It’s been said that we live in an age of lowered expectations; schools expect less from students, audiences expect less from television, voters expect less from their leaders. But every time you think we’ve bottomed out at the nadir of what is meant to impress us, someone finds a way to dig further down and underwhelm even more. Recently, we’ve seen the rise of a new low in the aspirations of marketing, like a badly mixed soufflé sputtering to inflate itself in an oven with the fuse burnt out: the movie trailer trailer. And that’s not a message from the Department of Redundancy Department.
Yes, studios have decided now to capitalize on an audience’s hunger for any tidbit of information about an upcoming blockbuster by releasing trailers not for the movie itself, but for a more detailed trailer about the movie. Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s enigmatic sci-fi prequel to his 1979 classic Alien, got the ball rolling last month, and in the last few days we have had a trailer for the trailer of the unclamored-for remake of Total Recall. Honestly, if there was any more recycling going on they would have to pack film reels in blue boxes. Faced with an appalling glut of unoriginality, studio marketers have decided to double down by trying to create buzz not for the projects themselves, but for the very ads promoting the projects. There is a very popular Internet meme involving Xzibit and Pimp My Ride which comes to mind, an appropriate variation on which would be thus: “Yo dawg, I heard you like trailers so we made a trailer for a trailer that you can watch in your trailer while you wait for the new trailer.”
I suppose it might be forgivable if the advertisements being advertised (God, the mind implodes at that) were anything of substance. The complaint used to be that trailers gave away too much (Cast Away, I still haven’t forgiven you for giving away that Tom Hanks gets off the damn island!), now, they are a big pile of nothing. The Total Recall trailer trailer tries to entice you by showing everything you’ve seen before: Colin Farrell being strapped into the same machine Arnold Schwarzenegger was 22 years ago, Kate Beckinsale looking hot and carrying a gun, futuristic cars flying around, some stunt guy leaping out a window. Even worse than this is the teaser for Breaking Dawn – Part 2, the ultimate Seinfeld of a trailer whose big draw is a shot of Kristen Stewart wearing the same facial expression she’s used in the previous four Twilight movies, only this time with red eyes. Oooh. (Of course this movie is ad- and critic-proof as its legions of worshippers will show up at theatres even if the movie is just Stewart and Robert Pattinson staring at each other for two and a half hours – oh, wait, that’s exactly what it is!)
Naturally, we have only ourselves to blame. Collectively we’re like the kid shaking his presents three weeks before Christmas listening for the telltale rattle of the Lego set inside, in our obsessive need to know every last detail of a movie before it ever opens – who’s in it, what changes they made from the book, what the characters look like, what stars are actually dating off the set, the shape and substance of every major action sequence down to a beat-by-beat plot description and excerpts of dialogue. There is a theory among movie marketers, the people who actually cut the trailers together, that audiences won’t go to a movie unless they’ve already seen the best parts. But thanks to entertainment magazines and Internet gossip sites, we already have, before a frame of actual film crosses in front of our eyeballs. We know exactly what’s coming, because we don’t want to be surprised – the potential of a surprise carries with it the equal potential of disappointment, and who wants that on a summer night at the theatre? So the natural response by the people selling these things is to reassure you that you’re going to get exactly what you’re expecting, and it’s why they make trailers for trailers. It’s a mere taste of the pablum cooking on the stove before Mom spoons out an entire bowl for you; warm, comforting and utterly without flavour. There is no there there, so all they can sell is hype. And if you lap it up and buy a ticket to the movie anyway, two hours later that’s all you’re going to come away with.