October 20, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Why movie trailers give too much away

Given how junky movies are these days, it’s not such a tragedy that we no longer have to go to the theater to see them. All we have to do is hang out by our TV sets, watch a movie’s advertisement, and shebang! In 30 or 60 seconds, we’ve been told the entire plot and fed the funniest or most poignant moments of the feature film. If you’re silly enough to pay to see the movie after that, chances are good you’re shelling out $9.50 to see filler that wasn’t deemed interesting enough to make it into the trailer.

I asked a studio executive what, exactly, Hollywood thinks it’s accomplishing by telling audiences everything they never wanted to know before they’ve even settled in their seats. He said the rationale was that our attention spans are so short, and competition for box office dollars so stiff, that studios feel the need to unspool as much as possible — as quickly as possible — in order to reel us into the multiplex.

He must have a point, given how much money studios spend figuring things like this out, but I think Hollywood’s taking it a little far. ”The Contender,” for instance, has gotten glowing critical acclaim and Joan Allen is earning Oscar buzz for her role as a beleaguered U.S. Senator. But instead of teasing the movie’s conflict, the trailer lays it out in such detail you pretty much know the exact nature of the spooky secret that’s going to come back and bite her. As for the ”Meet the Parents” trailer, that one is just too funny for its own good. It leaves some audiences disappointed that — surprise, surprise! — the movie just CAN’T play as amusingly for two straight hours as it does compacted into less than a minute.

And now it’s time for the onslaught of holiday releases, which means we’re about to see the steepest box office competition for audiences. So here come the trailers, ready to outsell each other, ready to give away the entire movie before you’ve even had a chance to ask yourself if you want to know. OK, we’re not going to be surprised by the gist of ”Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” (in theaters Nov. 17) but when you’re dealing with such a beloved, well known story, that’s forgivable. Ditto for ”Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000” (Dec. 22): I don’t need to be surprised by the fact that the guy has a thing for bloody necks. But as for the rest of them, I wish Hollywood would let us do what we love most: Discover the movies in real time, as they were meant to be seen.

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