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Trailers, the good, the bad and the ugly

CarTrailer.jpgThere's no doubt that trailers and teasers are an effective medium for selling tickets. They have over ninety minutes of footage to chose from to make a few minutes of exciting and intriguing teaser that will hook the viewer into the story. The audience get to see and hear the completed product that they will be buying into, so it's immediately much more effective than any other marketing form out there, posters, ad campaigns, interviews, personal appearances, and so on. Not only that but they can be exciting, intriguing, and show the very best few minutes of the entire film, how can that not be the best and easiest marketing tool? How can they not fail to capture your imagination and get you into that cinema queue?

Yet so often it fails, they don't engage the viewer and fail to hook them into the film. I'm sure you've seen a trailer that just doesn't excite you, where there's no interest in the characters or the story, or it simply just falls on clichés and a stock voice over, and a poor trailer can so easily kill a film.

When it works though, when they have captured the best moments and pulled it together in a great sequence, created the excitement and the hook to grab your attention, get you thinking, and make you sit back and say "wow". It can make a film; it can create a buzz and hype better than any other piece of marketing.

It's interesting to think of a trailer like The Guardian or The Good Shepherd, they tick all the boxes and have all the elements, but they just don't have that wow factor. Then there's something like The Departed that has managed to turn my feelings round about the film. At first I was concerned about the Hollywood remake, and then I saw the trailer and was so surprised, it had me.

Trailers such as Batman, Spiderman, Superman and Lord of the Rings are fantastic because they have the content to work with and the hype already there, but are they actually good trailers or are they just taking advantage of the huge action sequences and pre-existing hype?

In those cases great trailers have led to great films, but that can so often be the exact opposite. Trailers that really succeed in blowing you away can often lead to such poor films and can be a complete disappointment, possibly even just plainly misleading. The opposite is also true, bad trailers can often be hiding a really good film and sometimes it's just impossible to tell.

There's also a big problem with trailers and teasers, ones that have totally destroyed the movie going experience for you by giving away far too much. You can sometimes only tell when you're actually watching the film and realise you know the answer to twist that's about to happen because of a scene in the trailer. Those are the ones I hate the most. Have you had your movie experience ruined by a trailer, which one was it?

What do you think makes a good trailer? What makes it effective in grabbing the audience? What are the best examples of trailers, and what do you think are the worst? Is there a trailer right now that's got you totally hooked? - I would definitely say Flags of our Fathers or The Fountain.

What about examples where you've seen a superb trailer and watched the film just to be thoroughly disappointed? I'm actually struggling to think of one, could Snakes on a Plane be in there, or Miami Vice? Then there's really bad trailers that have turned out to be really great films, I am guessing you could put Snakes on a Plane right back in here, or for something a bit further back, what about The Blair Witch Project or The Village?



This is always an interest to me, the art of making a trailer has increased tremendously since the mid 1990s, although I'll list some of my favorite trailers if you can find them either off of IMDb, YouTube, apple.com/quicktime or Movie-List:

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (teaser)
Hitchhikers Guide (deconstruction of a trailer)
Face/Off (talking heads teaser)
Strange Days (Ralph Fiennes talking teaser)
Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers (with Clint Mansell score)
Matrix Reloaded
Snatch (slideshow teaser - excellent!)
Special Rx (with a great soundtrack)
Sin City (another great song used here)
and most recently
Little Children (go to apple and check this out, it is a tense little 120 seconds)

I'm sure there are many more, I seem to have a trailer collection on my HDD which exceeds 500 trailers at this point easily...but those are the ones that immediately pop into my mind.
I'm sure there are more

Best campaign ever? A.I. Artificial Intelligence, both the teaser and the trailer. The narration just gives you the core idea behind the film ("robot child") and then a few scenes from the film that left me intrigued but with no idea of the plot. Brilliant example of mood over detail. Less is more! A++

Best trailer right now? Happy Feet. At first I thought, not another animated movie with animals. But by the end I was smiling. If it had been open in theatres now, I would have bought a ticket. Very well edited trailer. Builds to a sort of climax of its own. The music helps a lot. A

I'm not sure if I've ever had my experience of a film ruined by the trailer giving away plot twists, but goddamn am I infuriated by trailers which basically tell you the entire story of the film. You've seen pretty much the entire action of the plot in about two minutes, you can fill in any gaps and work out the rest... what incentive is there to then see the film itself once you've seen the trailer?

