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The Problem with Modern Movie Trailers

By Kelson Howerton
On November 13, 2017

In today’s spoiler culture, we take spoilers very seriously. Every video, article or tweet about a film, television show, book, or video game is given either a“spoiler-free” or “spoiler alert” note, and those who fail to give fair warning (whether accidentally or purposefully) are shunned.

    However, before we go see that next Star Wars or Marvel film, we enthusiastically tune into every trailer, just to have a large portion of what’s interesting about the movie spoiled.

Trailers today do not shy away from revealing much of a movie, whether it be comedies that put all of their best jokes in the trailers or action movies which feature some of the most bombastic action sequences at the forefront of their marketing, subsequently sucking much of the sense of wonder out of the movie going experience.

    While many have begun to avoid trailers and marketing materials altogether for this very reason, most of us want to get a taste of a movie before see it, regardless of whether or not that appetizer might spoil the much bigger meal. With so many movies to choose from, we want to make sure we are totally interested in the movie so we do not waste our time.

    This year saw two films, Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother!” and Dennis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049,” that sought to stand against this trend in marketing, shrouding their respective plots in mystery up until release.

    Prior to its release, “Mother!” had very little marketing, with the trailers that did release making the film out to be something that it was not. What moviegoers thought was going to be a psychological horror film in the vein of “Rosemary’s Baby” or “Get Out” turned out to be a slow, metaphorical and deeply complex piece of art not meant for everyone, which is reflected in its just over $17 million in total lifetime sales in North America, according to Rotten Tomatoes.

    Similarly, Denis Villeneuve made the decision to limit moviegoers’ exposure to his cyberpunk film noir “Blade Runner 2049” before seeing the film for themselves. While he did release many shorts that closed the gap between 1982’s “Blade Runner” and 2017’s “Blade Runner 2049,” Villeneuve did his best to keep the actual plot of the film under wraps in the trailers, interviews, and other marketing initiatives for the film.

    “I think that it’s great for an audience to experience the movie as [critics] did, which is that you have no preconceived idea,” Villeneuve said in an interview with Toronto Star. “I think that for me, myself as a cinephile, I love to receive a movie being almost a virgin, knowing as little as possible.”

When it came time to see the movie, we knew next to nothing about Ryan Gosling’s K, his relationship with Ana de Armas’s Joi, why he is after Harrison Ford’s Deckard, or why Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace is just so creepy. However, “2049” paid a similar price for its secrecy as “Mother!,” with the film currently sitting at just over $32 million at the box office, a far cry from its more than $155 million budget, not to mention the millions more spent to market it worldwide.

    Fortunately, filmmakers like Christopher Nolan are still able to hold total control over what is shown in trailers, limiting the crucial scenes and plot elements shown, while still releasing a film that moviegoers accept despite their limited knowledge. This was evidence in “Interstellar,” which shocked fans when Matt Damon appeared on screen halfway through the film, despite him never being featured in any trailer or other piece of marketing material. Perhaps, then, there is a balance filmmakers and marketing teams can find in grabbing their audience’s attention without spoiling their experience in the process.

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