I want to love trailers. I waste time at work to watch them the moment they debut. Typically I watch the first two trailers for any film, and then cut myself off until I see the film. I’ve found that anything in the first two trailers is inevitably spoiled in the interim anyway, and the third trailer often spoils the entire movie. Which leads me to the first flaw:
Spoiling the entire movie.
I get it. The first trailer has to debut about seventeen years ahead of the film, in order to bring the hype to a thick, reduced boil, but giving away too much in a two minute trailer can ruin the whole experience, and gives me the impression that the trailer people don’t really know how stories work.
Take a look at this spoiler-filled trailer for this summer’s fun-but-meh Terminator: Genisys.
If you’re one of the few who watched Genisys, you know that it was a ridiculous romp full of good old explodobot action. But you also know that the heroes’ discovery of 2015 John Connor as a Terminator is supposed to be a massive reveal. The writers set us up to react to that moment when it came. We were supposed to be surprised.
But thanks to a trailer editor who ran out of ideas, we were already cashed out. I think this was a big reason so many people panned this movie. Imagine that it’s Christmas of 1979, and you’re watching a trailer for The Empire Strikes Back, and you’re out of your mind with how cool it is. Then Vader holds out his hand and says to Luke, “I am your father,” right there before your premiere screening of Steve Martin’s The Jerk. It has an effect, doesn’t it?
Even if you don’t have the biggest reveal to keep secret, but you tell the entire plot in the trailer, there’s little point in anyone seeing the movie. Check out this trailer for Jennifer Garner’s upcoming Miracles from Heaven:
Ah Christian movies. Pack them with talent and they’re still no better. But to the point, this trailer stabbed the film at the lowest point and bled all the tension away. By the time you see the movie, you already know that the girl gets terminally ill, falls from a tree, dies, goes to heaven, gets cured of the illness, talks to God, and comes back to life. And unless Jennifer puts on a wig and turns out to be Agent Sydney Bristow’s greatest alias yet, there’s nothing left to reveal.
You all know what I’m talking about. It’s that low, low bass note that falls even lower when something serious happens. I think Michael Bay discovered it while listening for alien life. It was novel when it came out, but it has lost its luster, and the bass fall has gotten out of hand. Here’s a trailer for The 5th Wave. Count the bass falls with me:
How many did you get? I counted 13. Thirteen of those chumps! The trailer’s 2:30 in length. How effective do you think those last bass falls were in spiking the tension? By this point, I was just laughing at how many bass falls were in the trailer. (The movie looks pretty decent, if a bit formulaic.)
I have memorized this trailer for The Revenant. “Only safe thing to do is to track a new course up on land.” I didn’t want to memorize it, but I’ve seen it approximately 6.3 billion times over the last two months or so. I get it, too. They hyped the crap out of this movie because they didn’t want it to be sucked into the Star Wars singularity. But we understand. We’ll see it. It looks great. Stop.
The Big Short had the same strategy. I now have a working knowledge of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks.”
Modern music in period or fantasy films
You know Dragonheart, when you think you’re in post-Roman Britain and then Dennis Quaid shows up with an American accent and ruins the moment? That’s the in-film equivalent of putting modern music in the trailer for a period piece. No one had invented the synthesizer back then. And sure, no one had probably invented the baritone, either, but that’s beside the point. When you’re watching people fight with axes and bows, and then Halsey comes in with “Castle,” they Quaid all over the moment.
I always tell my friends that they should watch Snow White and the Huntsman, but to try to ignore Kristen Stewart. This new one is pretty much that movie, right? So why aren’t we very excited for it? Is it because it stars three extremely talented, highly acclaimed actresses? Is it because Thor is the title character? Is that it?
No, it’s because electropop slathered over medieval imagery is like cheese sauce dumped on your ice cream. Both are good, if you’re fat like me, but they don’t work well together. It doesn’t feel like a serious film, but an angsty, teen romance best shuffled in with The 5th Wave above. That’s fine if teens are your sole target demographic, but everyone loves a good fantasy movie. We loved The Lord of the Rings so much, PJ had to dilute The Hobbit into three crappy movies just to give us more.
So when you’re advertising a period or fantasy film, stick to the orchestra and choir. You’ll rope everyone in.
Inspirational speeches by Jennifer Lawrence
Okay, just kidding. Kinda. This isn’t a real flaw. But I mean, after those Hunger Games people took one great movie, Mockingjay, and spread it thin across four hours with a bunch of tasteless filler to make two terrible movies, we could do with a little less “Stand up and fight!” from J-Law in this trailer for X-Men: Apocalypse, especially when we analyze why it’s in there.
Lawrence’s Mystique certainly will not be the main character in this film. As in the last movie, that will be James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier. But despite her remarkable, monumental, and award-winning performances in films like Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, Joy, and Serena, she’s still best known as Katniss, and the young nerds who see X-Men will get excited about seeing more J-Law.
Well, they would have, before they were forced to sit through two awful Mockingjay movies. A friend told me this X-Men trailer really went downhill during her speech on the plane.
This is the real tragedy: People getting sick of Jennifer Lawrence. You shouldn’t ever get sick of Jennifer Lawrence. She’s a genius. She’s the most brilliant actress of our time. Don’t hate her because her motivational speeches are always shoved to the forefront.
Anyway, Hollywood, there’s a little project to work on for the new semester. I know you can do it, because you produce brilliant trailers all the time. Here are a few examples just from this year:
Gah! I’ve seen Fury Road four times, and this trailer just made me want to watch it again. That’s the mark of a good trailer.