There are lots of problems cropping up with the modern state of movie trailers. In many ways, they’ve become a culture unto themselves, getting right at the heart of our need for instant gratification with teasers for teasers for trailers. They’ve begun to delve into Inception-esque layers, making the air dates into events that people mark on their calendars like they would for a movie premiere. We say this not to highlight a problem so much as to emphasize that there are far greater issues at play for trailer culture than things like, oh, thematic structure. So why point this out?
Red Letter Media, the video channel that made it big with its insightful lampooning of the newer Star Wars trilogy, recently debuted a new video detailing all the ways that movie trailers are structured almost identically. It’s well-cut, makes some very good points about overlapping story structures, and has been held up as yet another reason for us to be rolling our eyes at Hollywood. We rarely pass up on an opportunity to participate in a collective eye-roll at an industry based largely in sameness. Here, though, we’re going to have to take a pass.
There are lots of problems out there with the film industry. More specifically, there are lots of problems out there with the way that trailer culture has escalated into something entirely ridiculous. The sameness of the way these trailers are cut is not one of these prevalent problems. Look at some of the similarities honed in on by the Red Letter Media video: “Making their characters look cool.” “Mysterious, cryptic, and vague lines.” “Establishing shot of a city.” These all compose elements of virtually every well-told story.
Trailers use all these devices because, well, it works. Think of your favorite teasers from the last year or so. Probably The Avengers: Age of Ultron or Star Wars: The Force Awakens, right? Both of those do exactly what that video posits is wrong with trailers. It’s a tall order taking a two-hour movie, being told to cut it down to 2 minutes, and then also being told that the footage they use can’t give away too much. With that, it still has to tell people enough to a) Make it so they know exactly what the movie is about, and b) Lays out the stakes in an entertaining and exciting way.
There’s no reason for Hollywood to break from its thematic formula if it’s continuing to cut together entertaining previews. If there’s one problem studios should be diverting their focus to, it’s the rampant teaser culture that has us begging for a 15-second clip of assorted noises and a title sequence. Ant-Man had an “ant-sized” teaser for its first teaser trailer. This was followed by a “normal-sized” version, and then finally the teaser itself, followed by two more full-length trailers 00 all for a movie that still won’t be out for another two months. Needless to say, this is the problem that needs to be addressed the most.
That’s not to say Red Letter Media’s take wasn’t wildly entertaining. It’s important for us to recognize when we’re being fed the same product over and over again. The real problem has been the way the rest of the Internet has interpreted the video as a damnation of trailer structure, when really it’s a breakdown of a formula that’s worked like gangbusters for every studio in the industry.
Most of the people nodding their heads in agreement with the idea that the tried-and-true structure is overplayed are likely the same ones who get giddy when they see the teaser for The Force Awakens. Hollywood may go to the well for this formula all too frequently, but only because audiences keep on loving it.
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