If you're like me and you spend all day watching movie trailers instead of doing your job, you've probably noticed that they've gotten pretty ... samey (is that a word?). Whether you're cutting a trailer about mutant death-monsters traveling back in time to prevent an assassination or telling a real-life story about living through 19th-century American slavery, you can cut your trailer in pretty much the exact same way.
20th Century Fox/Fox Searchlight
But why? Well, the answer isn't, "Because movie marketers assume you're an idiot who will go see anything they put on the screen." The people making trailers actually have really good reasons for making everything so painfully repetitive, and those reasons are ...
#5. We Like Seeing the Same Thing Over and Over (to an Insanely Specific Degree)
The main reason we go to movies is novelty, right? That's a big part of entertainment: we live in the same dull world every day, drinking the same coffee and eating the same bran cereal, so we go to movies to see crazy new worlds with dragons and mutants and superheroes and space aliens because we like seeing cool new stuff. But it turns out that's not quite true; we like things that are new, but (paradoxically) we like them to be new in ways we already recognize.
Hide your shock.
In a huge study on the way people react to movie trailers, they discovered that one of the strongest indicators as to whether we'll see a movie is the actors in it. And how excited we are to see those actors is based on whether or not they're appearing in the same type of movie we've already seen them in. So while we might make fun of Johnny Depp for playing "wacky clown thing" in like 30 different movies, on paper it's a pretty solid career move. After all, look at the highest-grossing movies of 2014: we have Transformers: Age of Extinction (featuring Mark Wahlberg as a dumb man's man), Guardians of the Galaxy (featuring Chris Pratt as an idealistic goofball and Zoe Saldana as a sexy alien with weird skin color), and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (featuring Andy Serkis as a CGI monster).
Naturally, this puts movies with unique premises or weird tones in really difficult situations -- common sense would indicate that key demographics are starving for something new, but if you look at the research you'll find that people don't even watch trailers for movies when they don't already like the genre. Which is why they fudge interesting movies into boring, cookie-cutter shapes: Don Jon was advertised as a romantic comedy even though it's more or less an anti-romantic comedy about cougar widows and porn addiction. Drive was sort of famously advertised as a Fast and the Furious knock-off even though it's actually about a guy having a little bit of trouble expressing himself properly. And this has been going on forever: Back to the Future was actually marketed as a teen sex comedy, with the tagline "Are you telling me my mom has the hots for me?" and a teaser in which a woman with a husky voice asks Marty how far he's going.
Which means there was a point in American film-making history where bringing up incest seemed like the safer option. And they were right.
#4. The CGI Looks Bad Because It's Not Done Yet
The most common complaint I've heard about the upcoming Jurassic World is that the CGI in the trailer looks worse than the 20-year-old movies it's a sequel to. And Jurassic World isn't the only movie with this problem: Terminator Genisys showed us a clearly not-finished shot of baby Schwarzenegger, and the original Avengers trailer had shots of flying aliens -- minus the flying aliens.
A directing style known as "blow everything up and we'll CGI a reason in later."
So what's going on? Well, according to this Reddit post, it's because the CGI isn't done yet -- which makes perfect sense to me. I mean, my knowledge of computers doesn't extend much beyond using word processors and keeping Steam updated, but I do watch a lot of movie trailers, so I've seen that The Hobbit 2: Hobbiter, for example, has totally different CGI in the trailers than it does in the final product:
And, as that earlier Reddit thread pointed out, you can say the same thing about Guardians of the Galaxy:
And that new Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer? I'm pretty sure it's doing the same thing the last trailer did.
Though maybe "firing guns at imaginary threats" is just a cop's default setting.
But in addition to the CGI clearly, ya know, not being done yet, there's a bigger problem: we're in the wrong frame of mind.
When you're watching a movie -- particularly a good one -- you get swept up in the events of the story and can easily ignore visual flaws. This is why you've never heard anyone complain about the ridiculous shots of the titular spaceship crash-landing at the end of Serenity. Or the weird spear-thing that jumps right out of a Sega Genesis game to murder Wash.
I keep expecting 30 gold rings to explode out of him.
But, in a trailer, the CGI is the selling point. There's no context to distract us from any tiny details, so the flaws are all you notice. Especially for a sequel to Jurassic Park, which is such a watershed of cinematic history that seeing shitty CGI in the trailer is like watching Eric Clapton walk on stage with a Guitar Hero controller around his neck.
#3. They Spoil Movies Because That Makes You More Likely to See Them
Every list of movie-trailer complaints is sure to point out that trailers give away the entire plot. The new Cinderella is a pretty egregious example, but this is far from a new trend: the original Jaws trailer is basically a three-minute synopsis of the whole damn movie.
So, what's the deal? Nobody wants to go see a movie they've already seen! People need surprises and novelty to be stimulated, right?
Well, no. We've already covered how studies prove that spoilers actually improve your enjoyment of the movie (spoilers for your life, I guess), and test-audience results for movie trailers have shown the same thing. Turns out that when they focus-test different movie trailers (say, one that only whets your cinematic appetite by saying stuff like "Actors!" and "Buildings maybe!" compared with another that reveals that Winona Ryder is a dog the whole time) they consistently find that the trailer that spoils the whole thing is the one that gets people most excited. Which is why spoiling the end of The Perfect Storm and Quarantine in their trailers and posters ...
Warner Bros./Screen Gems
I guess the message is that if you want your audience happy, you don't want to surprise or confuse them -- you want to tell them exactly what they're going to get, then give it to them with only the slightest elaboration and maybe -- maybe -- a satisfying twist. Anyway, now on to entry #2 on my 5-point article about why problems with movie trailers exist.