Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bad Trailering A Hollywood Epidemic

Years ago, before it became 'the Ryan Seacrest and his stable of crappy reality shows channel,' E! used to air a fun show hosted by Todd Newton, called "Coming Attractions." His tag line was that it spotlighted 'the best part about going to the movies - the trailers!' He had a point, back then. Getting an early look at what's coming down the pike used to be one of the big treats to a day or night at the cinema.

Not anymore.

Movie trailers have become infuriatingly spoiler-laden, cinematic killjoys that give away key plot points and basically sap much of the need to actually see the movie it's supposed to be encouraging people to see. It's gotten so bad I find myself trying to time my arrival to the theater so that I miss everything but the fake crying baby sound that tells the moron in the 6th row aisle seat to turn off his Blackberry.

This has been bothering me for years. In fact, I can pinpoint it to a specific trailer, 1998's "The Negotiator." I remember seeing the spot for the first time in Miami, at the AMC at Mall of the Americas. I vividly recall thinking, as the trailer unspooled, how cool this movie looked. Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey butting heads in an action thriller, with guns ablazing, corrupt cops, and in a high-rise? I'm there Opening Day! How often do you see A-list stars oppose each other in a big-budget film, I thought?

And then, the trailer gave away the big twist, that these two wind up on the same side. See for yourself.

How annoyed must I have been at the Spoiler-ish nature of that trailer that I still remember, more than 10 years later, how much it ticked me off...yet I have not the foggiest idea which film it preceded?

Two especially egregious examples of bad trailering have occurred this summer, involving the same studio. Warner Bros.' decision to include a MAJOR plot twist from "Terminator Salvation" in a trailer is one of the dumbest Hollywood decisions this year (although a clear second to Universal's decision to greenlight "Land of the Lost"). Whichever schmendrake at the studio said, "let's reveal that Sam Worthington is part machine in the trailer" should be forced to work the craft services table on the set of the "Hotel for Dogs" sequel.

[It's hinted strongly around 1:00 into the trailer, then flat-out Spoiled around the 2:20 mark. And don't bother getting mad at me for Spoiling it for you. You lose the right to complain about that stuff when the film's been out for a few week.]

Why does the fact that studios can't seem to help themselves from Spoiling the surprise twist get me so upset?

Because seeing the Next Big Thing, or at least 2:30 of it, gets the juices going for movie fans unlike any other. I'm sure I'm not the only one who starts nervously tapping his fingers on the armrest when a familiar logo, such as Lucasfilm, pops up suddenly onscreen, heralding a preview for an eagerly awaited epic. Remember the Geek-bumps you felt when you saw the trailer for "The Phantom Menace" for the very first time? The first time you viewed the teaser for "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?"

So what if both movies turned out to be crap? We didn't know that when we glimpsed the advance reels. Our interest was piqued. Anticipation built. Lines formed outside theaters. Unrealistic expectations were formed. Many not-so collectible collector's items were sold and stacked unopened in parents' basements.

What I'm saying is, those trailers DID THEIR JOBS.

Trailers are teasers, appetizers meant to water your cinema taste buds and expand your belly in advance of a film feast.

Which gets me to my other example of Bad Trailering by the WB, involving this year's breakout hit, "The Hangover."

I saw "The Hangover" back in April, two months before it hit theaters on its way to nearly $170 million box office to date (as of this writing). I hadn't seen a single ad for it. About all I knew about the film was that early online buzz was strong and the annoying guy from "Alias" and "Wedding Crashers" was part of the cast.

So after seeing it - and LMAO during just about the entire movie - I started recommending it to everyone who asked me about it. Jeffrey Lyons and Alison Bailes did the same during their review on my sadly-cancelled movie show REEL TALK.

You know what else I was telling everyone? DON'T WATCH THE TRAILERS! Change the channel the moment one of the ads (and there were LOTS of TV spots) came on, because the spots include just about every wild twist in the movie. Don't believe me? Watch it below.

Now some may argue this is an example of why reveal-heavy trailers work. After all, "The Hangover" is on its way to becoming the biggest-grossing comedy of the past decade, with a sequel already in the works. But for those in the audience who saw the trailers, who know Mike Tyson is going to be singing Phil Collins and punching someone out and know there's a Tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet and a naked Asian guy in the trunk, they missed out on the NO IDEA LAUGH. What's that?

The laugh that comes when something comes so thoroughly out of left field you nearly pop a button in your 501s guffawing. I was lucky enough to experience that with "The Hangover." I wonder how many people were able to do the same.

I can't stand watching movie trailers anymore. Why? Because less is more when it comes to teasers, and because I still enjoy surprises, especially at the theater. Modern movie trailers seem designed to eliminate that element of the moviegoing experience. For the life of me, I can't fathom why.

Incidentally, I have never bothered to see "The Negotiator." Don't need to. I saw the stinkin' trailer.

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