The James Clayton Column: Don’t watch the trailers

Do we really need spoiler-filled trailers? When it comes to forthcoming movies, ignorance is sometimes bliss, James writes...

I don’t know much about Gravity. I’m not talking about the force because I do know a bit about that. I remember getting some basic info and an anecdote about Sir Isaac Newton’s apple tree in physics lessons at school. I’ve seen gravity in action and have personal experiences of it, though fortunately nothing that would inspire any Jimmy-Stewart-in-Vertigo-style trauma.

I know that Mars (Barsoom) has lower gravity than Earth and that’s why John Carter can leap really high and really far when he’s on the planet. I know that the Battle Room in Ender’s Game has zero gravity and that makes for a fun combat simulation experience for kids coerced into an ultra-serious military career ultimately aiming at alien genocide. That in itself is a different kind of gravity and it occurs in the zero-gravity of space so perhaps Ender’s Game is an ironic paradox. Is it? You can work that one out yourself, Launchees, because I don’t know. (You may have already gathered that I don’t know much.)

Anyway, those are other films and that’s real science and they’re not weighing heavy on my mind right now. What is presently pressing is Gravity the Alfonso Cuarón movie. I’d like to talk about that, but not too much because I don’t know much about it. (See what I mean?) That’s the first piece of wisdom I’m going to drop on you in this didactic column – always take care to not talk too much about stuff that you don’t know much about. (I also don’t apparently know much about hypocrisy.)

Here’s everything I do know about Gravity, the film and not the conceptual force that fails to impinge much on John Carter when he’s on Mars. It’s a 90-minute sci-fi thriller directed by Cuarón and it stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. It is set in space (in Earth’s orbit) and Bullock’s character is going to find herself in an incredibly tense, perilous situation.

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In addition to optimum suspense in a celestial setting, I’m also conscious of the fact that Cuarón and his crew have innovated and used cutting-edge filmmaking technology to make this an incredible cinematic experience unlike any we’ve seen before. It’s possible to go and appreciate Gravity’s groundbreaking contributions to science fiction cinema in regular 2D, 3D and/or on an IMAX screen.

That’s about all I know about Gravity, if I discount the buzz I’ve ingested through various media channels. I know that it was a box office hit in North America where it has already received its wide theatrical release. I know that it’s been getting outstanding, rapturous reviews and blowing people’s minds wherever it has been shown. I noted that James Cameron described it as “the best space film ever done” and that’s high praise indeed coming from the director of Aliens – a man who definitely knows a thing or 83 about movie special effects and sci-fi films.

All of these things – the acclaim, Cuarón, the two acting leads and the fact that it’s a science fiction picture with beautiful photography and the promise of cosmic wonder – make me very excited about Gravity. But I don’t want to know anything else about it. I don’t need to know anything else about it. I just want to see it and I’m ready and willing to see it as I am. I was on-board as soon as I heard that the Children Of Men director was going into space and the any other additional information is frivolous, at least for now.

There is so much of interest here but I don’t want to engage with it until I’ve lived the spectacle myself. I’d rather be clueless and naïve, even if that means I’m slightly out of the loop with popular conversation. Until I’ve seen Gravity, then, I don’t wish to learn anything else about Gravity.

This is ignorance but it’s wilful, reasoned ignorance and when it comes to the build-up to a cinema experience, ignorance is bliss. This is why I’ve approached Gravity as I approach most films and sought to go in as cold as possible in order to strip down expectations and enter into a movie with as few prejudices and preconceptions as I can.

I want to embrace art with an open mind and I want to be surprised. I manage it pretty well and the main reason I succeed is because I operate a strict ‘Do Not Watch Trailers’ policy. I implement this policy with ruthless vigour. It’s actually not that difficult to do even though movie trailers have become more prominent in recent years. As far as abstinence goes, it’s easier to quit watching trailers than it is to give up coffee, alcohol or porn.

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Trailers are a false need, and suddenly refraining has no devastating cold turkey side effects. You simply find that you’re no longer watching something you didn’t really require in the first place – (in)complementary material that isn’t vital to your survival or social functioning. I know this because I am surviving and functioning in the pop cultural milieu and I hope you can accept me as living proof that my hypothesis is pretty sound.

