Recently, whilst sitting patiently in a darkened cinema waiting for The Avengers to start, my friend noticed some odd behaviour from me and called it out.
“Hey man, why are you fiddling with your jacket so much?”
I was actually averting my eyes from the screen during two particular trailers – one for The Dark Knight Rises and the other for Prometheus. As soon as I knew they were coming on screen (I can usually tell what film it is within seconds – boasty-boast!) I immediately look down, away from the screen.
Now I don't do this for every single film out there – I actually find the making of trailers very interesting and the psychology of how they are put together fascinating – but for certain films that I am REALLY looking forward to seeing – THOSE are the ones I choose not to watch.
Why? Because I firmly believe that you get the most out of a film if you approach it blind – that is to say with no prior knowledge of the story, the characters or any awesome effects shots that the film may contain.
You can approach this from two angles. Firstly, trailers are - first and foremost - a marketing tool used to drum up interest within people to encourage them to go and see a particular film. In this day and age where literally hundreds of films are released in cinemas every year, a trailer is designed to catch your attention and hopefully be memorable enough and make a great enough impact on you for you to make a mental note to go and watch it at a later date. For this reason it is necessary for a trailer to excite you via showing off some of its CGI ‘money shots’, snippets of action sequences, hilarious zingy one liners by the protagonist, characters reacting to the reveal of a shocking secret, the sexy heroine stripping off, whatever…. All these serve to provide the audience a peak at what is to come and by receiving the money from the movie-going audience when they eventually go and see the film, it justifies the millions spent on the marketing campaign of a film that the trailer is but one part of. If they showed a trailer which didn't show anything at all (an extreme example is just showing a title card with a few names after) nobody would even remember the film when it comes out, let alone go to see it. An effective trailer needs to show a film’s selected highlights. It's a sound marketing strategy – fair enough.
Now for the majority of the movie-going public this isn’t that much of a big deal – after all, trailers, billboards and word of mouth are pretty much the only way they find out about new films – and that's ok, there is nothing wrong with that. But for me who loves finding out about new films way back when they are just announced or only just going into production, I hold the firm belief that WATCHING TRAILERS RUIN THE MOVIE-GOING EXPERIENCE.
This leads me on to the second angle – the concept of story and how it ties into your emotional state. Personally, if it's a film I am excited about seeing I want the full experience when watching it. Fresh out the box. No prior knowledge. Every reveal, every jump, every funny line, every emotional story or character beat, every awesome CG shot, seen for the first time. Why? Because this is how films are DESIGNED to be watched. Every single facet of the making of a movie from screenwriter, to production designer, to director, to composer…. is designed with the assumption that they are leading you on a journey from start to finish and is engineered to make you have certain experiences, in certain ways and at certain times. It’s a delicately balanced choreography of different components blended together – any prior knowledge is likely to throw that balance out – therefore losing the maximum emotional potential of a film.
Case in point: The Avengers. Obviously its hard not to know in advance which characters will feature in the film, who the villain is etc… due to hype and promo shots being everywhere prior and during the film’s release. However, having avoided all the trailers before watching the film, I definitely feel the film was much more enjoyable for me. I'll try not to ruin the film too much for those of you who haven’t yet seen it (skip to the next paragraph if you want to stay totally spoiler free), but one part in the trailer shows The Hulk leaping and catching Iron Man as he falls from the sky, slowing his fall by crashing down the side of a building. Its awesome, its epic… but its also one of the big payoffs in the film – the whoop! factor maximised by its unexpectedness – but only if you hadn’t seen it previously in the trailer. Similarly, the big flying alien/dragon/snake thingees have way more visceral impact when you see them appear in the film for the first time, rather than simply waiting for their appearance after you had already witnessed them in the climax of the trailer.
Now before people argue the validity of my points – I would further like to point out that much of it works on a subconscious level. Once you see something, you can’t un-see it. It’s always going to be there in the back of your mind and detract from the ‘fresh eyes’ experience that cinematic storytelling is built around.
If you see an amazing moment or reveal in a trailer you are always going to be expecting it, sometimes even waiting for it whilst watching the movie - even if it is just on a subconscious level.
Now I know I am being slightly hypocritical here for linking trailers to most films I refer to in my blog posts but hey – that's just there as an option – no one is forcing you to click and watch them!
So bear in mind that’s what trailers are: a marketing tool – (don't even get me started on how some trailers misrepresent what a film is actually like, using shots or scenes that aren’t in the final film or dubbing dialogue from one scene over images of someone talking from a completely unrelated scene etc…). They are a necessary evil by studios to ensure that people go and see the film they have effectively gambled millions of dollars on.
So next time there is a film you are really excited about seeing – try it. Don't watch ANY trailers at all before going to see it. It’s become a habit of mine and I find it quite easy now to resist taking a peak every time one flashes on screen or is announced online. Remember, you can only watch a film with totally ‘fresh eyes’ ONCE in your ENTIRE life (barring possible unfortunate incidents of head trauma or degenerative brain diseases).
Seeing the lush forests of Pandora for the first time in Avatar or witnessing Heath Ledger’s antics as the Joker in The Dark Knight totally blew me away when witnessing them on the big screen – the experience being all the more richer and emotionally fulfilling for me – having not seen anything previously in trailers.
One final note – my friend asked me, ‘What about HEARING a trailer? Would that not ruin it for you?’ – after all, although I averted my eyes from the screen during The Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus trailers its not like I had my fingers in my ears singing ‘lalalalalala’.
It’s a fair point - but to be honest, (being a primarily visual medium) it's the images that stick with you the most in a trailer, and without them it’s actually pretty difficult to recall any dialogue whatsoever. Thinking about it now I cannot remember any dialogue from those two trailers at all…
Roll on June and July (Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises being release in those two months respectively) – I, for one, will be enjoying them with fresh eyes. Will you?
1 May 2012