I used to love watching movie trailers. When I was a kid, getting to the movies early just to watch the trailers was a priority; you could not afford to miss a glimpse of the next epic installment of “Lord of the Rings” or “Harry Potter.” Better yet, most of these trailers were concise and light on exposition; they piqued your interest just enough without giving away most of the story.
It’s a sad state of affairs these days, as trailers are often spoiler-ridden and run about 2 minutes 30 seconds, which is at least 30 seconds too long. There are also too many of them, with studios sometimes stuffing in as many as seven trailers before a movie. The human buttocks can only endure so much.
This pre-show, coupled with the lurid onslaught of local advertisements and “behind-the-scenes” promos (which, absurdly enough, usually concern the movies the trailers are already promoting), will normally subject the average cinema-goer to a groan-inducing extra 20 or so minutes before the actual movie.
I am not alone in this sentiment. Last week, the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO for movies) — a trade group composed of several major theater chains — proposed a set of voluntary guidelines that call for shorter trailer lengths and less marketing time (the period between the trailer’s debut and the movie’s release date).
“These guidelines will evolve in response to technological innovations, marketing and advertising trends, competition in the marketplace, and consumer demands,” NATO said in a public statement. “The guidelines are completely voluntary and will be implemented through individual exhibition company policies, which may vary.”
I don’t expect movie studios to oblige these guidelines, seeing as they’re hardly conducive to higher profit margins. From a pure marketing standpoint, using a preview to showcase the star-studded cast as well as several major plot points is bound to get more people in seats. But the point isn’t to give the audience what it wants, but what it needs.
It’s a hard truth to swallow that people will flock to see whatever they find most familiar (one need only look at the incessant barrage of sequels and remakes to notice this). But people also love to be surprised. When you’re subconsciously salivating for trailer-promised scenes while watching a movie, part of the magic is lost.
This is especially true for comedies. Many of the best jokes in “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” were delivered in the trailer, and consequently, the movie wasn’t half as funny as it was made out to be.
Trailers should be treated like food samples; their purpose is to give the audience a taste of the upcoming attraction by teasing the audience’s imagination. They’re not visual CliffsNotes; I should not be able to accurately predict a movie’s plot solely by viewing its trailer.
It has become so aggravating that I will either intentionally arrive late or voluntarily stand outside the theater to skip the previews. This is a shame, because there are some good trailers out there; these whet one’s appetite by conveying a certain mood and atmosphere while not relying too much on star power or interesting plot developments to secure your ticket.
As a gold standard, just admire the visual brevity of this trailer for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
Sadly, this art of concise trailer-making is going by the wayside to make room for long, repetitive trailers that continue to disclose every pivotal scene and character. Of course, one can always watch trailers online to avoid this problem. Yet most people do not ardently follow movie news.
The cynic in me doesn’t expect this nauseating trend to subside anytime soon, but I encourage all moviegoers to audibly express their disdain over bad trailers.
Reach the columnist at Alexander.Elder@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @ALEXxElder