In the lead-up to the release of The Dark Knight, I consumed as much marketing material as I could. I made the arguably misguided decision to save the first extreme closeup of Heath Ledger in Joker makeup to a flash drive to project it on a screen in my high school home room; that’s how excited I was. I ate up every teaser and trailer, entering the film about as well informed as I possibly could be of the plot, characters, and aesthetics. I even stumbled onto the first 10 minutes of the film in a surprise prelude to the IMAX version of I Am Legend that Warner Bros. put out, somehow ratcheting up my anticipation even further. The fact that the film exceeded these expectations is a testament not only to its quality, but also the rarity of such an occurrence.
When the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy was announced, I vowed not to repeat this anticipatory behavior, and I was rewarded handsomely for my patience. I entered The Dark Knight Rises about as cold as I could be, save for one promotional image of Bane’s back. I did not know the film was set eight years after its predecessor, nor that its cast was filled out with the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Mendelsohn, and Marion Cotillard, the latter of whose casting would have been a dead giveaway to the plot twist her character engenders. When I finally saw the film, it was at the end of an IMAX screening of the full trilogy, back-to-back-to-back, with the latter film concluding after 3 a.m. While I was baffled by the numerous plot machinations, I was otherwise elated by the grandeur of the film, and it was an entirely fresh experience for me.
I relay this distinctly millennial saga to you in order to illustrate why I have abandoned the practice of watching trailers of any kind. As I heard recently, trailers tell you only two things about a movie: its cast and its cinematography. Everything else is either marketing or an outright lie. I surely am among friends when I recall the many times I have watched a trailer for, say, a comedy, only to discover upon actually viewing the film that all the funny bits were included in the preview, leaving nothing but the b-team for the rest of the runtime. Or for an action film, like Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’s bananas plane liftoff, you see the most jaw-dropping stunt right in the trailer, rendering its later viewing within the context of the film all the less impactful for its inevitability, particularly if you’d seen the trailer numerous times before. If you’re a regular moviegoer — and I imagine you are, if you’re reading this — then it’s easy to understand why trailers, ultimately, are not for you. Your butt’s in the seat; the ones the trailer seeks are not, and that’s the issue.
Trailers are for the swing voters, so to speak. They are for the people who are on the fence about seeing a film at all, and they are intended to push them over the edge towards being intrigued. And as the budgets of films rise higher and higher, with studios betting the house on nearly every project (which also have become increasingly co-dependent on one another’s plot and fictional universe), they can’t afford for the fence-riders to stay home. Therefore, they give away the farm in your run-of-the-mill preview. Mainstream consumers of film often go to the cinema to be affirmed, whether it’s in the form of Marvel’s comfort fights, a comedy’s low-hanging fruit, or a romance’s cozy sentimentality. These people want to see the trailer, potentially umpteen times, and then attend the film that gives them exactly what it sold them pre-release. It’s all part of the plan.
The paradox, then, is why would you want to watch a preview for a film you already know you’re going to see? You clearly don’t need to be sold further, so any exposure to the marketing will, at best, reveal the thing you plan to be delighted by and, at worst, mislead you into expecting something different than what you hope for. You may even be swung in the opposite direction, initially intending to see a film that is marketed badly enough that you’re convinced it won’t entertain you how you’d anticipated. Examples of this latter phenomenon are risky films that manage to land mainstream releases on the back of a conventional marketing campaign, only to leave audiences aghast by just how little the product resembles the hype. Such films include Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, Robert Eggers’s The Witch, and Alex Garland’s Annihilation, which all received abysmal Cinema Scores, but which I found to be excellent. I went in with no expectations or knowledge of these films other than recommendations by critics I trust and was blown away by each.
But let’s say you like trailers and don’t care to stop watching them now. Have you considered intentionally avoiding them? Do you believe that your enjoyment of the film will be reduced by your lack of awareness leading up to them? I posit that those who feed off the hype distributed by film studios are insecure about their hopes in the entertainment they seek. There is a shadow of a doubt in their mind that, unless they know what they’re going into ahead of time, there’s the possibility they may be blindsided by what they end up with, a dire situation indeed in this time of too-big-to-fail spectacle.
I say spare yourself the constant grind of publicity, consume what you want once it becomes available, and let the storytellers do their jobs. Keep in mind that filmmakers rarely, if ever, have any say as to the marketing campaigns of their work, so what you see in the twenty minutes leading up to the film of the evening may be far from what they intended. Close your eyes during these advertising assaults. Maybe bring some noise-canceling headphones and enjoy some music. Your patience and abstinence will be rewarded.