by Shane “Happy Trailers” Hnetka
It’s a common complaint — movie trailers give away too much information. Plot twists, deaths of major characters, revealing murderers’ identities, using a movie’s best joke or scariest scene. It’s annoying.
Here’s a few examples of spoilery trailers, the terrible rationale behind them and a solution to the problem.
Ironic warning: spoilers ahead.
TOO MUCH INFORMATION
Some of the most memorable movie moments are epic plot twists that blindsided audiences. Darth Vader is Luke’s father! The little boy’s psychiatrist is a ghost who doesn’t know he’s dead! Kevin Spacey is Keyser Söze! Tyler Durden is a figment of Edward Norton’s mind!
But what if we’d first heard the line, “I am your father” in The Empire Strikes Back’s trailer? Don’t laugh; some trailers have ruined their movies just as badly as that would’ve ruined the sequel to Star Wars.
A friend of mine hadn’t read The Lord Of The Rings and was stunned to learn, from the trailer, that Gandalf returns from the dead in The Two Towers. Back in 1984, we traumatically learned that the legendary starship Enterprise would be blown up from Star Trek III’s freakin’ trailer. More recently, previews for The World’s End showed that Simon Pegg’s nostalgic pub crawl would be beset by robots. Be nice to have been surprised.
And Iron Man 3? Fun flick. Would’ve been a lot more fun if the trailer hadn’t already told us about Tony Stark’s secret battalion of Iron Men.
Director Robert Zemeckis is notorious for movie trailers that spell out every single twist and turn. His trailers for Cast Away and What Lies Beneath, for instance, potentially saved you $12 by showing exactly what was going to happen.
“We know from studying the marketing of movies, people really want to know exactly everything that they are going to see before they go see the movie,” says Zemeckis. “It’s just one of those things.”
It might be “just one of the those things,” but there are better ways to sell tickets than cynically spelling out exactly what’s going to happen in a movie months before it opens.
EAT MY SHORTS
Fox has released the first trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past. We learn that Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) time travels to the past and there will be lots of cameos from X-Men past and present. Somehow, the whole thing looks boring.
You know what isn’t boring? The online short videos for Days Of Future Past. The first was an ominous commercial for Trask Industries, an evil corporation from the comics that builds giant mutant-killing robots (ruh-roh). This important plot point is quite absent in the trailer. The second video is a pseudo-documentary about how Magneto (Michael Fassbender) used his magnetic powers to bend the bullet that killed JFK.
Both shorts are far more interesting than the trailer — and therefore, more effective marketing.
X-Men: Days of Future Past isn’t the only movie that’s used original previews to great effect. Last year, Fox promoted Prometheus with a faux TED talk and a fake commercial for the David 8 android. (Too bad Prometheus sucked.) Alfred Hitchcock used such shorts all the time — in his most famous, he strolls around Psycho’s set, cryptically alluding to plot points while jaunty music plays.
I say forget about these slipshod collections of clips from upcoming films: original trailers are the best way to promote movies. I don’t need to know every plot twist to get me interested in a film and I’m sure most movie-goers feel the same, no matter what stupid Robert Zemeckis’ market research shows.
This Christmas, I’m asking Santa for better movie trailers. I hope my wish comes true. It’ll be a gift that keeps on giving — without giving everything away.