The Joy of Trailers

Timekeeping isn’t my strong point. I’m either very early for appointments or more usually – very late. I was even hideously late for a job interview once; luckily the interview panel was full of lovely people who excused my red face, poured me some water and gave me the job. If I’m on time I feel twitchy and as though something isn’t right. There is one exception – the cinema. I like to arrive just at a film showing bang on time.

Ever since I was a little girl I’ve loved going to the cinema, we didn’t go very often but when we did it was a magical experience. One of my favourite memories from childhood was going to the Odeon in Renfield Street with my mum to watch Herbie Goes Bananas. I can’t remember every trip to the pictures but another visit I vividly recall is when my aunt took me to see The Jungle Book. We were late and missed the trailers. I was heart-broken, after all the trailers are an integral part of the movie-going experience.

Trailers have a special magic all of their own, they draw us in, entice us, thrill us and hopefully persuade us to spend our hard earned cash going to see the finished film. A good trailer is a work of art itself. It should tell you what the film is about – without committing the cardinal sin of spoiling the plot. If a comedy it should contain enough laughs to convince the viewers that the movie will amuse, without using every joke in the script. Action film trailers should tell us what we’ve got to look forward to and tease us with some big bangs.  A gravelly voiced man will speak in clichés and quote marketing lines for three minutes.  Above all a good trailer should create enough buzz to have millions of people talking about the movie months in advance of release.  15 million views of The Hobbit trailer is certainly a strong old buzz.

Studios are becoming increasingly savvy to both the power of the trailer and of viral marketing. Short teaser trailers are released to create a buzz around a film that may still be filming. The Avengers Assemble teaser trailer is a brilliant example of this – it’s less than two minutes has lots of quick cuts and black screen, some explosions and a killer line from Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark.  It’s created a huge amount of online line buzz and has had more than seven million views on the Marvel UK You Tube channel alone.

Other teaser trailers are quieter but perhaps more intriguing. A recent favourite of mine was the teaser trailer for The Iron Lady. We didn’t need any plot or action, we just wanted to see how Meryl Streep looked (and sounded) as Margaret Thatcher.

The real potential of the trailer has been beautifully explored over the past few months by the Muppets who have produced a series of wonderfully executed parody trailers to publicise their own cinema release. The marketing men know that trailers stay in people’s minds, that they get passed around on email, Facebook, Twitter and even the odd blog so what better way to get attention than to jump on a passing bandwagon? The Muppet parody trailers have been an absolute joy and I was delighted when their take on Hunger Games was released just a week or so ago.

On the other hand a bad trailer can kill a film for me before it’s even released. Reviewers have been raving about Martha Marcy May Marlene but the trailer left me cold so I chose not to see it. Similarly the trailer for Battleship has convinced me that the movie is absolutely barking mad and probably terrible – I suspect the 5 million or so views that it has had on YouTube will exceed the number of people who see it in the cinema by quite a large margin.

Whether you love the look of the films being advertised or not, a trip to the cinema isn’t complete without making it in time for the trailers – and it gives you plenty of time to munch on popcorn and slurp your drink before the main feature starts and silence must descend.

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  1. I too love trailers and loved this post!! They are a joy and you call out what makes the good ones so good. Yet for a diehard trailer fan like myself, the internet has been such an abundant source of every new one available (which is of course amazing) that it makes getting to the cinema early a trip for reruns. Which is probably a good thing, because like yourself I’m not known for being the MOST effective when it comes to being on time. Thanks for the article! – Scott

    • Thanks for the comment Scott – I think you’re right about the internet. I’m sure I’ve seen more trailers that excite me online now than I do at the cinema. And there’s the joy of watching them several times.

  2. I think the bit at the end of the latest The Avengers trailer, with the Tony Stark “bringing the party” to the rest of the guys ruined what would have been a definate WOW moment in the actual film. Now the excitement for that shot is diluted for when we see it in the movie, whereas it could have been a goosebump-inducing memorable moment. Should have been left out, I think.

