Trailers and I go back a while. It’s kind of a love/hate relationship. You see, I love trailers but they don’t love me.
What do I love? I love the art form of the trailer. I love the way it’s able to tell a complete story in three minutes. In this way, a great trailer can play kind of the way a great music video does. I love the way they’re edited together, especially with a great song or piece of scoring. There’s often no better showcase for the majesty of cinematography than a trailer, as trailer editors know how to pick the money shots like no other. And let’s face it; the practice of getting you into the theaters has been refined to a very precise formula. In theory, there’s no better way to get someone excited to see a movie than the trailer, and I’m the same way.
But I don’t seek trailers out anymore. In fact sometimes in theaters when they come on I have to actively avoid them, either by spacing out or, in extreme circumstances, closing my eyes and covering my ears. It’s ridiculous, I know, but it’s become a necessity.
Why? Because I’ve found in the past that some of my very favorite filmic experiences are the ones that I’ve gone into with the least amount of knowledge.
I like being surprised and I absolutely treasure the first exposure to a film. It’s just not the same when the best jokes, the best scenes, or even the coolest looking shots are already familiar. I want to experience each of these things for the first time as part of the tapestry of the film, not separately. When watching a movie that I’ve seen a lot of footage from, it’s as if the threads of that tapestry are just a bit duller than they would have been had I not seen it at all.
Let’s face it, some trailers are just horrible about how much they show. Every trailer gives away the hook, most give away the closing of the first act, and some even give away the look and feel of the final act and climax. There’s a reason these things are laid out in a certain order in the story and I like, as an audience member to respect that.
And not only that, but there’s something magical about going into a theater (or viewing) without any knowledge of what you’re getting into at all. I know Austin Powers is a ridiculed franchise these days, but I remember giving it a chance on pay-per-view knowing literally nothing about it beyond the fact that I liked Mike Myers and having no expectations was pleasantly surprised by what I found. I hadn’t had any of the jokes ruined for me and each one delivered. Because I knew nothing even finding out the setting and the genre were moments that worked in the films favor, and appearances of actors that I liked made me smile.
And you know what, I don’t need trailers to make my decisions on films. I can decide primarily on the filmmaker and cast involved, possibly with a bit of premise, genre, or cast thrown in. I rely mostly on word of mouth from podcasts and blogs and if I can, avoid anything that really represents serious details. In other words, I find out from sources with similar taste to mine whether or not I am likely to enjoy the film, and make educated decisions based on the people involved. I don’t need to see a bit of footage or a still of film to walk into a theater. If it’s not that great, that’s fine, I took a gamble, but if it is it’s going to be something truly special. Trailers can’t be avoided so I usually end up seeing them eventually, and I’m always so tempted by that love for the way they’re crafted and the way they’re enjoyable completely on their own. But in a perfect world I wouldn’t have to make that decision at all, and maybe trailers could exist as awesome tributes to the films I love (or films I decided not to see otherwise).
There’s a happy medium here. Some filmmakers have gone out and made trailers completely fresh with no footage in the film involved. They just try to capture the tone of the film and essentially end up with a short film that works all on its own while. This is truly awesome, and I wish it happened more often. But sadly Godzilla is the only example I can think of off the bat, though there’s more I’m sure. Teaser trailers are nice too, I like when I can get an idea of how a film feels without really seeing much content. Wall-E’s early teaser was a good example. We get a feel for Wall-E’s character, the set-up, and the feel of the film (love the music which I later found was from Brazil), and not much else. It worked for me and got me to see the film. But then again, all you have to do is put the word PIXAR on a poster and you’d have my money.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to divorce myself from trailers. They’re simply unavoidable (and sometimes too good). But I do always feel torn and feel that they’ve slightly tainted my moviegoing experience. I’ll never know what that totally fresh viewing would be like for most of the films that turned out to be favorites of mine. But I have had a few really good trailer-free experiences that lead me to believe my movie watching world would be a better place without trailers. Even though I love them.