I don’t mean to harp on an issue but can we all just take a step back? When did seeing one trailer grant us the definite knowledge of a film’s quality? It seems that before we’ve even put money down for a ticket we’ve already decided the film’s place in the cinematic canon.
I’ll admit I went a little far when I’ve said trailers are lies told by liars who have never seen the movie. Most people who make trailers are not purposefully out to deceive you. Trailers by design, are meant to get you excited, to gin up audience anticipation. That is the extent of what a trailer is. No more or less.
To some degree, there is some inherent value to trailers. It allows us some idea of an approximation of what the film might look like. If the trailer is honest, it will give us a clue to as to what to expect. Personally, when it comes to trailers I remain a hard-bitten cynic. I don’t trust them, not a one. Which is not to say I don’t get excited or squeal with fanboy glee from time to time. But those moments are usually followed by a cold hard reality: it’s a toy commercial, not the movie.
It’s one thing to post or write about a reaction to a trailer. Or, depending on the trailer, trying to suss out little easter eggs and clues hidden in the corner of the frames. But by no means do trailers justify near the amount of oxygen and digital space we spend on discussing them. Though, much like old commercials, old trailers are interesting in a historical context.
I’m not one of those people who think trailers are art. I’ll admit there is an art to making trailers but I won’t go so far as to say they are art themselves. Trailers are commercials for a studio’s product. Somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten that and instead have pledged either our fealty or opposition to a film even before the reviews are out.
When McDonald’s advertises a new sandwich, no one sits down and examines the commercial for clues for what the sandwich might taste like. We understand what McDonald’s is trying to do. They want us to buy their sandwich. Whether or not we do will depend on how hungry we are and how much money we have.
Movies are a mass art. But they are also a product made by companies that desperately want your money. I’m not saying trailers can’t be fun or that I don’t find myself forming an opinion based off one trailer. It’s human nature. But I also don’t go into a movie hoping the movie is going to be the best or the worst movie of the year.
I go in hoping for a good movie. That’s it. I just want the movie to be good. If it leans one way or the other then so be it. But you have to let the movie be what it wants to be and not what you were promised. People who get mad at a movie because a trailer lied to them seem to misunderstand the purpose of an advertisement. It’s not meant to be truthful, it’s meant to get you to give studios your money.
Venom is a movie that I held out very little hope for. I saw the teaser when it first dropped and frankly it took me an embarrassing amount of time to realize it wasn’t just a Funny Or Die skit. Those who listen to my podcast or follow me, know that I spent a large amount of time trash talking Justice League before it came out. Both movies turned out to be wildly enjoyable.
It’s natural to have expectations. But we can’t be a slave to those expectations. A co-worker of mine was talking about the Aquaman trailer. He seemed disappointed. I asked him why. “It looks like it’s just Black Panther underwater.” Nevermind that said co-worker loved Black Panther, but isn’t it odd that based off one trailer he’s already surmised what the movie is about and even its tone. Granted, on the surface, the purpose of the trailer is to tell you those things.
Except, it’s not really. Again, on the surface, a trailer’s job is to tell you the basics. What is the movie is about? What will the tone of the movie be? Who’s in it? Who made it? Yet, in actuality, the purpose of a trailer is none of those things. The purpose, much like Sam Elliot narrating commercials for beef, is to merely let you know what’s for dinner. You don’t get to go around bragging about how much you know about a movie nobody has even seen yet and get to call yourself credible.
“But Jeremiah,” you may ask, “how do I know if a movie is good? How do I know what’s playing? Aren’t trailers necessary?” Well, you could, if I may be so bold, read your local critic. Sites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB have coming soon lists.
As to are trailers necessary? Not to court controversy, but no, they’re not. Do you know what I do when I go to the movies during the trailers? I take a light nap. Few things beat going into a movie cold.
Remember when I said expectations are only natural? Well, a good way to counter those expectations is to not have any. Not to sound too zen but too often we hate movies for being something they were never going to be. The idea of what we were told as opposed to what we watched. It’s not fair to us and it’s unbearably unfair to the movie.
Trailers do a fantastically effective job of brainwashing us. I’ve heard people complain that one trailer gave away too much while another trailer too little. Adam Mckay’s Anchorman had a trailer made up entirely of scenes not in the movie. Their reasoning was simple, “People always complain that the best scenes were in the trailer. So what if we save the best scenes for the movie? What if we film scenes just for the trailer?” Believe it or not, people were furious.
Movies aren’t the truth; trailers even less so. Like poetry, the truth lies in the spaces between the lines. If you come out of a movie angry that the movie didn’t have any scenes from the trailer, perhaps it’s time you explore other ways to spend your time.
Roger Ebert once said, “Trailers are advertisements for the movie the studio wants you to see.” With any movie, you have a myriad of versions that could be edited and released to a mass audience. The trailer is merely the one the studio thinks is the easiest one to sell. The movie itself, oftentimes, gets the short shrift.
It’s hard enough to get a movie made without audiences already passing judgment on something they haven’t seen or read about. Oh, sure countless YouTube channels have people reacting to trailers followed by what they hope the movie does. Yet, I can’t help but notice people don’t watch commercials for the new Maxi-Pads with bated breath.
In case I wasn’t clear, yes, I’m comparing movie trailers to commercials about menstrual pads. They both serve the same purpose, to let you know the product is either out or coming out. In fact, I would argue, there’s more truth in the Maxi-Pad commercial.