Samuel Adams and IndieWire has shared some thoughts he has about movie trailers. The cause for this particular editorial is the overly enthusiastic reaction by some people to the trailer for Inherent Vice, the upcoming movie from director Paul Thomas Anderson. Here’s Adams’ thesis statement:
Trailers ruin movies. Or, if “ruin” is too strong a word, they lessen the experience of watching them, the way it would if some blabbermouth friend told you a film’s plot in advance. Some trailers are more subtle about it than others, but even the best pull enticing moments out of their original context and serve them up in an appealing stew. If the trailer is a good one — by which I mean one that successfully stokes your desire to see a movie — those moments remain lodged in the back of your mind, and you can’t help but anticipate them.
Now to be clear, I get where he’s coming from. Even if a trailer doesn’t spoil some sort of big surprise or lay the movie out in such broad strokes that it shows the major beats from all three acts of a movie what they contain can be considered spoilers or, at worst, unwanted glimpses at the movie.
But what he’s talking about are many of the reasons why I started writing Movie Marketing Madness all those years ago. Too many people – people who were aspiring to the role of film journalist in some manner – were just posting a trailer and saying “OMG this looks awesome” without any critical thinking behind it. What I was more interested in doing was looking at *why* the trailer was doing what it was doing.
It’s understandable that Adams is frustrated by the piling on of fanboy enthusiasm every time there’s a halfway decent trailer released. As he said, most of the time the only impact it could have is to make someone who’s already aware of and excited about a movie want to see it less. And the gushing is embarrassing to watch for anyone with a modicum of self-respect or journalistic integrity, though I’ll admit that my criticism has sometimes been swept away in a wave of “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY” excitement over how good a trailer makes the movie look.
To that end my recommendation is Adams and people like him start looking at trailers through a different lens. Yes, they are often to designed to either appeal to the elite few in a niche target audience (Inherent Vice, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World) or a mass audience that includes the kind of people some snooty film journalists deride as mouth-breathers and who need everything laid out for them before they opt to shell out their money. The question to ask then is “Why.” Then trailers become much more interesting not for what they are but why they are that way.
It’s because there’s so much media being produced – both the promotional stuff and all the outlets that are more than happy to share it (with gusto because they want to keep the publicity pipeline flowing) that we need to turn a more critical eye to what we’re being sold. I understand where Adams is coming from. But the next step is just as important.