Movie Trailers – old and new


For mine, one of the more interesting trends in films over the decades isn’t anything to do with the films themselves, but the trailers used to advertise and promote the film and how they’ve changed over the years.

The first era of the movie trailer lasted roughly from the 1930s to the mid-1960s where virtually all the ones I’ve seen seemed to be done in the tone one imagined how a salesman at an old-time carnival would’ve tried to lure people into a freak show  – full of breathless energy and bombast, lots of emphasis on the stars, lots of adjectives in big font appearing, not much conveyance of the tone (let alone plot) of the film (this trailer for ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ being a good example). As a general rule, these types of trailers haven’t aged well and to be honest, it’s hard to envisage how people were enticed by such lured trailers back then.

As reflective in the change in culture and increasing experimentation of mainstream Hollywood in that era, in the 1970s there were examples of movie trailers that were highly unusual. Take for example this trailer for the 1972 film ‘What’s Up Doc?’ which hardly shows any of the film and relies mainly on director Peter Bogdanovich and his stars goofing around on the set. It’s inconceivable to think of a major film being given such a trailer today.

The main change that one notices in movie trailers is that – while many of them are still quite conventional – they are done in a more mature manner and treat the audience like adults, whereas 1930s-1960s trailers treated the audience like kids.

Then, from the 1980s to today we have seen the trailer become taken far more seriously. They are far more slicker than trailers of previous eras are and often give a general idea of the plot (too much in fact it’s been argued) and tone of the film better. Clearly the studios take them far more seriously than they used to.

But despite that, I find watching trailers an often tedious experience now (especially for blockbuster mainstream films) as they seem all done in the same way, even down to the same rhythms. They usually start off slowly, then get more and more frenetic and hyped up (with the obligatory bombastic background music), reaching a crescendo by the end (and the obligatory one-liner from one of the film’s stars) (the Captain America trailer is a good example).

For all the technical expertise that is now on display in movie trailers, they feel so heavy-handed and obvious it feels like a hyped-up version of what we used to see in the 1950s and we’re being treated like children again. Hopefully there’s a change in mindset and some inventiveness comes back into movie trailers in the near future.

But then again, it’s all a subjective thing. In many ways this movie trailer  has all the aspects of a movie trailer I dislike but  I absolutely love it.

Is there any movie trailers – good or bad – that stand out for you?


6 responses »

  1. As I’ve said here before, I avoid watching trailers whenever possible (Ebert has mentioned that Siskel used to leave the theater when they were playing, I should do that, too). For example, this weekend I saw an extended trailer for Dream House that seems to give away the entire plot.

  2. (the Captain America trailer is a good example)

    Well, Captain America is a very conventional movie.

    I’m always appreciative of the effort that Pixar puts into their teasers, most of which seem to have been created just for the purpose of a trailer. The best is still A Bug’s Life, which is stunningly beautiful. The worst, naturally, is for Cars 2, which is not only lazy (there’s almost no dialogue or even animation) but incredibly jarring, having seemingly no affinity to the original movie.

    One I remember from back in the 1990s that made a strong impression was the US trailer for Kassovitz’s La haine (Hate). I can’t find it online, but IIRC it was a lot like this (Greek?) trailer, only with a couple of quotes from Jodie Foster, who “presented” the US release. Another great one was a couple years later, for The Big Lebowski. And of course, I recently commented by how taken I was with The Tree of Life trailer, which I still think is at least as evocative as the film as a whole.

    Generally speaking, I used to think that trailers were fun but pointless, misleading as often as not about the movie they’re selling. As the years have passed, though, I find that trailers are almost always a good indicator of the film’s quality. There are exceptions, of course (I really hope that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is better than this somewhat stilted trailer), but its true enough that a good trailer is worth getting excited about and a bad trailer is legitmate cause for concern.

    I think you’re right, though, that trailer-cutting has fallen into very predictable rhythms. That said, I think that’s mostly OK, or rather, that the problem is that most movies are pretty predictable and conventional themselves. When you have something different and unusual, though, it still stands out even if the trailer itself is conventionally cut – look, for example, at this trailer for Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. It’s obviously beautifully shot, with an unusual plot, and a more-or-less standard trailer format isn’t about to hide those attributes.

  3. I remember that for a time there was a discussion regarding “money shots” in trailers. Every trailer needed one or else it was just a waste of money (yours or the studios, unsure).

    But when it comes to “money shots” no trailer ever had more than the first big trailer for The Matrix (1999). Looking at it now, I don’t know whether it’s just an ungodly mess trying to pump in the best scenes in the film, or some form of genius, since you can watch it and still have no clue what it’s about or what the hell “The Matrix” is. I just remember pressing repeat like thirty times on the 120p Quicktime trailer on my friends 56k modem.

    On practically the other side of the spectrum there’s the trailer for Jurassic Park, which is something of a masterwork in NOT showing, only hinting here and there, its spectacle. On the other hand, based on this trailer, you also know exactly how the film will play out.

  4. “The posters outside sell you dreams…the trailers inside sell you dreams. And then the movie starts, and you’re dreaming.”
    — Martin Scorsese

    That Jurassic Park trailer gives it ALL away. What a strange beast that is…I don’t remember it at all.

  5. There’s not a single full shot of a dinosaur in the trailer, or their faces. At most there’s a foot or an eye. No cgi in it at all far as I could see, like for example the famous scene where they first see that large Brachiosaurus eating.

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