How to fix the problem of spoiler-filled trailers

Ryan’s tired of having decisive moments in new movies ruined by spoiler-filled trailers, and he’s come up with, er, a rather odd solution to the problem…

In just over a year, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus will make its debut in cinemas. Having already been picked over and endlessly speculated about on the web, the next six months will inevitably see the gradual drip-feed of more definite information about its progress. At the same time, the film’s marketing department will click into gear and we’ll see a growing avalanche of trailers, TV spots and clips to remind us of the film’s existence.

While there’s nothing wrong with any of this (and we all enjoy speculating about the content of upcoming films), there’s been a growing tendency, of late, to carpet-bomb the Internet with dozens of TV spots, trailers and clips. Due out on Friday, Battle: Los Angeles is a very recent case in point. No fewer than nine TV spots showed up on the Internet in the weeks before its release.

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I studiously avoided them, because, as one of my most eagerly awaited films of the year so far, I wanted to see the film with as little information about what happens as possible. The first trailer for Battle: Los Angeles (the one accompanied by the excellent The Sun’s Gone Dim by Jóhann Jóhannsson) was enough to tell me that I’d like it. So, why would I want to know any more of its plot?

I can understand what studios are doing from one standpoint. Trailers keep people talking about the film and keep it in the front of the public’s mind. There are so many movies either announced or released each month that studios have to shout ever louder to have their product heard over the marketing din.

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From a cinemagoer’s perspective, however, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to avoid having a film spoiled, to a certain degree, by its own promotional material. How many times have you sat in a cinema and managed to work out what happens in a film next because you’d already seen snippets of it in the trailer? I’ve lost count.

At the screening of Battle: LA, my clear memories of the film’s trailer affected my enjoyment of several pivotal scenes. Because I’d already glimpsed them in the movie’s promo, I was able to predict more than one plot development based on what I’d already seen. It didn’t spoil the film overall, but it’s merely a recent example of how a trailer can inadvertently spoil some of a film’s surprises without intending to.

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This is a particularly common problem in the comedy genre, where many of a film’s best gags can be found in its promo clips. As a colleague of mine just pointed out, some of the sharpest comedy moments in Hot Fuzz were prominently displayed in its trailer.

It’s a common enough complaint, of course, and an inherent problem with following the progress of movies on the net. We can find out as much as we like about a film’s content if we dig deeply enough, and the only way to avoid spoiling films for ourselves, really, is by simply avoiding the Internet altogether, which few in their right minds would ever do. (Er, it wouldn’t help us much here, either)

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Now and again, however, we’ll enjoy an experience that has become increasingly rare in modern culture: we’ll view a film entirely cold, without preconceptions or repeated exposure to huge numbers of trailers.

This happened to me only last week, in fact, when I saw a European film that I won’t divulge the name of here (it’s embargoed until April). An incredibly brief 30-second promo aside, I knew very little about it. As a result, it was one of the most enjoyable cinematic experiences I’ve had in months, and probably about as close as I’m likely to get to seeing a movie ‘cold’ without sealing myself off from TV and the Internet for twelve months before its release.

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Given that movie trailers aren’t going to be abandoned by marketing types any time soon, I therefore propose two possible solutions to the problem of spoiler-filled trailers. Number one, they only show pieces of footage that tell us absolutely nothing about a movie’s events at all, a shot of an empty sky, perhaps, or a tightly-edited snippet of a character saying “It’s-“, Monty Python-style.

Alternatively, trailers could sidestep the use of movie footage altogether, just as many videogame ads avoid showing what their game actually looks like. Instead, a film’s tone could be conveyed through the use of glove puppets, or via interpretive dance.

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They’re both terrible ideas, admittedly, but they’d at least allow us to venture into cinemas next year with no idea what to expect from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, and at the very least, seeing a trailer that features a fuzzy felt Noomi Rapace shooting a toothsome alien glove puppet would go down a storm on YouTube.

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