Have Your Say: This trailer coming soon...

Associate Editor, Features; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
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Have Your Say: This trailer coming soon...
Last weekend I took my parents out to the local 3D IMAX and watched "John Carter" with them. Much fun was had as we like pulp in general as long as it's entertaining enough. The gorgeous 3D visuals didn't hurt either.

But prior to the film we got four trailers: "Wrath of the Titans" , "Battleship" , "Prometheus" and "The Avengers".

I know these films, or at least know OF them, and enjoyed spotting the moments which will hopefully provide me with pleasure when seeing the full features in the future. But my parents did NOT know of these films and failed to distinguish one from the other (although my mother did spot the name Ridley Scott and the alien references). Interestingly, they couldn't recall a single title after the main film, just that there had been a godawful amount of explosions and noise in front of the film.

This concerns me a bit. I love me a well-cut trailer, but these days they all blur into the same thing. At the same time the release of these trailers are hailed as EVENTS in themselves, and for the fans avidly awaiting these films they certainly are. But Joe Regular? The non-fan who should get interested by watching a trailer? This just all blurs by.

As news I now read that the teaser for the trailer for the remake of "Total Recall" has arrived. That sentence can be used as a full description of Hollywood films and marketing at the moment. Hopefully this will be a trailer which will allow the crowds to recall (haha) the title a few hours after watching it...

So let's help the industry a bit. Is the theatrical trailer dead as an art? Can you provide examples of GOOD, MEMORABLE recent trailers? Something that whetted your appetite?

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icn1983March 28, 2012 8:04 AM

I think the last "Prometheus" trailer was rather clever. It starts off like it's going to be an "Avatar" retread, then gets darker and darker and caps it all off with Michael Fassbender's unsettling "Big things have small beginnings."

Ard VijnMarch 28, 2012 8:21 AM

I loved the trailer to "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", where Stephen Fry's narration basically destroyed the entire trailer concept as it existed at the time.

But trailers these days are mostly so formulaic that they're almost impossible to spoof anymore.

TJMarch 28, 2012 8:37 AM

Never understood why ALL Hollywood (and more and more the rest of the world) trailers need to be so totally generic

Well.....I CAN understand if your movie IS totally generic

But otherwise I've always thought a trailer that has ONE great scene/idea from a movie is a lot more memorable/impressive

Or even something done especially for the trailer (remember, yes granddad speaks, these Lethal Weapons trailers?)

For instance: if you'd have 'Signs' and make the trailer nothing more than the scene with the door and the little mirror.....jump scare....end of trailer

But then again....LOTS of industry people must deliberate these decisions

JFLMarch 28, 2012 9:11 AM

Another one similarly deconstructing the clichés of movie trailers was for Jerry Seinfeld's Comedian - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVDzuT0fXro

But the last time trailers were actually an art by itself and not generic PR product following all the same tried and tired concept was probably in the 60's :) For example some of the trailers for films by Japanese new Wave directors are awsome.

electricheadMarch 28, 2012 9:21 AM

I completely agree that trailers are completely generic and formulaic these days; the one for the movie you watched (John Carter) is actually worse than all of those.

To expand on what TJ said above, I would say that the vast majority of trailers these days show *all* the good scenes of the movies and leave nothing to the imagination. That's why they aren't memorable: we already think we've got it figured out (and are usually correct).

A few that I've liked in the past (The Matrix, District 9, Inception, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) have shown just enough to arouse interest and don't have a full story arc within the trailer itself. Most trailers now just rehash a formula that worked in the past because it is probably an easy sell: "well the tuba thing worked for Inception! It has to work for Total Recall; I mean Prometheus, wait what movie are we working on again?"

I'll close with a case study: Cabin in the woods. The original trailer had only inklings of what was going on behind the scenes. The new trailer just shoves it down your throat. Two trailers for the same movie, and you can judge for yourself which one was better and which was a direct result of marketing pressure.

CaoimhínMarch 28, 2012 9:22 AM

Taken had a perfectly spot on trailer, the phone call scene telling you precisely what you need to know and nothing more. Liam Neeson has a particular set of skills, someone has fucked with him, he will find them and he will kill them, in that order. Worked as a radio ad also.

2BitMarch 28, 2012 11:02 AM

The trailer for Little Children is probably the last great one I can remember.

WarmyMarch 28, 2012 11:25 AM

lol total recall remake.

Ard VijnMarch 28, 2012 11:36 AM

Yes, JOHN CARTER is certainly not exempt from bad trailership. But the marketing campaign for THAT film probably demands a separate article. Or two. Or five...

SaltonerMarch 28, 2012 12:19 PM

My parents are the same way. It's just old age, nothing more. And the idea of teasing a teaser is really, REALLY stupid. The Prometheus trailer is brilliant. My gf saw it and she hates sci-fi and from that trailer alone, she can't wait to see it. All the others you mentioned were lame, especially Transformers 4, I mean Battleship.

AirchinapilotMarch 28, 2012 12:46 PM

Funny how the totally generic Total Recall teaser for a teaser prompted this article. It uses the same BWAAHHHH as the last memorable teaser that got people excited, INCEPTION.

I also thought the cutting and the use of the Immigrant Song for Fincher's THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was pretty good. ]

The use of the music and editing for TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY exuded class.

