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The Great Trailer Debate

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Mark Kermode | 12:27 UK time, Friday, 18 May 2012

I posted recently saying how much I hated long excerpts from films being used in marketing campaigns. This seems to have touched a nerve - here are some of your responses.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Another thing you've got to thank excerpts for is a blow to 3D, Mark. In a recent DGA interview Christopher Nolan stated that he's recently "spoken up" when he screened an excerpt of The Dark Knight Rises to other directors and filmmakers to show them what IMAX is capable of, much more than what 3D is, and that film must be preserved over digital as a filmmaking medium.

  • Comment number 2.

    aaah the good Dr has had to take some of his own medicine and admit some partial guilt in the preview/trailer debate.

    I have recently moved to the USA and they go one step further (of course!) by running complete mini-documentaries up to 30 minutes before the main show. These include behind-the-scenes stuff for upcoming TV shows or movies. Feels a little like DVD-extra's that are put in.

    However, the big difference with trailers in the USA and in the UK, is that you don't really have a sense when the actual movie is beginning. In the UK you get that little few second BBFC card that pops up to let you know its been approved etc. In the USA they will go straight from trailer into the movie instantly.

  • Comment number 3.

    You are forgiven.

    Thinking about it, long before Avatar came out there was a trailer doing the rounds on YouTube which turned out to be fan made and of course had nothing of the actual film in it. But it was a brilliant teaser for the film and as others have said, it turned out to be better than the real trailer.

    To me this shows that trailers and teasers can be so vague that they can have almost no relation to the film they are for, but still have the desired effect on people.

    Again as somebody else pointed out, the teaser for the original Alien shows this perfectly.

  • Comment number 4.

    Trailers are annoying i agree, ironically I edit the things. I do however love watching trailers after I've actually seen the film or if it's a film I have no intention of watching.

    The thing is it's not just trailers that ruin a film for me, a review that's too in depth can be just as harmful, be careful Dr K... I know you are on the whole. Most the time I like to just know if Dr K likes it whilst 'skim listening' to the bulk of the review then go back and listen to it properly after I've seen the film for myself. Am I weird, probably.

  • Comment number 5.

    Your last line cracked me up! You sir are a legend!

  • Comment number 6.

    I have been resisting the urge to watch The Dark knight Rises trailer but fortunately i only have to hold out for 13 days until Prometheus hits screens.

    RE film club its been 3 weeks now can we get this party started, if anyone doesn't have a copy of Breathless its available from HMV for £5.

  • Comment number 7.

    Love how Mark says Avon Barksdale not getting The Wire reference

  • Comment number 8.

    You presented 10 minutes from Dawn 2004, that's fine, opinions can change. But has nobody mentioned the fact that this blog regularly features trailers and clips from films? The last entry, about The Raid is the most recent example, it had 2-3 minutes of clips.

    Take part if you want, don't if you don't want to. Nolan is intriguing and diverting about what he lets you know, or rather lets you think you know about his films. Generally I like to look at his trailers.

    Prometheus' full trailers seem to let you know the trajectory of the entire film - but surely a film this anticipated would be reckless to do this. Much as the disarming structure of The Dark Knight was a great surprise for me having assumed a lot about it from the trailers, I'm hoping Prometheus is the same. I'm hoping all of that footage is from no more than the first hour.

  • Comment number 9.

    Old trailers are lots of fun. If you like them you should head to Joe Dante's site Trailers From Hell where he has a archive of old trailers where you can turn on a director's commentary by Joe Dante, John Landis, Edgar Wright, Guillermo Del Toro and a bunch of others. Guillermo Del Toro's name should get you there I think.

  • Comment number 10.

    I agree that going through a film waiting to see bits of the trailer is annoying. I just saw The Dictator and oddly enough some of the lines in the trailer are not in the film - the same scene is in there but with an alternate take. For my money, some of the alternate takes used in the film are not as funny as the lines in the trailer.

    Also I would like to point out that most of the Prometheus viral campaign footage will not be in the film, so seeing this might enhance your viewing come June.

    I think that the trailer for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (USA) got it right - it didn't give much away as rapid editing meant that each shot lasted less than a second.

  • Comment number 11.

    Dick Laurent is dead your not weird at all, i myself only half listen to to Mark's reviews to get an idea of wether the film is worth a look then when i get home i replay the clip to see how my reaction compares. I'm sure many others do this as i don't like feeling i've seen the film before i buy the ticket.

  • Comment number 12.

