We begin with a still photo in the pages of a magazine, an image whose recollection time has has eroded but not erased; a large dinosaur footprint in the mud, alongside a further image of Sam Neill, Joseph Mazzello, and Ariana Richards sat in a treetop, face to face with a dinosaur…
Back in 1993 that’s all it took for Jurassic Park to become the most eagerly anticipated film of the decade. Hop forward what seems an evolutionary blink to April 2014 and we’ve just had the millionth trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 threaten to pummel us into vast apathy for a film which looks to be good old blockbuster fare. So why have studios taken this dumbed down, multi-format saturation approach to marketing their films? One which may have an adverse effect on audience appreciation and enjoyment of the final film?
Despite the echoes in the multiplex it is not 1993 anymore, and that magical transatlantic release window which saw Spielberg’s classic open on 11th June stateside, before a month of excited whisperings led to it stomping into UK cinemas on 16th July, is no longer a viable option. The simple reason this window of excitement was closed (although not completely and not consistently) is piracy. Even back then grainy VHS copies of Terminator 2 and Universal Soldier were being passed around the playground with nervous exchanges. With the birth of the internet the disease has spread, with torrents of major releases available only hours after they’ve hit cinema screens in some international territories, and studios cannot afford for the impatient, quick-fix consumptive modern audience to give into temptation rather then wait a few weeks to see the film how it was meant to be viewed.
So instead of this word-of-mouth approach of days-gone-by, and with the simultaneous worldwide release date becoming more commonplace to combat the pirates, the majors have had to adjust their approach accordingly. What makes this even harder, not just for the behemoths but for the indies too, is that a weekly release window used to contain a single blockbuster or large scale release, along with a couple of smaller films, whereas nowadays you’re looking at two major studio offerings and a dozen additional films every single Friday. It’s too many films for them all to be successful, especially during these economic hard-times and the rising price of a trip to the movies. This has meant the importance of the trailer has become integral to securing an audience on opening weekend. It’s a process which has never been more important, it’s a war out there, and some are losing the battle.
Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is an example intrinsic to dissecting the role trailers play in securing an audience. Anticipation was already high for the director’s return to sci-fi for the first time since 1979’s landscape defining masterpiece Alien but the makers made sure that this wasn’t just a self-contained cinematic experience. The trailers were suitably enigmatic, but it was the creation of viral videos, most notably a future TED Talk featuring Guy Pearce sans scrotal make-up, and the introduction of Fassbender’s David via a promo for his synthetic model, which elevated this above your usual spoilerific previews. They were informative, and much like the final film raised more questions than answers, and surely that’s the point of a “tease”?
But for all of the good work Fox did to get people into a pre-release frenzy, they also gave birth to the increasingly unwelcome trend of making teasers for teaser trailers; an infuriating exercise in carrot dangling which has recently been duplicated with the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s tedious promotional overkill that smacks of desperation, and for most of these films they don’t need to do it. The demographic who will consume the teaser teasers are the same people who are aware of the date and time of when the full thing is being released online. It’s a gimmick which threatens to join those irksome trailers of the film you’re about to watch playing right before said film begins.
And that brings us onto the catalyst for this diatribe; Sony’s relentless push for The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It’s understandable why they’re doing it, what with White House Down, After Earth, and Elysium all underperforming within the last twelve months, they were keen to ensure that their tent-pole franchise exceeded the $700m plus worldwide gross of Marc Webb’s original, and improves on a film which whilst hugely enjoyable and featuring a standout suit-fitting from Andrew Garfield, was met with a resounding shrug of the shoulders from audiences.
However, the answer was not to bombard them with over a dozen trailers, some nearing five minutes in length and which go on to spoil major character reveals, most notably Dane DeHaan’s take on the Green Goblin. They should have had faith in the brand; Spider-Man is universally popular and nowhere near spun-out. Sometimes less-is-more, unless you’re Michael Bay.
Cast your mind back over the most successful trailers and the impact they had upon you when first exposed to them. Not in a tiny QuickTime window on your Smartphone, but in their goosebump inducing big-screen glory. The moment the Gungan army marched through the mist to herald the return of the Star Wars franchise, followed by tantalising glimpses edited to the beat of John Williams. It revealed very little about the movie, especially as to how interminably bad it was going to be, but the plot and the characters retained an air of intrigue.
Similarly, for all of the faults with the final film, Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns had a marvellous teaser trailer, incorporating Marlon Brando’s voiceover with iconic images; the kiss curl, the Kent farm, a young Clark leaping through a field. It was simple, effective and for a blockbuster, rather vague.
Possibly the contemporary master of mystery is J.J. Abrams, who in this world of spoilers and on-set spies has managed to keep his projects shrouded in secrecy. The most relevant of which would be Cloverfield, a film that succeeded based solely upon its trailer campaign. A seemingly clichéd roof-top party sequence featuring immediately unlikeable characters, exploded into life as fire rained down upon them, whilst a gargantuan roar followed the Statue of Liberty’s decapitated head as it rolled through downtown New York. What followed was months of priceless debate, deconstructing what it all meant before the film was released. It’s worth repeating; less is more.
The depressing conclusion to all this is that it’ll only get worse. With a dearth of originality out there studios are going to have to do all they can to differentiate their product from the next, and the only way you can avoid the onslaught is by making the conscious decision not to watch them, but that’s a catch-22 when you’re temptingly sent the link to The Amazing Spider-Man official UK trailer #15 during your lunch break.