Do movie trailers help or hurt?
Promotional trailers are a great marketing technique to get reach wider audiences. For those who aren’t aware of a movie’s development, trailers are a great way to let the public know, “Hey! This is a movie that exists and this is what it’s about and you should totally watch it!” Promotional trailers have been a very successful model for years, bringing in awareness and new audiences, as well as hyping up those already excited for the release. We see them between commercials on TV, we see them before other movies, we hear audio clips of them on the radio, we watch them online, and they automatically play on advertising spaces of our favorite websites. (Also known as “Which tab is this sound coming from?”)
But have trailers been more harmful than helpful?
A very recent culprit of a bad trailer that had fans everywhere almost unanimously in an uproar was the Superman vs. Batman trailer. Did it give away too much of the plot? Did it reveal too many of the characters? You hear whispers in the theater and see the comments online: “This looks so stupid.” But what about it exactly is stupid? What exactly is it that we need from the trailer?
The same can be asked of the most recent Ghostbusters trailer. “This looks stupid,” and “Burn it,” I’ve heard people say (And this has nothing to do with the feminist or sexist implications of liking or hating the trailer). Take a look at the original trailer release and then compare it to a fan-made recut trailer that is significantly better:
The issue with the original trailer release for the reboot mainly deals with pacing. It starts off with an eerie remix of the classic theme with ominous text transitions before a direct move into a funny scene of ectoplasmic proportions. Then, it continues to present itself wrongly as a gritty action movie with wrongly timed gags thanks to trailer edit decisions. With an all-star cast of comediennes, people know very well by the tone of the movie. For those who may be unfamiliar, they can infer early on what the movie is about. Don’t disguise the movie as something other than a comedy reboot of a classic in hopes to gain a new audience because your target audience is not young enough to know original Ghostbuster references and your target audience is not stupid.
The improved trailer from the start makes it very apparent that this is a Ghostbusters movie. A short expository dialogue plays over a series of very short clips that nearly lists what we can expect from the movie: traps, science, slapstick comedy, iconic cars, iconic uniforms, and the iconic proton packs. The trailer needed to show ghosts and ghost busting and the fan-made trailer did a much better job than the official cut. Those familiar with the original are given glimpses of the new versus the old, while new audiences are shown what the movie encompasses without being overwhelmed by unfamiliar references.
Even an interesting trailer can be a movie-ruining experience. How many times have you gone into a movie expecting one thing, but got another because the trailer explained something entirely different? Or maybe you didn’t know a trailer was giving too much, so when you watched the film, you walked out thinking you spent $12 on an extended cut of the trailer? As proven by the Box Office reports, Deadpool was a huge success. Nearly everyone, myself included, enjoyed the film to a sickening, almost cult-like level. But if I were to have any qualms about the movie, it was the trailers fault. Some of the funniest jokes, gags, and action sequences were shown off in the trailer (the Red-band trailer. The one true Deadpool trailer. You know, that R Rated one), leaving few surprising jokes and pace-wrecking exposition left for the movie watching experience. So how can these studios offer a really good trailer? Let’s see some examples of great movies with great trailers:
Mad Max: Fury Road’s first released trailer was a trailer gone right. It knew exactly what it was, an over the top action film, offering brief clips of what to expect that showcased good acting and effects, with both a humorous yet epic choice music. The only time the trailer ran long was to show off the huge storm scene, but even then it created more mystery and thus more interest.
Guardians of The Galaxy’s first official trailer starts off with the familiar air of a Marvel movie. A cool setting, an interesting character, an orchestrated sound. A few not too revealing clips later, we get a sense of the movie’s tone with “Hooked On A Feeling” playing while the rag-tag team get into ridiculous antics. Almost no one expected a giant tree and a raccoon to be some of the most badass characters and the trailer left that reveal to the movie. The trailer said to me, “You think racoon Bradley Cooper and green Zoe Saldana is ridiculous? So do we. Watch it.” And the movie ended up being one of the better Marvel films.
Pacific Rim had no previous content to help it gain a following. It wasn’t a franchise or a comic book prior to its release but the trailer did an excellent job of giving audiences enough information to bring in its own audience (maybe it had help from Portal fans, who’s to say). The first trailer starts off with a sense of urgency, immediately showing off one of its big bad after the narrating character says there’s a big bad then jumps into the plot of the movie with the reveal of the giant mechs used to defeat said big bad. Then, quick cuts of action over the beautiful speech of the beautiful Idris Elba, showing off the grand scale of the film. All the exposition, the deeper issues, and themes were left for the movie going experience. The Pacific Rim trailer offered something simple but people left the movie with something much more.
The moral of the story is this: a movie trailer should know what kind of impression the title of the movie gives off. Does Ant-Man sound like a lame super hero name? Make the trailer fun. How mad is Mad Max? Make the trailer insane. Who is Salt? After that trailer, I still don’t know. A trailer should also not try to be something it’s not. If the Prometheus trailer is presented as an alien horror-thriller, I should have gotten that instead of sci-fi Making a Murderer. If this is a trailer of Batman vs. Superman there are two things I want to see: Batman and Superman. To trailer makers out there, trailers should be a wink while movies are the whole body experience.
Have the quality of trailers gone down, are they being lazy with cutting clips, or has audience expectation gone up? Let us know in the comments below.