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For better and worse, movie trailers evolve

Posted on January 30th, 2009

Source: Miramichi Leader

Laura of all arts – Laura MacInnis

No question, commercials for movies – like everything else – have changed over the years. Finding ways to break through all the other din in advertising and persuade a customer to see your movie has evolved dramatically since the days of Audrey Hepburn kissing George Peppard after tearing off her cat mask.

Underworld 3:Rise of the Lycans, The House Bunny, and most recently that annoying Mall Cop movie feature an even stranger new breed of movie advertising and one that bothers me a whole lot more than revealing the best scenes.

The makers of these ads have chosen to place a bar at the top of your TV screen featuring the name and release date of the movie. And this bar remains at the top of the screen throughout the clips from the movie and voice over telling you the name of the movie. At no point can they allow you to forget what you are watching – that girl in the bunny ears acting like a ditz? Don’t forget she’s in the House Bunny. Clearly these ads are focused on the lowest common denominator – their audience must be too stupid to remember the name of a movie, right?

The other popular commercial style I’ve noticed, particularly in the last couple of weeks, is just as manipulative but is aimed at a much different audience.

Films with the benefit of generous accolades and reviews have always taken advantage of throwing up words like “four stars” and “two thumbs way up” and “nominated for five Academy awards.” Now, in a 30-second spot, ads have also shoved in interviews with the actors receiving all the praise as if five seconds of them speaking to a camera could encompass all the work and love they poured into a production.

But apparently it works. In an excerpt from a recent article from the New Yorker about modern movie marketing suggests “a chorus of critical praise for a movie aimed at older women can increase the opening weekend’s gross by five million dollars.”

Scary. But things weren’t always so rigorously structured.

Watching one of my all time favourite movies last week, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), I was struck by one of the extras on the DVD featuring an old trailer for the movie.

The soothing deep voice of the narrator introduces the actors and the brilliant story of the illustrious Truman Capote. And then the trailer continues, showing lengthy scenes from the film – whole scenes of dialogue, fleshing out characters and developing plot lines right there in the trailer.

While I can quote most of the movie off by heart from watching it so many times, it is none the less jarring to think how much of the movie would have been given away to a person who had never seen it before.

Today advertisers have the added challenge of selling the movie without giving away too much of the plot.

There has been a change in the audience mentality over the years – they don’t want to know the twists or turns to a screenplay. We even have a name for the release of too much movie news – spoilers. This term didn’t even exist in the early days of cinema, but today directors and producers often choose to be as tight lipped as possible before a release date so as not to give anything away about what they’ve been working on.

It is hard to believe such things are necessary – if the only good thing about a movie you’re going to is a plot twist, it probably isn’t worth seeing.

Yes, today I would be livid if Breakfast at Tiffany’s came out for the first time next month and I saw a trailer revealing the whole movie, but that’s only because I am a product of my generation, not wanting anything spoiled.

In the end I’d still see it because I would have been wowed by the stylish Hepburn and the witty writing of Capote – though still equally annoyed by the racist interpretation of Mr. Yunioshi played by a squinting Mickey Rooney.

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