The Sarah of the Dead column: the first five minutes

Sarah wonders why we've been seeing the opening minutes of so many movies: Cloverfield, AvP2 and The Dark Knight included


The first five minutes of Cloverfield have just been put online. It won’t be out until mid-January in the US, or the beginning of February in the UK, but you can whet your appetite now by watching the first five minutes.

Similarly, you can watch the first five minutes of Alien vs Predator Requiem online, though the full movie won’t be out till either next week, or next month, depending on where you live. As for The Dark Knight, I was lucky enough to get to go and watch the first six minutes on an IMAX screen a couple of weeks ago, yet the full movie won’t be out until, urgh, 25th July here.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this didn’t use to be common practice, did it? I vaguely remember AOL showing the first five minutes of The Ring online a few years ago, but I don’t remember this kind of teasing being as commonplace as it is now.

And I’m not entirely sure that I like it, either. It’s one thing watching a trailer and getting a sense of what a movie’s about and what the coolest scenes in it look like (though there are some dreadful trailers in the world that completely ruin movies or fail to sell them properly) but watching the first five minutes starts to get you invested. The opening scene of a movie should grab you, introduce you to some characters, and generally seduce you into wanting to watch the rest of the film. Watching just those minutes and then having the rest of the film snatched away, only to be returned several months later, is just kind of cruel. Plus, having watched possibly the most crucial scene of a film months ahead of sitting down to watch the whole thing straight through kind of … spoils it, somewhat. Though I guess it means you can afford to be late to the cinema, or to spend another couple of minutes choosing which sweets to buy in the foyer.

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I imagine, though, there’s a very good reason for doing this. I’m just not quite sure what it is. Maybe it’s easier than making a good trailer? Maybe the idea is that letting people download the first few minutes will entice them into watching the whole movie legitimately, instead of downloading the whole thing off the Internet? (Not that that… actually… really makes sense, does it?)

I understand wanting to generate a buzz about your movie before its release, and I understand that film distributors are just now realising that the Internet is going to be the best medium to use for that. But … aren’t there better ways than just handing out the first whole scene of a film?

To go back to The Dark Knight, that movie has a massive campaign behind it (to the point that I’m almost completely sick and tired of hearing about it now) – there have been games and puzzles on lots of different websites that encouraged, or in fact required, people to get involved and excited about following the clues and, by extension, seeing the movie. That’s a fucking great idea, though it obviously takes a lot more time, effort and money to set up. Sticking the first five minutes of your movie on YouTube is easier, but it’s also much less creative.

As for how effective it is… well, I guess we’ll find out soon enough when the box office figures come back.