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Do We See Too Much of Film Before It’s Released These Days?

It’s a week before The Dark Knight Rises is released, but I haven’t watched any new footage since the last time I posted a trailer for the film. And boy, has that been more difficult than I make it sound. It seems like every other day there’s a new TV spot or a clip being released. Last December, like The Dark Knight before it, the prologue to the film aired in certain Imax cinemas. Warner Brothers even taking the somewhat unexpected step of releasing the production notes to the public. While Warners and Nolan have actually managed to do a great job keeping the movie under wraps, this level of awareness is hardly uncommon these days. Do we get to see too much of a movie before it’s released these days?

Is too much information the Bane of modern movie-goers?

Take, for example, The Amazing Spider-Man, the recent reboot of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, which will open a trilogy of films featuring the wall-crawling superheroes. Despite the observation that the film was somewhat less hyped than the conclusion to Nolan’s trilogy and Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, the film managed to turn in a fairly respectable box office result. Still, apparently there were twenty-five minutes of the film in circulation on the internet – perfectly legally – before the movie was even released. People were able to string them together to create a reasonably effective truncated version of the film. (In fact, there was so much that fans could even tell certain sequences had been entirely removed.)

It’s not even a problem confined to big-budget blockbusters either. I’m quite looking forward to Looper, the upcoming sci-fi film that will see Joseph Gordon-Levitt re-team with director Rian Johnson, his collaborator on the superb (and under-seen) Brick. However, Johnson himself has apparently come out and asked fans not to watch any more of the trailers– apparently they give too much of the movie away. I am heeding his advice.

Remember the days of dial-up?

I know that it’s the reality of the information age. When I was younger, all those clips and trailers would have been limited to entertainment magazine programmes on television or trailers in front of other movies at the cinema. In the internet era, all this information is placed squarely in the hands of the people browsing. I check my movie news sites daily just to get a sense of how things are going in the world of cinema, so it’s very hard for me to avoid this constant surge of trailers and behind-the-scenes clips and so forth. And I am absolutely sure that I’m missing the vast majority of them.

I do find it interesting, though, that the way to sell a film isn’t so much to tease it as to reveal it. It has been said before that modern movie trailers have a tendency to effectively reduce the first two-thirds (at least) of the film into a two-and-a-half minute summary. It’s not too difficult to come across spoilers or twists in production materials or interviews. It seems like the studios are convinced that the way to get people into the cinema is to basically show them exactly what they are getting.

Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees…

And, to be fair, I can understand that approach. As much as I might like to restrict media output to a teaser and a trailer, I can see why the studios and their marketing consultants might not agree. We live in a world where movie theatres have had to worry about viewers attending Tree of Life expecting something entirely different, or going to Greenberg only to be upset that it wasn’t a typical Ben Stiller comedy. I have a hard time imagining a situation where I would ask for a refund due to the film itself, but I can see why studios might see the need to spell things out for audiences. (Then again, this is somewhat undermined by the fact that so many trailers are actively misleading.)

While it might sound like I’m being a little sarcastic or caustic about viewers unwilling to take any sort of chance in what they go to see, perhaps there’s a principled reasoning at work – something like “truth in advertising.” Perhaps it’s perfectly reasonable to make these materials available so that people can make up their minds in their own fashion. After all, it’s up to the individual themselves as to whether or not they choose to watch the material in question. (And I freely confess that I am very bad at such self-restraint.)

If Peter’s so serious about discovering what happened to his parents, why doesn’t he just look up some spoilers?

I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. While I know that it’s ultimately down to people to choose what they watch, I can’t help but feel like some of the mystery of cinema is gone. Of course, it’s not just footage that has eroded the sense of mystery in cinema. While IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes have made it increasingly easy for people to find information about films they want to see, there’s also a bit of a loss in our innocence.

I remember that I used to go to the cinema and see a random movie. It could have been terrible, it could have been great, but it was just me and the vacuum of my opinion. I could arrive at the cinema and be legitimately surprised to find one of my favourite actors in a new film, one that I had heard nothing about. These days it seems it’s impossible not to follow the project from the first furtive negotiations through to the lavish world premiere.

It would have been a Shame to miss it…

And, again, I’ll concede that it’s not an inherently bad thing. After all, any process that allows me to be more certain of seeing a good movie (and avoiding a bad one) is a good thing. Would I have seen Shame if I hadn’t been tracking it on-line? Would Martha Marcy May Marlene have slipped right by me? Those are the kinds of films that I might never have seen if I hadn’t been listening to various commentators raving about them for months. So I’m not being a curmudgeon or seeking a return to “the way things were.”

