November’s issue of Maclean’s contains an article “Trailers are out of control,” by Brian D. Johnson, that depicts accurately how in order to generate more buzz, a new industry has been set up where Hollywood trailers are accompanied with its own review. Interesting, sad, but hardly surprising. Regrettably, the article is not available online yet.
The Hollywood Reporter criticized the trailer for The Avengers in a serious, substantial review. The trailer! The movie doesn’t come out until next May. The Avengers isn’t just a predictable action movie starring one hero, but five: Ironman, Thor, Hulk, Captain America, and Samuel L. Jackson (who even if he’s playing himself might be the most bad ass). The trailer is very unnecessary. Do they fight for social justice? If five superheroes are needed the world must be in great peril. Expect senseless violence and action. But unlike the epic trailer for the Transformers sequel, this reviewer bemoans the Avenger’s trailer’s failure to convey “epic drama and conflict as well as great emotional moments.” Sounds like he’s talking about Antigone. A review of a two minute trailer is absolutely insane. Please, let us either ignore or denounce this aspect of the new hype machine.
The article claims that since trailers are accessed in smart phones and twitter, Google searches went up 50% in the last year. Itunes has a dedicated category for movie trailers now. That trailers contain spoilers or are severely misleading is old news, but it is funny that a Michigan woman announced she’s suing the distributor for Drive claiming “there wasn’t enough driving,” and she was misled by “the pulse-pounding preview that made it look like Fast & Furious.” Is she making a principled stand against an industry that intentionally deceives its customers in order to sell, or is she an idiot? If her lawsuit is successful, she’ll recoup all of her $12.50, minus legal fees. But sometimes great movies do poorly in box office because of bad or misleading commercials. William Goldman said this happened to the Princess Bride, which lacked a target demographic. Bummer.
This phenomenon of dangling tantalizing tidbits in order to entice, however disingenuous, is ubiquitous on Twitter, Facebook, and anywhere where there are links to click or things to buy. We’re beckoned to click by alluring question marks, various lists of “10 hot things” or the like, or promises of salacious gossip. To be sure, greatness and crap are advertised the same way, but it’s good to be cognizant of the psychology behind how our attention is being captured. Perhaps the awareness makes you more immune to being suckered.
Anyway, the main thrust of Johnson’s article is made by invoking legendary New Yorker movie critic Pauline Kael, who, by the ’80s, believed “marketing was eating cinema alive.” Johnson believes that the hype around trailers is evidence of an industry that’s contributing to its own demise, that the art form suffers. Is this true? Is marketing hampering quality movies, like the wave of American films from the ’70s, from being made today? Would the Godfather be successful if made today, or could it even get made? Hard to know, but I’d like to think I would have had the good taste and discernment to see the movie without having to suffer a review of its trailer.