Critical Condition: Trailers give more than a sneak peek

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October 3, 2008

2:42 AM

In a world where a movie’s advertising can make or break its success, one reviewer is calling the trailers out on all of their bull. Trailers used to be my favorite part of going to the movies, but that all changed last November.

A friend and I witnessed the trailer for the imaginatively titled “Shooter.” It looked fairly entertaining, and I was excited to see it. Mark Wahlberg (“The Departed”) is one of my favorite actors, so I expressed my excitement to a friend who informed me he wouldn’t be seeing this one. What he said next changed my perspective on trailers forever.

“We just saw the whole movie; we already know how it ends.”

Needless to say, I was cleaning my brains off of the already sticky floors of the theater for the remainder of the film. Luckily, the movie was “Babel,” so we didn’t miss much.

Since then, I’ve analyzed trailers with a far more critical eye. And alas, most all of them commit one of two deadly sins. They either give away the entire movie or completely misrepresent it.

My philosophy about trailers is simple: they’re a cinematic striptease. A good trailer should show the audience enough to make them want to see more. It should leave enough to the imagination to ensure they’re not fully satisfied and, ultimately, will have to come again.

Yet time and time again, studios seem to forget this basic principle. And it isn’t as if they slip up occasionally — I see one of these trailers each time I go to the theater, which is far too often to be healthy, and I’m usually alone. Don’t be like me, kids.

“Disturbia,” “Hitch,” “Tropic Thunder” and “The Island” are all guilty as charged for ruining themselves. You can check out the trailers on IMDb if you’re doubtful. With a little time, I’m sure I could think of a dozen more such trailers released within the last year.

But none of them could ever top “The Italian Job.” What is it with Mark Wahlberg getting screwed over by studios’ marketing teams? This movie was supposed to be smart with a ton of twists and turns to keep your eyes glued to the screen. But each and every curveball was featured quite prominently in the trailer. The ultimate irony? One of the lines featured in the trailer was, “You just blew the best thing you had going for you — you just blew the element of surprise!” Whoever pieces these things together must have a hard-on for irony.

On the other end of the spectrum are trailers that say too little about their films. “Juno” is my prime example here. It was a good movie: funny, unpredictable, exceptionally well-acted. My gripe with “Juno” is that nearly all the scenes showcasing it on talk shows and in movie trailers featured Ellen Paige and Michael Cera exchanging respectively witty and awkward banter. But Cera’s role in the movie was meager at best. Because of this, I enjoyed the movie, but left the theater somewhat unsatisfied.

More recently, “Burn After Reading” claimed to be something it wasn’t by advertising itself as an over-the-top spy comedy. But the humor was much more restrained and, while ridiculously hilarious and a great film, it wasn’t what I was expecting when I went to the theater.

Studios are only shooting themselves in the foot with the kind of marketing employed here. With movie tickets costing as much as $15 in some cities, I can’t imagine why anyone would pay to see a movie they’ve essentially already seen for free. And if more films misrepresent themselves in their trailers, audiences will stop trusting them altogether.

To come clean, I never saw “Shooter.” I can only hope Mr. Wahlberg will forgive me. I did, however, read through a plot summary and discover that all my predictions were on the money. Advertising might be how studios lure moviegoers, but it doesn’t work if the trailers fail at the one thing they’re supposed to do: make us want to see the movie.

Matthew Falwell is a Critical Conditional Columnist. He arrives fashionably late to the movies.

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