    Trailers are a tricky thing. I hate when they give too much away - seeing "Avengers Assemble" recently I realised that many of the really cool moments had already been in the trailers, so it was less of a surprise and more of a "Oh, so THAT's where that bit fits in!" "The Dark Knight Rises" is having much the same effect, as is "Prometheus", so Mark may have the right idea to leave once the trailer starts. But they're so much fun as well!

    Mark's point about trailers that tell you nothing about the film is a very good one, and what he mentions about trailers for "The Shining" and "Eyes Wide Shut" makes me think of teasers. When the teaser for the "The Dark Knight Rises" came out - - I was surprised at how much detail was included, because the teaser for "The Dark Knight" was so minimal. Perhaps that is the ideal medium - a trailer that teases, only giving the vaguest hints about what the film may feature, without giving away anything of the plot itself. Thoughts?

  • Comment number 13.

    Admittedly there's the odd gem of a trailer, just like imo there's the odd gem of a tv ad commercial (genuine piece of brilliant work) but waaaaaay more times, they are an advert/marketing/sales vehicle that is a complete stinking pile of.. . ok, maybe commercials are many times worse than trailers (!), but it's similar distortion sometimes:

    There was a recent trailer for Battle Royale, I can't remember if it was doing the rounds to fit in with people looking for a particular sort of entertainment off the back of another movie deemed in the same genre (Hunger Games?)? Anyway here's 3 trailers and 3 very different ways of demonstrating the movie to an audiences:

    1/ Japanese original trailer:
    2/ English/American dvd trailer:
    3/ European!:

    The differences in emphasis is astonishing and obviously reflects what market audience is intended. The English dvs/blu-ray is pitching at "Japanese horror/violence sick thrills perhaps?. The European one (latin) is much more about an emotional meltdown of horrific but touching violence; and the Japanese trailer is demonstrating a satirical take on a classroom's lack of discipline leading to the ultimate soultion: A violent lesson.

    This is really why I dislike trailers: I dislike the English pitch (exotic delights?) and it would ruin the movie taking that message into watching it if I had not seen it. So the problem is a trailer is a one-size-fits all for the territory it's released in, which is invariably going to be flawed for that marketing reason.


    But even the Japanese trailer reveals a lot of the movie that if you went in with a blank slate the impact might be that much more impressive for such a shock imagining of the story's theme. Doubly so in this case? No doubt the book was well known in Japan, so the trailer played to that but atst remained closer to that source than the English pitch.

  • Comment number 14.

    The doctor is right, great trailers like The Shining are memorable because they make you want to see the movie, without spoiling the plot. These days trailers like Prometheus and Planet of the Apes sequentially show all plot points, and leave potential audiences little curiosity about the film.
    My guess is that the studio marketing departments figured out that ticket buyers want to be less curious about upcoming movies, and more assured that they get what is expected.

  • Comment number 15.

    On the subject of bad trailers; assuming it was attached to showings of The Avengers around the rest of the UK, I imagine a lot of you saw an ad for a British movie called 'Fast Girls'.

    Content of the film itself aside, I don't think I'd ever before seen a trailer that so comprehensively spoiled the film it was supposed to be advertising. It seemed to get through every major plot point, the love interest, a burgeoning rivalry AND the resolution to that rivalry in a mere two minutes. It was almost impressive really.

  • Comment number 16.

    To quote Frankenstein Dr K: You have created a monster, and it will destroy you!

  • Comment number 17.

    Regarding Prometheus, I have watched the three minute video with Michael Fassbender which is very good and does not appear to contain any plot from the film. I am currently weighing up whether or not to see Prometheus and will base my decision mainly on the opinions of the good doctor and Peter Bradshaw, those being the two film critics I find myself in most common agreement with.
    Oh dear I just ended a sentence with a preposition.
    I do like seeing films knowing as little about them as possible beforehand, as this makes it new and exciting. Recently I acquired Morvern Callar on DVD and until I got about 5 minutes into the film I had no idea that the title was somebody's name and I enjoyed knowing absolutely nothing about what might happen.
    However the other film which I watched recently knowing very little about it going in, was the somewhat less excellent Squid and the Whale. I did restrain from violence, but only just.

  • Comment number 18.

    Oh dear, next you're going to tell us that the re-launch of 3D was your idea. I have mixed feelings about trailers, i've tried to avoid them recently, however i did discover a brilliant film called Ballast because i saw a trailer, it gave nothing away but i had to seek it out, and i was terrific.

