This post may come across as yet another jaded film lover throwing in the towel and declaring, “They don’t make them like they used to anymore,” but that’s not the intention. I just happened to take a moment to reflect on the trailers for big budget blockbusters that came out this year and what’s on the immediate horizon for next year and what I saw left me feeling underwhelmed and longing for a time when I found myself getting excited about even just the marketing for each and every film that came out. That’s just not the case anymore.
I think it all started because of the superhero boom. When Spider-Man, Batman Begins and Superman Returns once again infected Hollywood with the comics bug, I was all for a new wave of superhero films. A few bad eggs over the years hadn’t bothered me in the slightest, because for every Tim Story or Mark Steven Johnson trying their hand at blockbuster comic book movies, there’s a Bryan Singer or a Jon Favreau taking things seriously. That’s why when Marvel made it clear that they planned on going big at the box office by making a feature film for each of its most popular characters, I was all for it. But at some point this year, I began to sour on the summer’s number one genre.
I suppose that can be traced back to the trailer for The Green Hornet, which, while not looking terrible by any stretch, looked as though it was just going through the motions; a superhero film pretending it’s somehow different than the crop that’s hit theaters in the last half decade, but ultimately looking as broad as the rest of them. Then the trailer for Green Lantern hit and looked as broad as possible. One can certainly spy moments of inspiration within – and I’m hardly going to write off a film based solely on its trailer – but it looks a little too cartoonish for my tastes.
Then the Thor trailer hit and … well, you get the gist of it: It’s got parts that I like (casting being the clutch component), but there’s still nothing about it that has me particularly enthused.
And it’s not just superhero movies that I’ve soured on. There’s nothing in the trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides that has me dying to spend another two-plus hours with Captain Jack Sparrow (though Penelope Cruz, on the other hand, is enticing). Same goes for Cowboys & Aliens, Super 8 and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, all three which are decidedly more enigmatic than the other trailers (which is a good thing), but that I find just as bland as any of the other Summer 2011 blockbusters trailers that are currently out there.
I’m actually struggling to place my figure on why exactly that is the case. The presentation of trailers hasn’t changed too drastically over the last few years, so that’s not it. They still tease some action, fade to black; tease some action, fade to black; rinse with a title card and repeat. I just am having a hell of a hard time coming across trailers that I’ll watch repeatedly, that I’m dying to show to my wife when she gets home or play for people at the next movie night.
Perhaps it’s because I just don’t have any vested interest in the material. I’m not scouring these trailers for my first glimpse of how a filmmaker talked a particular piece of iconography. I don’t care if Ryan Reynolds sounds like what I think the Green Lantern should sound like. I don’t care what kind of locations Captain Jack is going to wander into this time. I don’t care to be shown what’s in the cargo hold of a derailed train in Super 8 (that trailer could have just been a title card that said “A new film from director J.J. Abrams” and it would have done everything it needed to do for me). I don’t care what Decepticon crash landed onto the dark side of the moon.
But I also don’t think my lack of pre-existing interest is the problem, because that’s exactly what a trailer should do: generate interest where there was none. Yet time and time again the marketing materials for these films are doing very little of that. I’m interested in Cowboys & Aliens because I admire Jon Favreau’s work, beyond that the trailer is of little consequence. Hell, I was even more interested in Green Lantern when all I knew was that it starred Ryan Reynolds and was directed by Martin Campbell, so that’s one instance where the trailer actually turned me off.
I think the problem lies in the fact that studios now feel the need to hit every demographic they can. The ‘tease; fade-to-black; tease’ editing format may still be the norm, but the duration has certainly changed. Studios have to make sure that the hero, the love interest, the villain and at least one mini-boss has been identified. They’re covering all sides, but in the end it just makes the film look like every other one in the pipeline.
It’s safe to say that any tent-pole film will have those core elements, so why not just focus on one or two of them? So much material has to be touched upon in under three minutes that there’s no emphasis put on anything. No anticipation is built for what’s to come– and that bites. It’s not that the entire movie is shown in the trailers these days (though that often seems to be the case), it’s that no one lingers any more. Marketing departments aren’t allowing for the breathing room necessary to create a single image that is associated with a movie. And without a single image – without some kind of unifying flag to stand behind, all of these trailers look vacant.
Does it mean the movies will suck? No, of course not. Not all of the films mentioned above are going to be stinkers, but I can already tell that in a few years time I won’t be looking up their trailers on YouTube and reminiscing. And if I am, well, then the future of movie marketing is pretty damned grim.