Trailers – Good or Bad?

I do not watch trailers anymore. Much to the confusion of others when asked if i saw the latest trailer for “insert movie”. The reason why is because I refuse to allow these marketing junkies to ruin a perfectly good movie for me in their sub 4 minute slide shows of the main elements of a movie. Now i have been known to rant on about this subject on numerous occasions which makes it perfect for a post here. Unfortunately to prove my point i need to have an example, for this i need to sacrifice a movie to the cause. Which movie? Elysium.


At this point Elysium is out on Blu-Ray/DVD so nothing i say should spoil the movie. If you haven’t seen it but really want to then stop reading now. If it has been a while since you saw the movie then you can participate in this next exercise. What i want you to do right now is to go and watch this trailer.

All done? Feel like you already have seen the movie? Well.. maybe not. However i would bet the movie has instilled a sense of familiarity and understanding as to what this movie is about. But how did it do it?

Whats in a trailer?

Well within the first 15 seconds, this trailer is just over 3.5 minutes, we see Matt Damon, a robot police man and an unwarranted beating. From the next few minutes we can gather the following about the story line:

1. Matt Damon’s character used to be a criminal – Arrested for boosting cars
2. Law and Parole are maintained by Robots
3. Power is being abused
4. People are treated like machines (matt’s sarcastic response to proposition of taking a pill nailed it).
5. The cities are in ruin
6. There is a massive class divide between those on Earth and those living in Space on Elysium
7. The rich are immortal
8. Any illegal attempts to access Elysium end with the transport vessels being destroyed
9. Jodie Fosters character is a bitch
10. Matt runs into a character from his past who knew him when he was a criminal
11. Matt is rehabilitating himself to be a good citizen

After 1.5 minutes we have a lot of glimpses into the story

Now that’s a LOT to have gathered from 1.5 minutes of a trailer and serves as the essence of the back story to the entire film. So what else can we take from the next 2 minutes?

12. Matt gets trapped inside a radioactive oven and nobody gives a shit
13. He is told he will die within 5 days
14. He knows they can “fix this on elysium man”
15. He meets a bad guy who can get him to Elysium (also Matt’s character is called Max)
16. They attach a Mech Exoskeleton to Max so he’s not spending the movie on his ass in a wheel chair
17. Its revealed that there is an override to be used on Elysium to take control to save everyone
18. A little girl also needs to get up there
19. Max gets caught at some point by other exoskeleton wearing men
20. A sleeper agent is activated by Jodie’s character (now she’s clearly a baddy)
21. Hey Look it’s that angry south african guy from District 9 that we all hate (also now a baddy who enjoys blowing things up)
22. Max fights Kruger who uses some kind of electric shield to protect himself
23. Max makes it to Elysium with the little girl

24. Some explosions and a crashing plane
25. Some dude tells Max there’s more to this than he thinks.
26. The girl gets taken
27. Max gets caught at one point
28. Max then fights Kruger again
29. The lights go off on Elysium
30. Max nearly falls off a bridge fighting Kruger

Why does this matter?

If you know the entire movie story then you might realise that there is a LOT of the real story told here in this trailer in the correct order.
Sure items 25, 27 and 28 are out of sequence but that doesn’t detract from the fact that there is a substantial amount of information that came across in just those 30 items that i picked up on.
In any movie there are several key elements to making the story.

  1. A Protagonist – Max
  2. Backstory – Ala female, past history, criminal life
  3. A McGuffin – Death and Immortality
  4. A Good guy and a Bad Guy – Max and Jodie’s Character
  5. An Extension of that Bad Guy (for misdirected rage) – Kruger cause we cant have him fighting Jodie
  6. A Twist – wait for it
  7. An Ending – guess

What did we really see?

In this trailer all but Item 6 & 7 are achieved and realised some a lot more than others. However having now watched this trailer I am only going to the cinema to watch how Items 4 & 5 Unfold, to know what the twit is and how it ends. Now with some fuzzy math that’s at east half of the story pieces already told to me before i leave my home. If i were to extrapolate from the trailer that Max succeeds then Kruger loses the fight. Similarly if the little girl is saved then Jodie’s character must also lose. Which means all inequality must be removed in this movie by the end and that the people are saved.

How does making a trailer like this make any sense to Hollywood? How do more people not reject trailers as an assault on their desire to be surprised and wooed by a story completely and utterly within the 2-3 hours of the cinema experience? I wish i knew. My only hope for an explanation comes from the amazing American phenomenon that is the “Next time on this show” piece that is flung onto the end of an episode of television. It seems that it’s not enough to have enjoyed the episode that was just played and that you should be subjected to snippets of the next one to keep you hooked. This is a device employed by bad storytelling and is used on the recognition that the story is weak and wont be enough of a reason to come back and watch it again. Interestingly this was the entire formula for the TV Show “LOST” but thats a rant for another day.

In a nutshell whats my verdict?

Trailers are bad, they are disrespectful to you and your imagination and as an audience we should reject them until they are rectified.
To Hollywood, and editors and all involved in making Movies and TV Shows,
STOP making mini movies with your trailers, oh and stop making teasers about trailers about movies.

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