Best trailer for a crap film I can remember seeing was the one for Twister, which stood out cos there was so little to see in it. Mostly black screen with occasional flashes of image. Had me hooked, totally. Alas, the film could not possibly (and didn't) live up to its advertising...

And an oldie but a goodie must be Hitchcock's Psycho trailer.

My experience in watching the trailer or the teaser works only if it's the kind of movie that I am interested in, for instance I'm an avid science fiction fan. I read the plot first, then look at the trailer. In my opinion, it works both way. I have learned that sometimes plot may not appear interesting at first, but I give the movie a break. So I go straight over to the trailer. If it catches my attention within few seconds, then I know I am sold. Good example is "Children of Men".
As for another movie that's yet to come out, called "Sunshine" it sounds so ridiculous and insulting (why would anyone want to go the SUN?) that I am amazed any studio bothered to pick it up. The plot and the trailer convinced me enough that I rather be shot than give them my hard earn money.
I think it's a matter of personal taste, Richard, and also good reviews (from real professionals).

Wolf Creek really let me down after a trailer that truely terrified me.

on the positive hand, i have to give props for the makers of the Saw Series...they make IMO fantastic trailers that really give away little about the film, letting the lucky ones whom put their butts in the seats actually reap the rewards.

BTW: thanks for the belly laugh, Richard...that trailer in the image is one UGLY trailer indeed...

thesnowleopard - good one, I had forgetten that brilliant teaser for A.I (and the subversive website stuff). Probably led me along to one of the biggest disappointments in the past decade two. What a waste of potential that film was.

I tend to favour the teasers which give a flavour of the film without offering too many images or plot points of the film. Shame of films like Arlington Road, Flight Plan and What Lies Beneath for pracitcally handing 90% of the plot to you in 90 seconds...nearly wrecking the films in the process.

Two other memorably good trailers i missed above:

Dawn of the Dead (Remake)

Recently I saw Talladega nights: The Balld of Ricky Bobby. In my eyes - a huge let down. I was expecting lots of belly laughs but it ended up flat. Mainly because most of the funniest parts were in the teaser and theatrical trailers.

"Dear Lord Baby Jesus, I want to thank you for my family. My two beautiful sons, Walker and Texas-Ranger."

Ricky Bobby trying to "feel the road" blindfolded, only to crash into a house.

"Help me Jesus, help me Jewish god, help me Tom Cruise!"

"Tom Cruise, use your witchcraft to get the fire off me."

The way Sacha Baron Cohen says "Ricky Bobby".

Ricky's cougar.

So probaby the six funniest moments in the entire movie all shown in the trailers. The fact that I had seen them BEFORE seeing the entire movie, really ruined it for me.

The Collateral trailer gave away far too much. I was still able to enjoy it, but I saw everything coming just from a few scenes in the trailer.

"I think it's a matter of personal taste, Richard, and also good reviews (from real professionals)." - What do you mean Poodle?! Oh I'm hurt!

A.I. was a great trailer and a very poor film, that's a corker of an example. However I was quite positive on the Wolf Creek film, although not as good as the trailer suggested.

Man, I forgot about FlightPlan, that was truly a stinker of a trailer. I find it really hard to think of the trailers that gave away too much...Did Collateral do that? I can't actually remember. I'll have to take a look.

Can anyone else think of the spoiler trailers?

Oh well, I love A.I.! The promos and trailers were brilliant, and the movie is a very personal thing to me, I don´t think I could be objective about it.

