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The chronic problem of Too Much Information in movie trailers


Hey Hollywood - stop complaining about piracy when you give away entire movies before the main feature...

Prometheus and Spider-Man leaving too little to the imagination...?

One of the benefits of having been born in 1970 is that my peers and I were able to witness the transition from what might be called 'the old media world' into the one that we know today. While the internet and cable TV are invaluable in allowing us access to as much data and minutiae about pretty much anything we can think of, there's one area where this limitless supply of information is in danger of becoming a menace, and that's the wonderful world of movie marketing.

Prometheus posterTake Ridley Scott's new movie Prometheus (2012), which has just been released. I really want to see it, having been a fan of most of Scott's work over the years, and an even bigger fan of the Alien universe in which it is set. But the problem is I wanted to go in 'cold' as it were, knowing as little about the film as possible so that I could discover it for myself in a darkened theatre.

I was too young to see Alien on the big screen when it was released in 1979, but when James Cameron's action-packed sequel came out seven years later, my friends and I were there on opening night, knowing little about the actual plot itself beyond the brief trailer we'd seen on television and a couple of articles that I'd read in Fangoria (who, as ever, were superb in not giving too much away prior to a film's release). As a result I - and we - were blown away by the experience, and surprised at the various twists and turns, and came out of the theatre very satisfied.

Now I'm obviously aware that when a studio spends millions of dollars on a movie, it needs a great marketing campaign to sell it to Joe Public. But back in the day these 'teaser' campaigns were just that - a hint of what was to come, a quick kiss in the dark  to seduce and entice you to lay down your folding at the cash desk, with the promise of a couple of hours of entertainment.

These days, though, the sheer volume of pre-release promotion for the bigger movies is simply staggering. Though I've managed to avoid much of it in an attempt to preserve my sense of wonder and surprise when I do sit down to watch Prometheus, I've lost count of the number of different trailers and teaser trailers and posters and vignettes and character profiles, and on and on, for the movie which on recent experience I'm pretty sure will give far too much away. Ditto for Christopher Nolan's upcoming The Dark Knight Rises (2012), which I'm sure is going to kick all kinds of ass, mine included hopefully, but which I feel I already know too much about.

"Those of us who want the pure, unspoiled experience are just going have to become better at resisting temptation"

Joss Whedon's 'The Cabin In The Woods' (poster)I was strong enough to resist the advance tidal wave of promotion for Joss Whedon's inventive and entertaining The Cabin in the Woods (2012), even managing to avoid all but the briefest of glimpses of the trailers when they blind-sided me on television, and in retrospect I'm glad that I was, because going in 99% cold to that film, I had a blast. As soon as I got home from the theatre I checked out the trailer and was immediately glad that I hadn't before I saw the movie, as there were several things in there that would have derailed a couple of 'wow' moments for me - although if you have seen the trailer and not the film yet, then do so, because there are plenty more surprises that aren't given away.

I am. however, disappointed in myself, because as a huge Spider-Man fan, having read the comics regularly for pretty much my whole life, I keep giving in and watching the trailers and reading the articles about Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Nan (2012), to the point where if I piece it all together in my mind then I've probably already seen most of the movie and know the plot and the various twists and turns inside out. That said, I only have myself to blame, and I'm sure I'll still have a blast watching ol' webhead swinging around New York and kicking The Lizard's ass in 3D.

Andrew Garfield as 'The Amazing Spider-Man'

Don't get me wrong, I love all the trailers, and promo stuff, and will tear off my clothes and roll around naked in hour after hour of DVD and Blu-ray extras about my favourite films. I just wish that the studios and their marketing people would exercise a little restraint when it comes to giving too much away in advance. There's a lot to be said for returning to the genuine 'teaser' campaigns of my youth, not least that it doesn't inadvertently spoil a movie for its potential audience; but given the relentless demands of the 24-hour digital age, with its constant need for updates and information, I don't think it'll ever happen, so those of us who want the pure, unspoiled experience are just going have to become better at resisting temptation.


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#1 Movie Trailers BlackIce 2012-06-03 13:17
I agree 100% with the author's sentiments!
The basic tenet of drama is to engage the audience and challenge them. How can you be challenged when a trailer gives away a key moment in the film? It's like peeking at your Xmas presents.
I remember going to see Predator as a young lad knowing nothing about the film apart from thinking "oh it's just another gunggung-ho Arnie The Soldier movie", in the same vein as Commando.

That movie changed my life.

I was gripped the moment I realised that this movie was not what I had anticipated. I felt engaged, challenged, even a little nervous. It remains for me one of the most enjoyable movie experiences I have ever had.

Fast forward to today and with the amount of spoilers in trailers, I suspect I would be ambivalent to Predator if I had known too much about the film beforehand.

Spoiler trailers are more than just an insult to my request to be surprised. They are a form of non-consensual celluloid rape of my desire to experience the film in the 1st person of the protagonists. How can I feel their fear and immerse myself in their situation when I know what's around the next corner?

Yes, you could say avoid the trailers then, but that is no easy feat with the marketing hype the author of the article points out.

It seems then that the element of surprise is lost and that we must be spoonfed details of the film to engage us and entice us to watch the movie.

In our highly controlled world, it would appear we have sacrificed the ability to lose control of the vision of the writer, and in doing so, relinquished our wonder of the unknown.

We consume a movie but are not allowed to savour the subtlety of surprise.

I think we have truly lost something special in all of this.

#2 Alien Preview jayman 2012-06-03 21:52
I agree, and empathize with the author. I was born in 1971. While I was too young to see Alien, I remember the commerial -- AN EGG! That was it! A frickin' egg, with the tag line, "in space, no one can hear you scream." My mind whirled at what could possibly be contained in that movie.

What's strange is everyone complains about the trailers, but the theaters simply don't listen. Instead, they spoil ever movie ... the most egregious example was Truman Show. If I recall correctly, but for the trailers, for the first third of the movie, you'd have no idea it was a set up.

Similarly -- Cast Away ... basically the first 3/4 of the movie was muted, knowing he was going to get off, and deliver the package.

It takes creativity to truly offer teasers, without spoilers. It feels like this is just another example of Hollywood giving up.
#3 Sixth Sense Henry the Turnip 2012-06-03 23:57
Heh, I saw The Sixth Sense two YEARS after it came out, and I was blown away by the twist at the end. How I managed to avoid spoilers for that long I will never know.

But yes, I have been actively blocking trailers for movies I'm interested in, even the old classic of closing my eyes, sticking fingers in my ears and singing "la la laaaa" when they come on TV. The only promo work they need to do is to let me know it's a Ridley Scott sci-fi movie and the ticket is sold. They could save millions!

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