  • Comment number 19.

    I have had a great trailer experience, only because it was an experience on it's own. It started with a bank heist, perfectly executed to the point of escaping via helicopter. As the criminals took off laughing, the chopper gets flung back through the air and leaves them left discombobulated in a giant spider web. This was of course the earliest trailer for the first "Spiderman" film. Unfortunately, the trailer was cut as the spider web was woven between the twin towers and the trailer was released just before 9/11. Great shame.

  • Comment number 20.

    I like watching the trailers before the movie starts, but there should obviously be no plot spoilers and they should not be longer than 2 minutes (for danger of plot spoilers).

    Sometimes trailers do a good thing warning me of films that I don't need to see. Some weeks ago I saw the trailer of Dark Shadows (having never heard of the film or tv series before) and it made me think: Okay, I really do not want to see that film!! The 'gags' were not funny to me at all and I was sick of seeing a CGI-Johnny Depp in costume, again.
    Maybe people who think the trailer is funny will like the film, too (though Mark did not).

  • Comment number 21.

    #10 - Agreed on alternate takes; for example, Indy's "Part-time" line in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, for me, isn't as good as its trailer incarnation.

  • Comment number 22.

    It's the " landing " clip and I'm now upset I watched it. It's coloured my view of the film with it's ostentatious ballyhoo. The 1979 landing was suffused with a resentful " I don't want to be here, I want to go home " attitude that gave gravitas to the gritty realism. The new landing makes the cast look like a bunch of showy children in a shiney bells+whistles ship.

  • Comment number 23.

    I was upset by the appearance of a trailer for Prometheus when I recently went to see Marley with my mum. She was a little freaked when I shut my eyes and put my fingers in my ears...

  • Comment number 24.

    #21 - You a fan of RedLetterMedia Matth Still? :P

  • Comment number 25.

    Got to say I'm a little confused by the number of people who claim to want to see films 'knowing as little as possible about it'. Does that include not having the first idea whether you actually want to see the film or not? Certainly you don't want to be spoiled, but surely you don't want to be disappointed by a film that's not what you like either? I don't care how well made it is, if I go to see a musical thinking it's a drama, I'll be really unhappy.

    Would you buy a book without reading the blurb on the back? Would you order a meal by sticking a pin in the menu while blindfolded? You need some sort of way to tell what the film is basically like ahead of time, and that's what trailers are supposed to do.

    Mind you, most do it horribly badly - that I'll not deny. But the point is, trailers (should) serve a useful purpose.

  • Comment number 26.

    Has anyone else noticed Kermode's increasing likeness to union leader Rodney Bickerstaffe?

  • Comment number 27.

    I make an effort to get into screenings at just the right moment; after the rubbish adverts for lager, zit cream etc have ended, and just before the trailers start. Sometimes the trailers are the best bit of the viewing experience, and at the very least they let you know about films coming up that you might want to see.

    Trailers and excerpts can also have the opposite effect. I remember seeing the trailer for Sucker Punch and thinking it looked pretty good. Then ZACK SNYDER!!! released the first ten minutes of the movie, and it was absolutely godawful. I still haven't seen the film because that excerpt put me off it so much.

    And like everyone else, I've been avoiding all the media that's been released around Prometheus. I know the cast, director and general premise of the movie. If anyone gives away anything more than that, I will rain down the fires of hell upon them.

  • Comment number 28.

    Dear Doctor. You are my second best critic. Have you seen in youtube trailers edited to new genre? For example Lion King as a horror movie. It was my first movie i ever got and i still think that is one of the scariest movie i have watched, scarier than cannibal holocaust. They should give you a image for what are you getting. But then how promote Lynch movies? Maybe best trailers was Fight club and Matrix. Didin´t know what it is, like Matrix commercials, what is the matrix, coming soon! There was all the information you needed. K-15 (in Finland) and date when it is in theaters.

  • Comment number 29.

    Thanks for the name check Dr K.
    Gosh, I'd forgotten that you introduced the Dawn of the Dead preview... (he he he).

    Unfortuately it seems that to sell a film to a mass audience you have to tell them what's in the tin beforehand. It seems you can't underestimate the dumbness of the intended audience.

    Avatar started with a teaser trailer that gave little away with little response.
    To quote Cameron: “…we put out a teaser trailer that was all about the imagery, and people were less than satisfied, because they weren’t learning enough about the story. We put out a story trailer that set the stage and told you what the main character was, and all of a sudden people were wildly excited about the movie.”

