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June 26, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

In the 1980s, I was a big Star Trek fan. Not the kind who would dress up as Spock to attend a convention, but one who had seen all of the episodes multiple times and could rattle off an alarming number of quotes. A few weeks before the much-anticipated summer 1982 release of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, I heard a rumor that there was a trailer for the new Trek film attached to Conan the Barbarian at a local 2000-seat theater. I had planned to see Conan in the first place (I had to take my father, since I was under 17), but as I sat in my seat awaiting the start of the movie, I discovered that I was anticipating the Star Trek trailer more than the feature film. That was the first time I can recall thinking of a movie trailer as more than just an advertisement.

In 1986, a couple of months before the Thanksgiving release of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, I was in a theater to see Crocodile Dundee, as much because I was expecting a Star Trek trailer as because I wanted to see Paul Hogan's delightful American feature debut. I got my wish. And, as enjoyable as it was, Crocodile Dundee was a bit of an anticlimax.

Trailers for "event movies" have always carried a little extra buzz, and, once the Internet started entering people's homes and broadband allowed quick downloads, movie trailers - even of non-event movies - became a big attraction. Back in its fledgling days, the E! Entertainment Channel had a 30-minute program called "Coming Attractions," which was wall-to-wall movie trailers.

Let me pause for a moment to re-iterate that a trailer is an ad. Its purpose is to make you aware of a movie, and to make you want to see it. But there's something about the way a trailer is put together - perhaps because it's almost like seeing an entire movie in 120 seconds - that makes it part of the theater-going experience rather than an annoying appendage (like the non-trailer commercials that have invaded multiplexes). My preference is to avoid trailers for reasons already discussed (they reveal too much of the plot and they tend to be made in a cookie-cutter fashion), but there's no denying their almost universal appeal. And, when an "event trailer" comes along, I usually seek it out (either on-line or in a theater).

Recently, studio executives have figured out how in-demand trailers for "event movies" are. This year, for the first time, they are exploiting them in a new way - advertising when they are going to be shown. This first happened for Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Fox widely advertised that the worldwide debut of the full trailer would be during an episode of the TV show, "The O.C." The ratings spike for the episode indicated that some people were watching not because they cared about the lives of the characters, but because they wanted to see two minutes of Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Palpatine. I missed the TV premiere, but caught the trailer a couple of days later before a showing of Robots.

Now, it's happening again. Universal has announced that tomorrow (Monday June 27), it will air a 150-second spot for December's King Kong remake across all of its NBC/Universal TV stations. As a bonus, it will be available in high definition (for those channels that are available in HDTV). It will start at 8:59:30 pm and conclude at 9:02:00. By revealing the time of the trailer, however, it's more like NBC is scheduling it than advertising it. This peek at Peter Jackson's King Kong just happens to be a lot shorter than anything else airing on NBC that night - and probably more entertaining.

From a practical perspective, Universal needs to do something to boost awareness of this film. Cineastes have known of its existence for a long time, but the general public remains largely unaware. There has been little in the way of publicity (unlike the last time a monster movie - Godzilla - was remade). Event movies such as King Kong need a long, big build-up. People have to make up their mind that this is something that needs to be seen. Maybe this scheduled, multi-channel airing will jump-start the countdown to Kong's latest romp. And, if you miss it on NBC tomorrow, you can always catch it before War of the Worlds, starting Wednesday.