  3. vadermccandless says:

    I love a good trailer too, but just because a trailer goes through the routines (“Action film trailers should tell us what we’ve got to look forward to and tease us with some big bangs. A gravelly voiced man will speak in clichés and quote marketing lines for three minutes”) very well doesn’t mean I’m going to be more interested in seeing the film. I’d much rather see something based on good word of mouth, or critical acclaim. I loved Martha Marcy May Marlene, and I’d never bothered to watch the trailer.

    When a trailer breaks out of the norms and actually does something interesting on its own, then it becomes a real exciting work of art. This trailer for Little Children does just that:

  4. Louise, I agree that trailers are a vital part of the movie-going experience, and I love those teaser trailers. However, I am absolutely against the trend to longer trailers and even “watch the first 6 minutes of the movie”. I see 2-3 movies every week and have learned to appreciate the fine art of effective trailers. Comedies often include too many of the jokes in the trailer, leaving the movie experience quite flat. Couldn’t agree with you more on the Battleship trailer – it immediately convinced me to stay away (though you should see MMMM). Thanks for the entry.

  5. Great article! I love trailers too! So much so I wish I did it for a living. Some of the more memorable trailers for me are for movies that were just okay, but the trailers were fantastic. So I really agree with how trailer production is an art form on its own. I get a lot of my “new” music from trailers. I find my self watching a trailer then wanting the music featured in it. There is something about a song you hear on trailer, a song that has been around for a while, but now has new context because of the content of the trailer. Love it.

    Again, great article!

  6. The trailer for ‘Prometheus’ looks fantastic, and has only whetted my appetite for the (possible) Alien prequel even more. Job done Sir Ridley, job done.

    A guilty pleasure when it comes to trailers is for Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘Comedian’ which does not even reference the movie per se, but always makes me laugh out loud. Enjoy!

  7. Thanks for all the comments.

    Frank – totally agree about the jaw-dropping moments. It looks like we’re getting all of Tony Stark’s lines/moments which leaves me wondering if we’ve seen the best of RDJ’s performance. It is nice to leave something for the cinema.

    Vader – you’re right, sometimes a trailer that breaks out of the norm is more likely to grab attention than the same old, same old. I’m still a fan of the same old/traditional trailer.

    David – I hate trailers that give everything away or are in effect, the first chapter. The shorter and teasey-er (I know that’s not a real word) – the better.

    Lacey – I love the music in the Avengers teaser trailer. Really sets the mood for a high-energy adventure, I keep meaning to check what it actually is. It’s probably something really famous that’s totally passed me by.

    Tyler – Hadn’t seen either of these two trailers, but really enjoyed both. Thanks for pointing out the Seinfeld one.

    • Apathygrrl says:

      “I love the music in the Avengers teaser trailer. Really sets the mood for a high-energy adventure, I keep meaning to check what it actually is. It’s probably something really famous that’s totally passed me by.”

      The song is “We’re in This Together” by Nine Inch Nails.

  8. Congrats on making IMDb Louise! I do love trailers and always look forward to ’em before a movie is playing on the big screen. I do get tired of seeing the Titanic 3D one though, so sick of seeing that in front of every darn movie I go to.

  9. I for one am the COMPLETE opposite. I avoid trailers at ALL costs. I like going in not knowing all the beats of the stories. None. I like being surprised as much as possible, seeing the big money shot of an action movie for the first time in context without having seen it a bunch and thinking “oh there’s that cool part I’ve seen a billion times!”

    I get why trailers exist. I’m not on a crusade to end them or make them my way (teasers trailers are the best, show as little as possible). For me, I generally know what a movie is about or based on cast or crew I know whether I want to see it beforehand anyway.

    here’s my antithesis to your post written some time back. to each there own, as long as we both agree movies are awesome:

  10. Apathygrrl says:

    I love movie trailers. I visit IMDB and traileraddict all the time looking for new trailers. I don’t know how he does it, but the trailers for Zack Snyder’s movies are some of my all time favourites. They pick just the right amount of action and dialogue to tease the audience without giving anything away, and then the most awesome music to accompany it.
    I hate when trailers give away the entire movie. It’s like “Well, I just saw the entire plot of a 90 minute movie in just under 3 minutes. I don’t need to see the whole movie now.” I am normally able to give many examples of this but I seem to be having some sort of brain blockage at the moment.

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