Why Do Today’s Trailers Give Away the Whole Thing?

Dear Hollywood:

I remember the year 1992, in which a movie that was probably not made with visions of Oscars dancing in the filmmakers’ heads, managed to steal the spotlight from other more likely contenders. It was “The Crying Game,” and the big deal was that it had a twist. (And it was not that the character woke up and the whole movie turned out to be a dream.) In fact, one of the taglines was “The movie everyone is talking about… But no one is giving away its secrets.” (Thank you, Internet Movie Database.) Indeed, everyone I knew who saw it before me did not want to give away the twist, not that I really begged very hard. People in the know guarded the twist like it was a birthday present. Even Boy George did not give away the twist in his eponymous pop song that was featured in the movie.

Obviously, the trailer was carefully designed so as to keep the secret, well, secret. And, though comedians were parodying the twist on late night TV, it was still possible to avoid finding it out before actually having a chance to go see the movie. (In fact, I no longer remember the plot, but I sure do recall that twist.)

Nowadays, I fear, that this would not be possible. More accurately, I don’t think anyone would bother to try in the first place.  Maybe this could only happen in the pre-Internet age. But indeed when it comes to movie trailers, the pendulum has swung in the other direction. It’s becoming impossible to see any trailer and not come away knowing the exact plot, twists and all.

It’s getting so that putting spoilers on movie reviews is kind of silly because if the reader has seen the trailer already but not the movie, they may well have already seen the movie. This is unscientific, but many trailers give me the sense that I am sitting through the whole movie.  They probably aren’t even that long, but they sure feel like that to me.  An exception is “Snowden,” the Oliver Stone film, which does not even feature the actor playing Snowden himself, but that’s uncommon. But a few other trailers I’ve seen recently might as well be titled: “The Upcoming Movie: The Cinematic Cliff Notes Version.”

One example is “Eddie the Eagle,” starring Taron Egerton, based on the real-life British man who overcame a physical handicap and naysayers to compete in the Olympic ski jumping event. Another is “Miracles From Heaven,” based on the book and real-life story of a mysteriously ill little girl who climbed a tree, fell out of it and was cured just like that after meeting God. Now you could argue that anyone who wanted to could find out what happened before seeing the movie, but that’s been true for most of cinematic history (it might, however, taken a little longer). But there still exist people who prefer to have an element of surprise, of mystery when they go see a movie.

So please, please consider when designing a trailer, to leave some of the major plot points out. Even if the movie is based on a best-selling book. Especially, if it’s a fictional story. Maybe this is cynical, but lately, I come away from trailers wondering what the point is of seeing the movie? Sure, it looks heart-warming or suspenseful, etc., but it’s like squeezing all the toothpaste from the tube when just a little would do the job. Sometimes, as cliché as it, less is indeed more.

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