The Art (or Lack Thereof) of the Trailer

April 05, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

Generally speaking, when I arrive at a theater, I like to get there as close as possible to the movie's start. I try to avoid all commercials and most trailers. One theater that I attend has a firm policy of NO commercials and THREE trailers (maximum). (This is the Ritz 16 in Voorhees, NJ, for anyone who lives in the area.) That's the only place where I plan to arrive before the start time. For a Loews or an AMC, unless I expect a sellout, I get there about 10 minutes AFTER the printed start time.

I am not a "trailer person." I don't download them, I don't hunt on-line for them, and I don't feel cheated if I miss them before a movie. Why don't I like them? To a lesser extent, it's because there's little or no art in how most trailers are put together. In any given year, there are a handful of trailers worth seeing. Everything else is garbage.

But there's a bigger reason why I don't like trailers. They give everything away. Half the time, after viewing a 2-3 minute trailer, I feel like I have seen the movie. Trailers for comedies give away the best jokes, trailers for action/thrillers reveal big hints about twists and the ending, and dramas tell the whole story. Trailers are the visual equivalent of "spoilers" and I'm not a big fan of having movies spoiled. (Having said that, if I'm sitting in a theater and trailers are shown, I rarely close my eyes or turn away unless I know it's a movie I don't want to know anything about.)

I respect trailers that tease without revealing much. (These are usually, appropriately, called "teaser trailers" and typically appear to hype a movie before the film is in a complete enough form for a full trailer to be made.) The early trailers for the Emmerich/Devlin Godzilla were brilliant. Ditto for the first glimpses of Barry Levinson's Toys. The Star Wars teasers have been pretty good, although they still show more than I would prefer.

But I know I'm in a minority. Downloading trailers is a big deal. There are people who willingly sit through all those multiplex commercials just so they don't miss any trailers. And, when the Revenge of the Sith trailer made its TV debut (during an episode of the Fox series, "The O.C."), it was advertised. That's right: Fox was running ads for an ad!

I would love it if the marketing people in Hollywood would start putting some real effort into producing trailers. Make them worth seeing. Don't spoil the movie. But until that happens, I will continue to regard trailers with the same disdain that I view the Coke, Pepsi, and Best Buy commercial that precede them on multiplex screens. I go to theaters to see a movie, not a bunch of coming attractions.

And there are two side issues which I won't get into (at least not today). How many trailers is too many? I have seen as many as nine or ten before some movies. That's more than 20 minutes of trailers. And who wants to be forced to skip through a trailer at the beginning of a DVD? Any time I pay money for something (movie ticket, DVD), I don't expect to be inconvenienced by commercials, regardless of whether or not they're called "trailers."