Kurt HalfyardMarch 28, 2012 4:06 PM

I had the exact same experience with the kids when I went to see John Carter last week. All the trailers look alike to me, and the kids didn't react very much to any of them, despite the fact that we were watching on a huge screen, and this was the first real volley of Theatrical Trailers for 'teen-ish' block-busters that they have seen.


Under normal circumstances, one trailer by itself, I'd think that Willem, who is almost 9, would at least like to see Battleship, Men In Black 3, Wrath of the Titans, Avengers, or Snow White The Huntsman (alas, no Prometheus, the one of the bunch I DID want to see on the big screen!) But as it stood, they were a mulch of state of the art, but all too common CGI and all MUSIC with no SILENCE.

Someone ought to tell the trailer folks that it takes both Musical Notes and Silence to make a good song, as it stands, they are more or less just mashing the piano keys while smashing guitars and blaring the entire horn section over top, to abuse that analogy.

Kurt HalfyardMarch 28, 2012 4:15 PM


Here is a post I wrote on the subject (On Row Three, in 2007) which outlines 7 of the most creative trailers, watching these seven is a really good way to understand how generic the recent ones are. Note both the Hitchhikers Guide and Little Children are included:


Kurt HalfyardMarch 28, 2012 4:22 PM

For the Record:

There Will Be Blood
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
Strange Days
Little Children

Almost every Hitchcock (Psycho, North by North West) or Orson Welles (Citizen Kane, F for Fake) movie.

GritMarch 28, 2012 7:33 PM

Hands down I have to say that Wrong has had the best trailer in recent years. http://vimeo.com/32876686

Rathan KruegerMarch 28, 2012 11:03 PM

I'll have to go with the obvious and say that the "Dark Knight Rises" trailer stands out pretty well. Ditto the "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" teaser. I don't watch many trailers these days since I'd rather films be as fresh to me as possible. So while most of the internet knows about whatever "Alien" things are in "Prometheus", I'll be pleasantly surprised when I see the film. The TED talk doesn't count... that's viral.

CedricMarch 29, 2012 1:43 AM

Loved the trailer for BLUE VALENTINE: just the ukulele song sequence (beginning and end) with a montage of mood shots of the two characters without any plot info, yet it gave me all I needed to want to see the film.

theodoorsteenMarch 29, 2012 10:12 AM

One of my favorite trailers ever, in the mold of Kurt Halfyard's list, is the trailer for A Serious Man: the clashing of sounds as an comedic dropback for the humiliation of the protagonist. Simple, effective, hilarious. Another trailer which was very well edited was A Single Man.

More recently i would say that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was effective, but the same approach as that trailer doesn't work when you show explod-ey stuff. The excitement in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was the combination of well-balanced images without all too much action stuff with an hyperkinetic editing and soundscape. When you combine that Mtv-editing en the rock soundtrack with bombastic images like explosions and shit, you get overkill. Hence the diminished reaction when you get four of these type of trailers in a row.

AmlethMarch 29, 2012 1:39 PM

Prometheus first teaser/trailer/Alien-tribute was great. Also "The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo", Exit through the Gift Shop and Muppets parody trailer series.

andrewzMarch 30, 2012 1:41 PM

As others have pointed out, trailers are as formulaic as the movie they are pitching. However, I think it goes beyond that.

I'm a big genre fan, I know the conventions. I'm disappointed when I go to a movie and come out not remembering the main character's names, what the plot was, or even caring about what I saw. I'm looking at you Stargate, The Mummy, Star Wars prequels and 300. If the movie bores me how is a trailer going to help?

Another point is the marketing is so numbers driven. You saw trailers for 4 genre picks that are not easily distinguished by people unfamiliar with the conventions. To somebody not into fantasy violence, those four films are likely to run together. Go to a drama and you'll get drama trailers with maybe a rom-com thrown in. Family movies only show family movie trailers.

The advertising window has changed. Used to be you'd get trailers closer to the premiere and they'd even run during the first week or two of release. Now trailers are run a year in advance. That means post-production heavy movies may not have the best footage available. It also means the viewer may not distinguish between trailers if they see many. Marketing is also much more cross-platform now so the trailer may not get as much attention as other mediums such as TV and online promotions.

Next, the context of trailers and even movies is requiring viewers that are more context of what they are seeing. People watching trailers are familiar with the genre conventions. This shouldn't be much of a surprise when genre movies are consciously calling on their audience to provide their own contextual clues whether it be in the homo-erotic scenes in '80s action flicks, an homage to those very films via The Expendables, or even the movie itself going meta as 21 Jump Street does.

Finally, the trailer needs to represent the movie's core. The marketing for Tucker and Dale vs. Evil was all over the place. At best, it tried to market itself as a Scream-type parody. When the trailers don't represent the story at all, people's faith in the trailer medium diminishes.

I am also a big trailer fan. I've got all the Synapse stuff, some Spaghetti western comps, lots of stuff from online sources, and all the trailers I've pulled from all the DVDs I own. I love watching them. In many cases they're much better than the movie itself. But I find it much easier to enjoy them outside the theater experience; even if most trailers now are as formulaic as the movies they promote.

huffy08March 31, 2012 5:01 AM

It's one of my least favorite Lynch films but Lost Highway's trailer is pretty amazing. Aside from it's incredible opening hook of Robert Blake being an uber-creep it's really just a barrage of perverse images but it perfectly communicates what the movie is.

StevenMarch 31, 2012 12:49 PM

the trailer for "the deep blue sea" is so gorgeous and erotic it is astounding. I can't wait to see it at the Wisconsin Film Festival next month.