Movie trailers are advertising tools. They allow a mass audience to view the potential highs and lows of a new film without actually having to see it. Trailers offer glimpses at scenes, images, characters, plot and lines of dialogue all while keeping a huge chunk of the movie hidden, as to entice the audience.
But lately this trend has seen a massive decline and in its wake has risen a new type of trailer, one that not only offers a glimpse at a new film but one that practically gives the whole damn thing away in a robust and totally unnecessary three to three and a half minutes.
Since the start of the new millennium, when the internet really took off, movie spoilers have taken a whole new direction. With websites that employ photographers to sneak around sets and take as many pictures as they can, and camera phones that grant ordinary citizens the same power, audiences seem to want to know everything about a movie before it comes out, giving way to a comfortable theater experience that does not offer any surprises.
Probably the best example of this is the trailer for Judd Apatow’s “Funny People”, which literally gave away the entire plot of the story, from start to finish. With the entire movie shown in three and a half minutes, it’s a wonder it was Apatow’s least successful film. Hopefully Judd will learn his lesson next time and leave the audience something to look forward to.
And while trailers continue to run longer than they should, there is a small, select group of filmmakers with enough tact and perception to realize trailers are not a venue in which to tell your entire story, but rather hint at the power and emotion bubbling within a film.
Christopher Nolan is probably to most adept in this art form, as his trailers for both “The Dark Knight” and “Inception” left audiences drooling for more, hence the enormous success of both films. J.J. Abrams, too, seems a master of restraint, giving his films an incalculable amount of power because everything seems so fresh and untainted.
Another great example of this, and probably one of the best trailers in the last five years, comes from Todd Fields’ “Little Children”.
The trailer is built around the building hustle of a train, which parallels the character’s arc and the unfolding events of the story. But the trailer only hints at the emotional complexity and thematic weight the film has to offer, making it a rare feat in the art of the movie trailer.
But with the epidemic of film spoilers and trailers too insightful for their own good, will audiences ever learn to be surprised again?
The answer is yes but change can only come about once those in the industry learn from their mistakes, and realize half the joy of seeing a film is not knowing.