    Trailers ~ a necessary evil I think; they do inform me; point me towards films I'd otherwise pass by and help me avoid some stinkers. As for 'spoilers' ~ with a film like The Raid I'm not expecting much plot (its a big fight movie) so knowing the basic set-up in advance wont spoil my enjoyment. The early trailers last year on the web made me want to see it.

    On the other hand the trailer for 'What Lies Beneath ' managed to give away both the film's big plot surprise and the ending!

  • Comment number 30.

    *Today's "Kermode Blog" was directed by M. Night Shyamalan*

  • Comment number 31.

    #24 - As regards that line, let's just say great minds think alike. :)

  • Comment number 32.

    Mark I know you read these. Can you not kick up more of a fuss about the scandalous one day release of Iron Sky. Your voice carries weight and I can't go on Wednesday. Please.

  • Comment number 33.

    Mark! A director friend of mine (not Billy) who has done a couple of really good studio films shattered my views on this subject when he reported to me that a survey done by his film company (Fox) revealed that audiences like to know what happens in a movie all the way into the third act. I was astonished, but he said that, contrary to intuition, people don't like to be surprised by a film until the end. which is why, first, trailers give away so much of a movie and, second, the ending can't come out of nowhere but has to be prepared for. This revelation disgusted me; who wants to know too much about a movie before seeing it? But apparently this interfaces with the other research revelation that people who rent movies from brick and mortal video stores (remember those?) tend to rent movies they've already seen because, should they have guests over to the house to watch, they don't want to be embarrassed by an untried title. What this says for the movies is bad enough, but what it says for the curiosity of today's humans is pathetic. -- Nat (P.S.: You never call!)

  • Comment number 34.

    Hi Mark,
    i still clearly remember seeing The Shining trailer on television when i was young,and it scared the living daylights out me.I also seem to remember that the subject of how scary it was,was raised on the BBC's Pebble Mill show.
    I used to like the old teaser trailers,like the one for John Carpenters The Thing.The downside of the teaser trailer of course was being able to entice people into the cinema to watch garbage like John Frankenheimers Prophecy.

  • Comment number 35.

    Exhibit A in how to make a trailer. Absolutely stunning.

  • Comment number 36.

    Avon Barksdale, brilliant.
    I don't see the point in these previews. Trailers are just to get you pumped up/intrigued. Surely these people interested enough to sit through a 15 minute segment would pay to see the whole film? where is the benefit to the distributor let alone the viewer?

  • Comment number 37.

    #25. YourMessageHere wrote:
    "Got to say I'm a little confused by the number of people who claim to want to see films 'knowing as little as possible about it'."

    >Knowing enough to decide to view it, but not more than that. The purpose of a trailer is otherwise: To show more than enough to convince the most people to watch or talk about it.

    One thing, trailers are good for, watching trailers of films so you don't have to watch the films, honestly. If I want to watch a film, word reviews are more useful to decide (without spoilers) and I'd always avoid the trailers. But for most people trailers serve their purpose very effectively to advertise the film/play up it's positives enough to get that excitement which is needed for making cinema an event to anticipate.

    #35. 9barr:

    That trailer practically shows the whole film. I'm glad I went into watching The Matrix having practically lived on a small island for the preceding months: Every scene is almost perfect in that movie but more so if you are living each scene in the moment and therefore more susceptible to the surprise and how the whole thing builds towards: "What is The Matrix?", especially the edge of conscious things such as how the rain fall off the buildings leading to the inference of the building etc.

  • Comment number 38.

    Alfred Hitchcock's trailers are intriguing. He stands in front of the camera and talks about different scenes and set pieces from the film in a mysterious manner. Although it's interesting to watch, this really must spoil the film somewhat. Is he trying to build up the suspense? Never having actually seen his trailers before watching the films I can not call on any real experience.

    The trailer for Psycho is a good example, perhaps give it a miss if you haven't seen the film? It's here on youtube

  • Comment number 39.

    In this rather quirky trailer, we are introduced to all the characters without knowing what the story may be.

  • Comment number 40.

    Back in the good old days, trailers used to be a preview of what your local cinema was showing NEXT WEEK. This was the only place to see them, and it enabled you to decide whether you were going to spend next Friday night at the cinema or not.