This is a list of trailers I loved which lead to disappointing movies:

-Atlantis (what a great trailer and what a strange movie)

-Dune (It´s David Lynch, but compared to the book... yet the trailer was astonishing)

-Alexander (the trailer promised a lot... and the movie, though not terrible, was not great)

-Matrix Revolutions (this trailer, at the end of the interesting Reloaded, made me think the best... to my biggest disappointment)

-The Village (the trailer is perfectly done, edited and paced... the movie is a terrible mess)

-Gangs of New York (it seems the Weinstein´s were not able to destroy the edition of the movie to the trailer´s extent)

-True Lies (The trailer has everything, just everything... and the movie has almost nothing)

-Anastasia (what a magnificent trailer for such a cheesy movie, the kind of movie I ultimately sympathize with)

-The Thin Red Line (you look at the trailer and you think... this is going to be great. Yeah... great sleeping)

Then there´s the three other lists: good trailers leading to good movies, bad trailers leading to good movies, and bad trailer leading to bad movies, this one is the most easy to find. I will leave that to everyone´s imagination.

Trailers, I have always thought, would be a perfect editing exercise in any cinema school. "Just follow these rules, boys: don´t spoil anything, make it look interesting, don´t put anything which will not be in the final movie, and be careful with the music... just do what Peter Jackson never does"

Village and True Lies were really great! They weren't bad movies.

You're onto something though Peter, a trailer school would be a very interesting thing to attend, I do think there should be awards for trailers alone, even Oscars, they are their own art form don't you think?

Absolutely. If TV ads have festivals and prizes, why don´t trailers have such a thing? It´s unfair, indeed trailers are pieces of art.

(The Village is my move after seeing my beloved A.I. questioned muahahahaha!) ;)

Just to clarify, I cited A.I. as an example of a great trailer campaign for a great movie. IMHO, I think A.I. is a masterpiece.

Bad trailers for good films:

I seem to remember that the Fight Club Trailer finds it difficult to sum up the film

Rhinoceros Eyes - a bit of an obscure film, the trailer does the film no favours, but the film is Excellent. Seriously. Track this down.

Now the Negotiator is not a great film, but the trailer for it really made the film look like shite, the film entertains reasonably well.

Howl's Moving Castle - awful 'voice-over' by the disney guy, and not overly compelling images from teh film, but a gem of a movie which improves with each viewing (many critics of the film haven't picked up on this fact yet, Howl's has to grow on you)

Good Trailers for Bad films:

The Chronicles fo Naria - great looking trailer, terrible film.

Domino - the spastic trailer was pretty good, 90 minutes plus of spastic film was not so good (not as bad as the film was made out to be, but still not 'good')

Good Trailers for Good films:

One I forgot two from above: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, especially with Mark Mothersbaugh's 'beep and bleep' soundtrack. Also, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, both the Lacuna advert teaser, and the official trailers are fantastically captivating.

Funny how these things come around, here is Newsweek on the art of crafting a trailer:

Newsweek Article

It mentions that What Lies Beneath Trailer as being one of the worst offenders for spoilers (Agreed! I posted this above.)

Oh, poor sweet Richard. I didn't mean you when I said "also good reviews from real professionals". I meant fans that wants to be Roger Ebert and Richard Brunton :-)
Honestly, I think you are A-okay and sincere. I enjoy your website.

A very small list of personal fantastic trailers:

-Kill Bill Vol. 1: This is art, I mean it, it´s even better than the movie itself. The music, the selection... just perfect!

-Eyes Wide Shut: Kubrick, once again, laughed in front of our narrow minds.

-The Game: Superbly edited selection of disturbing frames and sequences.

-The Phantom Menace: Come on... the trailer was awesome!!! To say the least!!!

-Spiderman-3: I can already say it. The campaign for this film is superb.

All of them in glorious quicktime, of course.

Oh The Game! That was a corker of a trailer and a great film too. Good call.

Best trailer ever?

Easily "The Phantom Menace."
Unfortunately the movie just doesn't live up to it.

Thank You for Smoking is a great movie (released on DVD next week) and the trailer is great too. But all the funniest and quirkiest lines are in the trailer. That bugged me.

ramble on...


Drewbaccca says, "Easily "The Phantom Menace."
Unfortunately the movie just doesn't live up to it.

Oh Drewbacca, that's heresy, take it back! Take it back! :D

Another great trailer for a great movie: Alien. The one with no dialogue, just the 'egg' cracking, then a series of images and that creepy, haunting music. Brilliant. A+

Alien is a cracking trailer, even now seeing it might seem slightly dated, but it still holds up as an intense trailer.


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