In May, I fulfilled a lifelong dream by attending the Cannes Film Festival. One of the joys of being there was seeing films completely cold. It was a welcome respite from the publicity frenzy movie fans are usually subjected to – the barrage of trailers, trailers-for-trailers, stills, first-look featurettes and ‘exclusive’ (yet somehow ubiquitous) internet-clogging clips.
Once, the only persuasion audiences needed to see a movie was a close-up of the stars and captions informing you that (in Casablanca, for example) “every burning moment brings a new danger!” Audiences got wise; movie marketers got wiser. Trailer design peaked in the ‘90s with inventive teasers for the likes of Godzilla (1998) that were frequently better than the movies they advertised.
And then the internet ruined things. In our content-overloaded culture, social media gives studios the means to bludgeon audiences through pre-release saturation. In 2012, a fan named Sleepyskunk created a 25-minute cut of The Amazing Spider-Man from the sheer volume of footage released by Sony. Remarkably, the result wasn't far off the mark. Trailer grammar is so familiar we can pretty much guess the story, beat by beat.
We’re all complicit, picking over potential clues in every marketing morsel. Our social feeds are clogged with comments, complaints, second guesses. Critical discourse gets shut down, because we’re judging the book by its cover. We congratulate ourselves when we hypothesise the identity of Obenhauser in SPECTRE and then moan on release that it was too obvious.
Modern trailers can still work. The initial Force Awakens teaser included a handful of iconic images. But that’s a rare example of restraint. Word-of-mouth from reviews – or better still, your mates – remains the best measure of a film’s worth. My epiphany was The Cabin In The Woods. Twitter users warned the trailer spoiled key elements. I went in cold and enjoyed a classic rug-pull - an impossible experience had I watched the trailer.
These days I'll do everything I can to tune out. No trailer’s matched my most cherished movie-going memories, from Pulp Fiction’s topsy-turvy structure to Children Of Men’s audacious long takes. Reducing these thrills to a 90-second clip show cheapens everything directors want to achieve... or is it just me?