Many years ago I went to the theaters with my then-girlfriend to see “I Am Legend." By some fluke, I hadn’t seen a single trailer or newsclip about the movie, and as we waited in line for popcorn, I asked my girlfriend why we were “seeing a football movie.” I had assumed as much from the title, having nothing else to go on.
In the first five minutes of the film, we were treated to a panorama of a desolated New York being taken over by nature, with a sports car driving through it. I was hooked completely, literally hanging off my seat, mouth agape. What is this amazing movie? How have I heard nothing about it? What happened to New York? Who’s in the car? As Will Smith chases down a deer, a lion jumps into view with a roar. I jump, startled. My girlfriend remains still. She was always easy to scare, so I asked, “Why didn’t that scare you?” She said, “because I saw it in the trailer.”
The rest of the movie was one of the best movie-watching experiences I have ever had, and I have not watched a trailer in the 7 years since then.
There are two reasons you shouldn’t watch a movie trailer:
1. They spoil the movie in obvious and non-obvious ways 2. They destroy the narrative thread intended by the director **Before you read below, note: **I tried to include only old movies that probably everyone has seen, but just in case, beware for spoilers for: Harry Potter, Carrie, Lord of the Rings, Terminator: Salvation, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, and Kickass.
1. Let’s Start with the Spoilers
People haven’t taken notice about spoilers in trailers recently. Now, the backlash is rising, with multiple threads on reddit turning up lamenting the spoilers in trailers. Trailers can contain criminally large spoilers, as damaging as the infamous “Snape Kill Dumbledore” of Harry Potter yore, and they can take the fun right out of a movie’s “big reveal” moment. Here’s some examples:
This trailer is overkill. Each major plotpoint of the film is shown -something bad happens at prom, Carrie gets teased, the period scene, Carrie’s telekinesis, Carrie’s crazy religious mom. By the end of the trailer, you’re left to wonder - why even bother seeing the movie? You already know everything that’s going to happen. This example is a little too perfect, so let’s look at something more modern…
At the end of the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings, we think Gandalf is dead. Halfway through the trailer for the second movie, we’re shown he’s alive. Major spoiler, much? If you think it would be way more fun to find that out during the course of the film, you’re absolutely right - the reveal doesn’t happen until nearly an hour in.
Another major mid-film reveal given away within 1 minute of trailer time. We find out that the main character of the film, Marcus, is actually a robot. That’s a pretty big deal, a theater-gasp moment…. unless you had seen the trailer.
While trailers can spoil movies, in obvious ways, there’s the not-so-obvious ways as well. The subtle, deadly, “I haven’t seen the thing I saw in the trailer yet, so I know _____.” The blank could be that a certain character is still alive, that a certain city will be destroyed, whatever. Example:
The trailer shows the infamous collapsing football field scene, which occurs deep in the film, about an hour and 20 minutes in. It also shows inmates pouring out of a prison. What might seem like mild action scenes rather than significant plot points turn out to be something completely different while watching the movie. For example, while watching the first fight between Batman and Bane, the outcome can be safely assumed: We haven’t seen Bane explode a football stadium yet, so he’s probably going to win this and throw Batman in the prison we see later. Insignificant, but imagine you had watched the movie with no knowledge whatsoever of the events - the fight would have you on the edge of your seat, and wailing in despair when Bane cracks Batman in half. Well, maybe not such a strong reaction, but it’d get a rise out of you.
2. There’s a Way Stories were Meant to be Told: Beginning to End
Notable exceptions like Memento notwithstanding, this is the most effective way to do things. This way, you can watch characters develop, experience foreshadowing, build upon settings, and grow attached to the movie world before critical events happen.
When you watch a trailer, you are given the story in pieces that destroy the original narrative thread intended by the director and writer. Let’s look at some examples:
Not only does this trailer give away that the Joker at some point works with the mob, but also captures Rachel, it also shows too much of the most thrilling part of the film: watching the Joker. If you watched the movie with no expectations, you would be chilled every time this mysterious character came on screen. When he dices up a batman impersonator and hangs him from a building, you’d be sick to your stomach. As it stands, you’re led to create a character image from the trailer - here’s a crazy guy who likes to laugh and uses knives and wants to kill batman. Going in knowing nothing about his motives or who he is is far more enjoyable.
This trailer for Kickass also reveals some unforgivable spoilers, such as the final fight scene, but it also completely slices and dices the amazing character development in Kickass. By far this is one of my top 5 favorite movies of all time, precisely because I saw it without knowing what I was getting into other than “some kind of regular guy becomes superhero movie.” Those that have seen the film know it is something much darker than that - a story of vicious mobsters and a little girl trained to be a killing machine. The trailer, however, taints our initial character views with something more hoiky - silly superheros teaming up, wearing tights, and punching bad guys. We don’t get to experience the shock of our first reveal of Hit Girl and Big Daddy, a scene in which Nicolas Cage shoots a little girl in the chest with a large pistol, and we don’t get to experience the slow realization that the relationship between Big Daddy and Hit Girl is about as healthy as the relationship between your average North Korean and Kim Jong Un.
But if I don’t watch trailers, how will I know which movies I want to see? I haven’t had a problem with this. Usually a simple movie poster is enough for me to decide if I wanna see a movie - “Oh, it’s got Joseph Gordon-Levitt and there’s explosions. Yup. That’s for me.” Alternatively, you can just check the ratings on Rotten Tomatos and IMDB, which have been, at least for me, in line with my tastes about 90% of the time. Other than that, word of mouth should get you along just fine.
Just give it a shot - choose one celebrated upcoming movie that you haven’t seen any trailer for, and actively avoid watching trailers for it. Avoid youtube videos, plug your ears in the theater, turn off the TV, whatever you gotta do, try it for one movie, then go and see it during a matinee showing to save yourself the cash if you’re worried it will be bad. I promise it will be one hell of a different experience for you.