Unless you count Quidditch, I'm not really a sports fan. Because of this, I opted out of the SuperBowl this year. Since the only reason I would participate in a such an event would be to drink beer, eat a great deal of food and watch for the interesting commercials...and let's be honest, I can do that any day of the week. So this year I waited to see these commercials online the next day.
I was especially looking forward to the Captain America trailer, which until then had been unreleased. After watching said trailer, I found I was a tad disappointed. I was expecting an advertisement that would validate my opinion that this superhero film would have more than action. That's right, I expected to see something deeper than Steve Rogers decapitating Nazis with his shield. It was only later that I realized that this was a short trailer crafted especially for the SuperBowl audience. An audience who wants to see something short, sweet and action-packed.
This odd mental exercise continued as I began to think about the movie trailer as a medium unto itself.
The purpose of a movie trailer, first and foremost, is to sell the audience on seeing a film. But what makes a movie trailer stand out? There are hundreds of them that grace theaters, televisions and websites a year, what makes some of these trailers rise above commercialism to become memorable extensions of the cinematic art form?
In answering this question, I began to see a pattern emerge. Movie trailers often have a formula. You are given a short amount of time to sell your film. Because of this, modern trailers seem to be really nothing more than a collection of the film's funniest, sexiest, most horrific or action-packed scenes. Assuming the audience is drawn in by this cinematic showcase, they often find that the trailer has mined the film of many of it's key moments, that there is often nothing left. When an audience goes to see the film, some may feel that they just paid eight dollars to see what they saw in the preview-with filler added. It seems that horror films and romantic comedies fall victim to this kind of trailer.
And yet, some trailers get it right. They manage to sell the movie without giving it away, they evoke the feeling of the film while leaving a sense of mystery about it. Hitchcock's six minute trailer for Psycho takes a nod from his contemporary, William Castle by having the director lead the audience through locations of his film, almost as if he was telling a ghost story. We see the locations and he gives several hints and inside jokes to the film without really telling us what happens.
The 1971 trailer for Staney Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange uses the film's subliminal, kinetic style to showcase the film almost in it's entirety. It presents the material in such a way that you would be forced to see the film to understand the title cards It's only after viewing the film, that you get a sense of the trailer's power.
In the case of the 2002 film Spiderman, we were treated to a teaser that was a short film in itself. None of the footage in this trailer was part of the final film. We got something special here. It featured all new footage that told us everything we needed to know. However due to the tragedy on 9-11, the trailer and posters featuring the Twin Towers were pulled from circulation.
But perhaps one of the best trailers to ever hit theaters, was for the 2005 film adaptation of the Douglas Adam's novel, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This trailer, using Stephen Fry's vocal talents and the format of "The Guide" itself, managed to lampoon what we expect from trailers these days, while showing the audience key moments from the film.
The whole point of the trailer is to sell the movie, but as a young idealist I (perhaps misguidedly) believe that even the trailer carries with it artistic decisions that are made on behalf of the filmmaker's vision. This isn't always the case, sadly. But as these trailers show, an "advertisement" can often serve as an extension of the theatrical experience, making our first viewing of the film all the more enhanced.
Granted, your average audience member's attention span is much shorter these days (Thanks, MTV), but audiences still know a good trailer when they see one, don't they? Why can't we have a synthesis of art and commerce? If you can give me a trailer that shows me what your film is about, but doesn't ruin it for me. Better yet, a trailer that gives me a singular experience (See the Strange Days trailer) that is still connected to the film in question- you have not only earned my respect, you've also earned my eight bucks.
P.S. If you're a film fan, you MUST check out Joe Dante's website Trailers From Hell. Brilliant collection of trailers with wonderful commentary from figures in the film industry (Joe Dante, John Landis, Guillermo del Torro) Do yourself a favor and check it out!