Something Needs to Be Done About Bad Movie Trailers
Movie trailers seem to have been elevated to a higher status in recent years. Sure, trailers have always been necessary to generate hype for a movie, but with the advent of YouTube "trailer breakdowns" and the constant scouring of blockbuster previews for details about plot and whatever else, trailers have become something else entirely. It should be no surprise then, that so many movies are being negatively affected by these trailers. With so much attention paid to these two minute or so highlight reels, it is only natural that some movies would begin to suffer more so from bad advertising.
Let's start with Ant-man and the Wasp, the most recent entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and overall a light, dare I say fluffy, action-comedy that I enjoyed both watching and reviewing. I liked it, for sure, but despite fresh humor and jokes, almost every action scene felt stale, as if I had watched it a thousand times over. And that's because I had watched it a thousand times over - in the trailer. Nearly every major action beat had been paraded in cinemas months and months before the movie was released, and some segments that may have been jaw-dropping were reduced to fights that didn't shock or awe . Did it ruin the movie? No. But it certainly dulled a lot of its impact.
I'll pull another example from a movie I reviewed recently, Sorry to Bother You. Just like with Ant-Man, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. Its weird alternative reality United States provided the perfect backdrop for a bleak satire on labor relations, and it was both visually interesting and thought provoking. Of course, the trailers completely downplayed the science-fiction elements of the film, instead loading all of the most audience friendly jokes (of which there are less than you might think) into a few easily digestible minutes. Admittedly, I am sometimes hyper-sensitive to how other people judge movies I like, but I noticed very few guffaws or even chuckles during my screening, and towards the end, some downright audience bafflement. At one point my neighbor said to his date "What the fuck is happening right now?" And really, that was a pretty fair response.
This phenomenon isn't exactly new, to be fair. Trailers have been disappointing and misleading people since they first came into being. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was grossly mis-marketed as a screwball comedy, when it in fact was one of the more dramatic roles of Jim Carrey's career. Cabin in the Woods, one of my favorite films of the past 10 years, was made to look like a cookie-cutter haunted house flick, when it really was more of a satire of the whole genre, and largely comedy focused. Alien 3's first teaser included the tagline "In 1992, on Earth, we will discover that everyone can hear you scream" despite Earth not appearing at all in the final cut. Trailers can spoil major parts of the movie, intentionally distort the film's tone or content or generally create expectations that cannot be met, and they always have. But in an age where we can watch a trailer as many times as we want online, these trailers carry additional weight.
One of the main reasons this disconnect continues is obvious enough; it is the job of the trailers to get butts in seats. Action, thrills and jokes are what most movie-goers want to see, and therefore it is in the best interest of a company making trailers to emphasize these aspects of a film. Will Hereditary sell if it is more about tragic family drama then ghosts? It will if the focus is only on ghosts in the trailers. What if Bird-Man is about a desperate failing actor who used to play a super-hero? Well, the company can just show all the shots of his super-hero delusions first and foremost in the marketing. Meta-commentary is almost impossible to cut down and make palatable, and therefore movies relying on long-form satire or metaphors like Cabin in the Woods or mother! are hacked up and reassembled beyond belief. Its all about selling the movie, whether that means being dishonest or not.
So what is the solution to this problem? Perhaps the most obvious solution would be to allow the directors of movies to have more influence over how their works are marketed. It is their creative vision, and that vision should carry throughout all aspects of the film process. Of course, when you have juggernauts like Marvel and DC trying to get out trailers as soon as possible, the people editing the trailers sometimes don't have all of the film's footage to work with. They work with what they have, often resulting in trailers containing footage that doesn't even make it to the film or is shot just for the trailers themselves. This process isn't going to change anytime soon either, especially with tight studio schedules surrounding big blockbuster releases. So director input at all stages isn't always practical. Then again, we could always stop watching the trailers for movies altogether and allow ourselves to experience a movie based on little information at all. But I don't have the self-control for that, and something tells me that most movie-goers don't either.