    Since they began showing trailers on TV too, and now the internet, we're bombarded with the things. However, I don't have that much of a problem with long trailers, because they're usually released up to 6 months (or, in Peter Jackson's case, up to a year!) in advance: by the time the film is actually released, I've long forgotten the trailer I saw 4/5/6 months ago, although I have made the mental note it's a film I want to see. Longer trailers are therefore a result of longer times until the film's release, which is understandable. But it does get annoying when they misuse it and release a long trailer for a film that is due out the following month. When that happens, there's usually no point in seeing the film, at least until you've forgotten the trailer.

  • Comment number 41.

    I watched the 10 minute preview of Dawn of the Dead, but it escaped me you introduced it. You could have gotten away with it, if you hadn't mentioned it. Oh well.

  • Comment number 42.

    On the whole I don't object to trailers: if they're any good they can add to the cinema-going experience and they generally don't detract from the future experience of watching a film.

    The exception, though - and it's a big one - is trailers for comedies, which should probably be banned outright if they don't work harder to be more creative. Why? Because jokes - whether witty lines of dialogue or visual gags - are never funny the second time round. It's perfectly possible to view a trailer for a film of almost any other genre without later feeling, when you watch the film itself, that the experience has been spoiled by your recollection of what you've already seen. But when a comedy throws away its best gags just to get you into the cinema, there's really nothing left to see.

    The fact that comedy in cinema is on such a low ebb these days doesn't exactly help matters, but I wonder how many films I would've responded to more positively if they hadn't been trailed in this way.

  • Comment number 43.

    Skyfall trailer ~ tease or too much information?

    And will you watch the full length trailer out later this year?

  • Comment number 44.

    Mark are you ever going to reply to the messages about your Film Club Idea ? You ask questions for us and you never hear our answers.

  • Comment number 45.

    Showing too much has been around a long time. Up until the 1980s, trailers sometimes ran for up to 5 minutes and would give away massive spoilers. The 90 second trailers we have now feel like the right length.

    But I do think that the art of the trailer peaked in the late 80s/early 90s. Then it seemed that the intention was to give a feel for the style of the film and tell you what type of film it is and highlight any big names involved. Now the intention seems to be to make the film look like a recent hit, regardless of whether this accurately reflects the film it's advertising. I find modern trailers on the whole to be misleading.

    But I am reluctant to see a film without any prior knowledge of it. It increases the chances of seeing a film I won't enjoy. The cinema costs to much for that kind of a gamble.

  • Comment number 46.

    While I agree with your points about the long excerpts, surely the fact that Prometheus is a prequel is a bit of a spoiler in itself. There may be surprises in the way the film moves but if you've seen the originals and you know the mythology of the story it's trying to tell then can't you work out what's going to happen along the way?

  • Comment number 47.

    Mark - Your blog on 'The Raid' has more trailer than I've ever seen - PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH please

  • Comment number 48.

    Hahaha! A very entertaining blog entry :) Well, we all change our minds over time.

  • Comment number 49.

    I picked up Empire las tmonth and was reading about Moonrise Kingdom. Halfway through the article I fell asleep. When I awoke from my boredom induced slumber I flipped the page and moved on.

    However I just saw the trailer on the gogglebox and have to say it looks fantastic, nothing what like I had imagined. Can't wait to see it now.

    Perhaps trailers have their uses?

  • Comment number 50.

    The debate presents an interesting marketing dilemma for filmmakers and studios.

    For instance, most films do not get the attention they do or don't deserve merely through word-of-mouth. It is achieved through the teasing of films through trailers, which while unveiling certain plot points, help get people excited about the film. That said, I'd be a hardliner when it comes to seeing the whole film all at once.

    I don't normally tend to watch trailers or read reviews from Empire, Total Film or what have you because I think there is something genuinely special about going into to a film with a blank canvas: you only have your own opinion by which to judge the film. As such, I believe marketing campaigns/trailers should be simple, concise and to the point. Much of the joy about seeing Inception was merely on the basis of the poster and the tagline: "Your Mind Is The Scene Of The Crime."

  • Comment number 51.

    When Mark put on the shades I thought it was an audition for Men In Black IV.

  • Comment number 52.

    Got to say I disagree with the person who emailed in last. Dark Knight puts that awesome shot of the football pitch crumbling behind a player. That shot will now not amaze me in the film and it also worries me that they put that shot in the trailer as it makes me think they've included all the best bits in the trailer because the film is crap!!!

  • Comment number 53.

    This is worth a view on this subject!!:

    Trailer For Every Oscar-Winning Movie Ever



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