Over the past several months and even years, I’ve essentially stopped watching trailers, at least intentionally. I’ll still generally watch them in theatres, but even then there are a few I’ll cover my eyes for and try to tune out as much as possible (two years ago it was Inception, this year it’s Looper). I almost never seek them out to watch online, or even watch them when they’re posted on sites I regularly read or write for. Once in a while I point out that I’m not watching a trailer (the most recent case is the Cloud Atlas trailer, which dropped yesterday), and I’m usually greeted by a couple of responses. One, people assure me that the trailer in question doesn’t give the plot away or really tell much about the story at all. They assume that I’m not watching because I don’t want to be spoiled, which is indeed a major concern these days, as a lot of trailers get waaaaay too detailed in explaining plots. The other response is to tell me how awesome it is, how it made them really excited to see the movie, and how it would probably really appeal to me. This one assumes that I’m not watching out of indifference, and that watching the trailer would excite me about the movie more than I am, which is apparently not much, since I can’t even drum up enough interest to watch a trailer.
Neither of these is really accurate in principle (though, sure, I also don’t watch trailers known to be spoilery or trailers for movies I have zero interest in watching).
Generally, I don’t decide what movies I want to see based on studio marketing. I decide based on who’s involved in making it, primarily the director, to some extent the actors, writers, source material, etc. I decide based on buzz coming from festival and early screenings. I decide based on general critical reaction (I don’t tend to read full reviews before a movie comes out). Once in a while a trailer may whet my appetite for more, but generally by the time trailers come out, I’ve already decided whether or not I’m interested in seeing a movie. Even the exceptions, like Wreck-It Ralph, which I wasn’t interested in until I saw the trailer, I turned the trailer off as soon as I got a glimpse of what it was going to be. Once I’m sold, I don’t want to see any more.
So why am I averse to seeing them? It’s not primarily because I fear they’ll give away key plot points, though there is that fear especially on big Hollywood films. And it’s not primarily because I’m uninterested in the product they’re presenting. It’s primarily because if I want to see a film, I don’t care to have any visuals or dialogue already in my head when I go in to watch the film. Maybe others can put that out of their head when they see a movie, but I can’t. When we get to a scene in the film that was in the trailer, I instantly think “oh, this is that part that was in the trailer; I already know this part.” It’s still probably funny (or moving, or impactful, or whatever), and I still probably laugh (or cry, or feel gutted, or whatever), but for that split second, I’m out of the movie. I’m not thinking about the movie anymore, I’m thinking about the trailer.
Then I mentally check off that scene from the trailer. “Three down, five more to go.” I’m waiting for those other scenes to happen. I know they’ll come up sometime. When will they be? Oh, hey, this line that sounded like it’s all one piece in the trailer is actually cut from two different scenes. That’s interesting, but it takes me out of the movie as I re-orient myself to the movie’s script. Huh, this line reading sounds different than it did in the trailer; they must’ve used a different take for some reason – which do I like better? Hmmm, we’re getting close to the end of the film, and that one shot from the trailer hasn’t happened yet, wonder when it’s going to turn up? Oh, I bet it’s going to be right here at the climax – yep, there it is, okay, that was kind of anti-climactic since I’d already seen that shot. These are all things I actually thought while watching The Avengers for the first time. Now, granted, this isn’t necessarily a huge deal, and it probably isn’t going to ruin any movies for me – I still loved The Avengers. But I really wish I hadn’t watched the trailers first, because I would’ve liked to have experienced those moments fresh in the film. I’m learning from my indiscretions.
The Cloud Atlas trailer is almost six minutes long. Most trailers are around one and a half to two minutes long, so this one is three times longer than most trailers. Three times as much footage, three times as many visuals, three times as many shots that I’d see out of context, and be waiting to see in the movie. I won’t do that to myself. I don’t really understand why people want to see that much of a movie months before it comes out, why people want that imagery in their heads ahead of time instead of seeing it all as a whole, as it was meant to be experienced, but clearly I’m weird about it. Most people want to watch 5-10 minute clips of movies before they come out, something that’s become increasingly common for studios to release within the week or two leading up to release. And that’s fine, but I avoid those like the plague. It’s not a spoiler thing, I just don’t want them in my head, I don’t want to be waiting for them, I don’t want to be wondering when they’ll turn up. A lot of these, granted, are the opening of the film, which isn’t as big an issue (at least you’re not waiting for it to happen, because it’s right at the beginning), but still, that means when I go see the movie, I’d be seeing stuff I already saw for the first five or ten minutes, and I can’t think why I’d want to do that.
So that’s why I rarely watch trailers anymore, especially when it’s for a movie I already want to see. It rarely adds to my anticipation, it often yields distraction and mild disappointment while watching the movie, and it’s simply not worth it. I’m not that hard-core about it, and unless it’s the rare Inception or Looper where I really do want to go in totally blind, I don’t turn away from trailers in theatres. But I’m not going to seek them out or watch them online, so if you ask me “hey, did you see that awesome trailer for xyz,” the answer is probably no. And I probably don’t care to, so don’t try to convince me.
For the record, this is my favorite trailer of all time (regardless of the eventual quality of the movie):