I just find it interesting to reflect on how technology has influenced and affected our consumption and attitudes towards media. Still, I am convinced that it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Well, at least to have too much information on a good thing.

8 Responses

  1. I think you’re right that too much of the new Spider-Man movie was available. With hindsight, this slightly spoilt some of the awe, for me, at the great action scenes. I don’t know if I will be able to manage restraint, though!

  2. It’s a thin line between showing enough to get people to the cinema and showing too much so as to spoil the film for a first time watch. It’s a tough one to fix 🙂

  3. Robert Zemeckis addressed the issue that the trailers for “What Lies Beneath” pretty much gave away the entire movie, even the big twist. He was under the opinion that audiences want to know everything about a movie before actually seeing it. It gives them comfort to not be surprised. After all, if you go to a movie like “A.I.” expecting an “ET” like Spielbergian feel-gooder and realize that it’s really a cold, Kubrickian downer, you’d get upset for being misled (the studio had no clue how to market that film). I personally disagree with Zemeckis. I want a trailer to give me a clue as to what the story is (the primary conflict) and the tone of the film. For instance, I love the “Skyfall” trailer because it makes Bond seem like he’s in a serious, art house film. I’m sure later trailers will hype the action, but this one tells me that we won’t have to sit through incomprehensible shaky cam car chases.

  4. Another excellent essay! I wrote something very similar a few days ago for the Filmoria website http://ilovethatfilm.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/is-modern-marketing-ruining-movie.html if you fancy checking it out.

  5. I remember thinking about this issue when Lionsgate was promoting “The Hunger Games.” I thought their strategy was brilliant- there was next to no footage of the titular game in any of the trailers, and they chose to focus on the characters in the pre-arena scenes instead. It was a great idea because A) it kept us in suspense about how the Game itself would be portrayed and B) it kept with the themes of the book by not hyping it as this big bloodbath.

    I haven’t watched much from “The Dark Knight Rises” except the first two trailers because I want to be surprised when I actually see the movie. But some movie spoilers are harder for me to avoid then others, because I just don’t have the patience to wait.

    In the long run, I think it’s wiser to wait and be surprised when we’re actually watching the film, when all those story/character developments are supposed to be revealed for the first time. Sure, it’s LOTS of fun to get hyped over previews and speculate over what’s going to happen. But on the other hand…no pre-release hype could ever replace the feeling that I and the rest of my fellow audience members shared when we watched Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and (SPOILER ALERT) saw Barbossa coming down the steps at the end. Everybody- and I mean EVERYBODY- leapt out of their seats and start screaming and cheering and applauding. We hadn’t seen it coming and we were all so excited to see Geoffrey Rush back. It was just awesome. It doesn’t feel as exciting or fun when the surprise is ruined. It’s like knowing what you’ll be getting for your birthday before you start unwrapping the presents.

  6. It seems that more often than not, the trailers try to get us hooked by basically showing us a general introduction of what we are looking at, then showing a problem which the protagonist will try to overcome and then a question mark as to what happens next. It reminds me of the structure used at the back cover of a book.

    If I happen to look at RT and IMDb ratings, unless it is around 7% on RT, I generally try to remember to disregard them. I gave in and listened to a review of Spiderman on the radio the other week where they had very little positive things to say about it. I went to see it and found it far more entertaining than they gave it credit for. Although, in one sense I was glad I heard the bad review, as I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t need to leave the cinema half way through.

    I’m trying to stay away from Batman hype too. I think I’ll make it. Or maybe I’ll be just about to walk into the cinema to watch it and someone else will be walking out and I’ll hear them talk about the ending 🙂 As time goes by, I seem to disagree with the opinion of the general public and the critics more and more, so I’ll pay no heed even if I do “accidentally” read a Batman review!

  7. I agree that there is far too much footage for a film before its released. Prometheus and Dark Knight Rises were both guilty of this and you had to work hard to avoid the footage. I love a trailer but I don’t need seven of them, each time leaking a little bit more footage, just to keep my interest.

    Studios work so hard to keep our interest now that I begin to get bored of the marketing and just want to see the damn film! Prometheus seemed to have new footage, marketing and virals released every day up to the actual films release.

    • That’s it. And I wonder if the hype train is responsible for a lot of the backlash. I mean, I wonder if some of the issues people are having with The Dark Knight Rises aren’t because it was hyped like the second coming.

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