Over time, we’ve come to believe that trailers are important and essential. We’ve come to figure them as things that truly deserve our energy and attention to the point that they are a social event in themselves, generating the amounts of hype and comment that you’d expect of full length-features.

The rise of social media has ensured that the release of each new teaser is a water-cooler moment (old-fashioned colloquialism alert) and websites like this one run extensive feature articles to analyse the trailers and do detective work on what we can expect of the finished product we’re eagerly anticipating. If you want two really good recent examples that have surfaced and swiftly set the internet ablaze, see the sneaky-peak first promos for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days Of Future Past.

I’d say we don’t need any of this hoopla and, ideally, I’d like to see a grand re-evaluation of movie trailers. They don’t deserve the exalted status, for they are simply condensed highlight reels designed and targeted specifically to sell viewers something that they probably were aware of and decided upon anyway. (I’m assuming here that readers of Den Of Geek have their fingers on the pulse and are discerning cinemagoers with a more-than-casual enthusiasm for film. I accept that trailers can be critical as marketing devices to attract members of the public who are a bit more blasé and need some convincing or guidance when it comes to planning their cinema trips.)

In the commercial compress teasers also often distort the true nature of the movie and possibly mislead audiences. Every time you watch a trailer you run the risk of ruining the real thing and I’d rather avoid such a possibility because I’m passionate about film and appreciate it as a special experience. (I know that I’m a bit mystical and sentimental about these things and that I may start sounding like a quasi-religious evangelist in this column.)

I’ll tackle online trailers in a moment, but first let’s focus on the multiplex in case you’re wondering “How does he get past the trailers at the cinema?” It’s a challenge, but I manage it with only background music bombast and a few dialogue snippets cutting through my filter.

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Just don’t look at the screen and screen the sound out as best as you can. By focusing your mind on something else – your smartphone, conversation with your friends, conversation with your imaginary friends – you can easily distract your attention away from the offending article that’s attempting to advertise its goodies to the passive patrons already seated.

Coming up with daft distractions can actually be a lot of fun. I’d rather be caught singing to myself than have all the money shots from next year’s most hotly-anticipated blockbusters revealed prematurely. Maybe that strikes you as extreme, eccentric behaviour but I’d argue that I’m simply taking proactive measures to preserve the precious future experience I’ll be having in a few months’ time.

All I have to do is make sure I tune in again when Kevin Bacon appears, because Kevin Bacon is the magic sign that it’s safe to look because the real movie you want to see right now is about to start. (I tend to ignore those ads as well, because I’m bored of them and prefer it when Bacon is fighting giant sandworms and not flogging 4G broadband network connectivity.)

On the internet, trailers are even easier to avoid – you just don’t click the link. No one is forcing you to face them and you can use your freewill and make a choice to say “no”. To paraphrase Kev, the choice is a “no brainer”.

I don’t believe I miss anything by opting out. Maybe if I’d watched the trailer for Bad Grandpa I wouldn’t have had a really unpleasant time at the cinema a few weeks ago. Still, any unpleasant surprises that might come out of ignorance are worth it. I’m not jaded and weighed down with judgements before the opening titles have rolled. I’m not hanging on waiting for the highlight moments to happen. Every film is a journey into the unknown and an amazing discovery if you’re not already familiar with it thanks to pre-release promo clips.

Observe the online frenzy that accompanies each fresh trailer release, and ask yourself: how is this different from children who can’t wait until Christmas morning before opening their presents? Why wreck the magic? Why salivate over the photo on the menu or the waiter’s description when the best bit is actually savouring the meal?

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That’s my tip. (And I know, because I’ve seen Reservoir Dogs, that you’ve got to give a tip.) Don’t concentrate on the trailers and save yourself for the main, genuine experience. I know that it pays off when you’re patient and pass up the opportunity for instant gratification offered by the promotional reels.

Having avoided its trailers, I’m now going to go to the cinema to see Gravity and I’m going in space-cold which makes it even more exciting. I won’t be watching the trailers that preface it. No brainer.

James Clayton is a bit of mystery because he doesn’t have a teaser trailer but this will make the actual experience even more surprising and mindblowing when it does come around. You can visit his website or follow him on Twitter

You can read James’ last column here.

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