Are movie previews giving away too much these days -- and spoiling it for the public?

By Dave Karger
Updated July 10, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT
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  • Movie
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Coming soon to an EW near you: Trailers that give away too much! Angry moviegoers! Defensive Hollywood execs! Viewers say: Stop ruining the movies with coming-attraction clips that reveal everything. Studios say: The stakes are rising in the battle for movie dollars. The fight for the multiplex is on!

There—now you don’t have to read the rest of the story.

It used to be that trailers were cinematic appetizers, mere tastes of tomorrow’s main course. But these days, they’re getting a lot more filling. Audiences are becoming increasingly irate at overly ambitious previews that serve up too many plot points, crucial effects shots, and what should be surprise story elements. “Some are so explicit that you don’t have to spend $9 on the movie because you’ve gotten the whole story,” says film fan Lisabeth Laiken, 32, a system administrator from Brooklyn. “We just saw the trailer for The Mask of Zorro. I don’t need to see that movie now.”

Another example: The Truman Show. The Jim Carrey comedy has been one of the breakout successes of the summer. Still, many moviegoers have grumbled about how the film’s impact was undercut by its detailed previews, which gave away plot developments (the hero discovers the truth and tries to escape), some of the best sight gags (a rainstorm that follows Truman; a spotlight that falls out of the sky), and dramatic ordeals (Truman tossed by a storm at sea). Contends Paramount marketing president Arthur Cohen: “We had a very unique concept, and it had to be explained to people. [The trailers gave] you the premise but none of the texture. Anybody who says that they have seen the movie by seeing that trailer has not seen the movie.”

Nonetheless, audiences are feeling cheated. Did the preview for Deep Impact really have to include a shot of the showstopping tidal wave? (Paramount’s Cohen says that it had to be “clear that we weren’t going to cop out on the ending. The comet hit.”) Did the clip for A Perfect Murder need to show Gwyneth Paltrow turning the tables on Michael Douglas? (Warner Bros. has no comment.) Gossip maven Liz Smith, who railed against aggressive trailering in a June 25 column, thinks the explain-everything strategy is part of “the dumbing down of America.” Says Smith: “Trailers used to be mysterious and you thought, Oh, I gotta see that. These days, they’ve lost any capacity to intrigue you.”

Part of the blame can be laid on evolving film styles. Trailer maker Gary Kanew, who’s created clips for some 500 movies, including Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, sees a pattern: “Everything is quick cut a la MTV. Because of this rat-a-tat-tat formula, trailers show more. Where a trailer once had 75 scenes, now it has 125. So they give away much more.”

But studios and other trailer makers point the biggest finger at today’s cutthroat entertainment economics. With more movies than ever out there, a film’s marketing spots carry a greater burden. (Exhibit A: The much-mocked preview for Kevin Costner‘s The Postman is one big factor cited for its box office demise.) “With so many trailers these days,” says Craig Murray, who worked on clips for Mulan and Six Days, Seven Nights, “those extra plot points and scenes are what make the difference. Look at Titanic‘s four-minute trailer that took you through the whole movie. It worked.”

Deep Impact

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  • Movie
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mpaa
  • PG-13
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  • Mimi Leder

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