We’ve all experienced it; the hubbub that occurs in a cinema after a particularly good trailer ? that moment when everyone seems to turn to their companions and say, as one, “I want to see that”. I don’t suppose it would be too large an assumption to guess that most of us have been in the cinema after a terrible trailer, one that has the viewing public laughing together. Most recently, after a standard all-action trailer, the atmosphere was ruined when the voice over proclaimed the film’s title: “MAN…ON A LEDGE”. The derision was most definitely audible.
Movie trailers are undoubtedly highly effective marketing tools, and in an era of Youtube, movie blogs and constant Facebook sharing, millions can see a good trailer within the week of its release. However, many leave almost no effect whatsoever; they are well produced, display all of the normal hallmarks of a trailer, but leave no lasting resonance. The fate that befalls most trailers is that they are like every other we have seen, because in every genre, there is a language; there are certain tropes that get the message of the film across, but in a safe way that people can easily understand. This is a Hollywood studio not wanting to make any undue risks that could adversely affect box office receipts, and thus the trailers will never be remembered as great, if at all by those who see them.
Action films, chick flicks, comedies and period dramas seem to be the genres that fall most clearly into their particular trailer formula, and often get the, “Well, I’ve seen the whole film now” reaction. Mediocre comedies seem to put all of their best jokes into the trailer, and thus the main selling point is lost before any entrance fee is retained. Comedies are left in a catch-22 situation, as they have to show that their film is funny, but risk using up their best content; at the same time, if they save some of their best lines, the trailer may make the film look unfunny, so people will be less inclined to see it.
In my eyes, most chick flicks are essentially the same film anyway, so differentiating the trailers is a tricky concept. Even so, the target audience will likely see the movie regardless of how it is advertised (or how it is reviewed – I’m looking at you, New Years Eve), so their trailers have no pressure to be interesting or good. Period dramas often rely on the selling point of their source material or historical importance, so some lovely shots of landscapes and the cast of beautiful actors, alongside a soaring orchestral soundtrack, do the job very nicely. Action film trailers are more often than not split into two halves, the first explaining the character and situation, the second containing some cool beats and a handful of stunts and explosions.
So, what do movie trailers have to do to be memorable? Franchises (Harry Potter, superhero movies, Prometheus etc.) are often good trailers, but simply because of the excitement of finally seeing footage of a much-anticipated film. The all-time classic movie trailer must set itself outside of the norms and tropes that movie trailer language usually embeds it in. A perfect example would be David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. No dialogue and no exposition conveys a sense of serene intelligence to the audience, in that they know what the film is about without being told. There is relentlessly quick cutting, a pounding soundtrack, covering a well-known song in a contemporary form, and big name stars; but most importantly, all done in a way that you have never seen before. Trust me, go watch the trailer, and then tell me it doesn’t look exciting.