse? Who is informed by the Fast 6 trailer exactly, and did anyone go to the film and say, ‘well I wish I would have seen the trailer because this is not what I expected.’
Another example from 2013 – and there are many fitting ones – is Dark Skies, a promising but less-than-stellar horror film starring Keri Russell. It offered some scares, albeit familiar ones, and the ending was pretty crazy and weird, but if you happened to catch the trailer, the film was spoiled by showing every little trick.
The Call, which saw Halle Berry as a 911 operator helping out a kidnapped girl, gave away it’s entire third act, identifying the killer and giving away its setting.
Why would you want to know the biggest set pieces in an action movie? Why would you want to know of the scares in a horror? Apparition in 2012 gave away its last scene in the trailer, as did Quarantine in 2008. And we all know about the trailer for Castaway.
Rom-coms notoriously gives away so much of the ups and downs of a relationship, sometimes going to such an end where they show a climactic question or moment before cutting away. Comedies, moreover, show too many jokes (and did anyone experience Anchorman 2 fatigue?).
When it comes to major summer blockbusters, or films with familiar star power either on screen, in the director’s chair, or in the writer’s room, you should know what you’re getting beforehand.
The Hunger Games, Iron Man¸ Thor – these were some of the many major sequels out last year, and while they all had new directors, it’s likely your mind wasn’t going to be made up by the trailer. Looking ahead, do we really need a trailer to know that Need for Speed with Aaron Paul will be bad, or that the Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending will be crazy and weird, or what to expect from the final Hobbit?
Paul W.S. Anderson is directing a gladiator thriller in Pompeii, while Wes Anderson has a new offering with a familiar cast. George Clooney helms a historical wartime dramedy, Liam Neeson is in another action adventure, Darren Aronofsky directs Russell Crowe, Tom Cruise is in a sci-fi flick, and then there are loads of sequels, remakes, spinoffs, and biographies. Do we really need the trailer? Can’t we just look at past work? Or look at the poster with its silly tagline (‘Live, Die, Repeat’ is Edge of Tomorrow, starring Cruise)?
Why do we even trust the trailer, anyways? Not only can bad movies have great trailers, but genre-defying films can twist around tone and meaning. You can enjoy a trailer and not enjoy the movie, and you can praise the work of editors who are not subject to the pitfalls of writers or directors.
Trailers will get you excited, sure, but is it worth knowing so much of what you are going to see anyways?
Trailers aren’t malicious, and admittedly, it can be hard not to give in to temptation, and even harder to avoid across the interwebs and social media – and especially the half dozen that play before movies.
The reason to avoid them, however, especially for a film you are likely to see regardless is that it enhances the cinematic experience. The less you know, the more you can be surprised, enchanted, and engaged. You’re not ticking off jokes or sequences in your head – you’re not waiting for whatever scene at the coffee shop, or the previewed car chase, or the ultimatum that’s given by the main character, or all the scares, laughs, and drama.
So I implore you to challenge yourself, as best you can, to avoid trailers. And to the more intrepid among you, try if you can to watch a movie that you know nothing about. It’s a different experience to be sure, and one that you may want to try again and again. After all, you can only watch a movie for the first time once. For now.