Hollywood: quit the trailer trash!

…by which Martin means that he’d like film companies to stop trashing movies with trailers that give the whole damn film away…

Hey, didn't I see this movie already…?

In a market dominated by action and superheroes, I’ve really been looking forward to the release of Surrogates, which actually seems to be some kind of a genuine Hollywood sci-fi outing. No elves, no ‘powers’, just future-tech and some of the problems it might bring. I like Hollywood sci-fi, and I’ve been missing it a lot since the ‘Mars’ films pretty much put it into a coma in the early noughties.

I know sci-fi costs money and that Surrogates needed an action star, such as Bruce Willis, to pay for the future society. I also know that to cover his fee, they’ll be going for the mainstream and blowing shit up willy-nilly, whether it needs blowing up or not. But what the hell, I’m a Willis fan, not averse to action and SFX, and I even liked T3 from Surrogates director Jonathan Mostow. I suspect Mostow actually has a genuine feeling for the sci-fi genre.

Far as I can tell, Touchstone and Disney have done all they can to nail that shit down, though…

The trailer, which we posted yesterday, is a poor statement of intent as regards the movie. I can’t even say it’s that unusual, in that it takes my sense of curiosity about the film and rubs my nose into so many major plot points that I now feel I have already, substantially, seen it.

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I think I understand the rudimentary economics behind modern trailers – you’re gonna spend $2 million blowing something up and then save that just for the film itself? Not bloody likely. Trouble is, often as not, it’s hard to show that kind of ‘money shot’ without giving away the context…and part of the plot along with it, rather than just the basic set-up of the movie.

Here’s an earlier Bruce Willis trailer that got the balance right:

The above trailer gives you all you need to know about whether The Sixth Sense is the kind of film you’d enjoy: the kid sees dead people, Doc Willis is trying to help him, it’s all pretty creepy and maybe the kid’s crazy. Intriguing. I do wonder if, ten years on, Spyglass Entertainment would have had the courage to conceal – and I mean entirely conceal, in the way that the above trailer does – the truth about Bruce Willis’s character in that movie, since it’s such a big part of the film’s impact. The 2009 version…?

There’s a really big surprise, but we can’t tell you what it is, but it’s really great!

Oh okay, it’s something to do with Bruce Willis, and he gets a real shock at the end of the movie! It’s really great, see the film!

Shit – yeah. He is dead. How did you guess…? You’re still gonna see the film, right…?

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I think Hollywood’s New Pragmatism first became clear to me when I saw the posters for Lethal Weapon 4 in 1998, and the deathless tag-line besmirching them:

The faces you love. The action you expect.

Doesn’t that make you feel like a ‘John’? Isn’t that like arranging an assignation with a sexy and mysterious stranger only to find that it’s the hooker that’s been flashing you her wares on the nearby street-corner for the last 15 minutes? The LW4 tag-line gave me the uneasy feeling that all movies would eventually become porno movies of one kind or another: reductionist! That I really was buying a product and not any kind of cultural experience. Not that I was anticipating such a thing from Lethal Weapon 4, but then not even from that film was I expecting an invite to go and kick the tires. Where’s the class?

And nearly all trailers give me the same feeling these days. They give away the tent poles of the plot in a two-minute spoiler and frequently show you an inordinate amount of the movie’s ending (this being because so many films pour half of their budget into the ending). In wanting to assure me that all the things I like are in the movie, they show them all to me; and, I think, half-hope that I will assume that what they’re showing me is just ‘the tip of the iceberg’ in terms of spectacle.

But any cinema-goer over the age of fifteen knows that if Hollywood pays for an iceberg, the whole iceberg will be in the trailer. Therefore just enjoy the irony that the greatest proponents of anti-piracy on the planet are giving the movie away for nothing, and go and see the flick for some other reason – if you have one.

I want to believe that movies are magic. It’s really important to me, and I suspect that it’s really important to Hollywood that this magic – or hope of magic – not entirely die, much as producers and marketers may want to remove all the ‘risk’ from such an expensive investments.

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So intrigue me with trailers again, please – beguile and entice me. Don’t just lift your garb up and show me ‘the goods’. Could even be I’m looking for a new experience, and willing to get my face slapped once again…

Think I need higher-class films than the ones I’m talking about? Maybe that I should go and re-rent My Dinner With Andre instead? I don’t think so: I invite you to watch a master-class of suspense that manages to hide almost every salient detail about the film it’s promoting and still have you clamouring to see it…