January 2009

Coming Attractions, Yet To Come

dark-knight-trailer-bootleg

A guest post by hermitosis.

Studios can make all the piracy-condemning PSA’s they want, but the truth is that they’d rather you see their movie illegally than never see it at all. In fact, piracy has already become built into the way they market movies to begin with. Internet gossip tells the public which blockbusters will be showing which hot new trailer. At the very first screening on opening day, when the lights go down and previews of coming attractions start rolling, electronic eyes in the audience record and transmit them to those waiting in their homes across the world, often days before the trailers are officially available online. Like most people, my first glimpse of Heath Ledger as the Joker wasn’t an unexpected perk of a $12.00 movie ticket, but via shaky, grainy video on YouTube. We vigilant media truffle-hunters all congratulated ourselves for our precocity and then passed the link on to others, perpetuating the kind of word-of-mouth anticipation that studios would pay for if they had to — but since they don’t, they never will.

And we’re not just helping them sell movies, we’re helping them make movies. The latest trend in trailer-bootlegging is the network of comic book conventions which have become all but overrun by Hollywood press junkets in recent years (often for films that have nothing to do with comics at all, like I Now Declare You Chuck and Larry). Screen a test-trailer for an army of comic book nerds while a film is still in production, allow it to leak online and generate tons of criticism, and then modify the work-in-progress to better meet audience expectations. The Tron remake probably won’t come out until 2011, but we’ve already drooled over the test-footage from last year’s SDCC and told creators exactly what we’d like to see them do with it.

The SDCC also showed a full-length trailer for the new Wolf Man movie starring Benicio Del Toro, which was supposed to open in February 2009. Perhaps based on the wildly positive reception of the “leaked” trailer, Universal rescued the film from its unceremonious midwinter release and is pouring more love into its post-production and marketing, obviously re-imagining it as a dark jewel in their crown of fall features, perhaps even a contender for next year’s Oscars. Meanwhile the trailer’s still only online in wobbly second-hand form, which means that anyone who stumbles across it — which of course is only as hard as googling “Wolf Man trailer” — gets to feel they’ve stumbled upon a cache of rare goods, one that they’re likely to show off to their friends (like I just did right here).

As someone who always makes sure to get to the movies on time so I can catch all the coming attractions firsthand — and gets hostile when others talk over them — I could bellyache about having to rely on someone else’s quick draw with their iPhone to see the first snippets of the new Star Trek. I could lament that cinephiles have been removed one degree further from something they love, settling for the vicarious thrill of watching a clip of other people watching a clip — in fact, the amount of vloggers out there who post reaction videos to whatever pop media they’re ingesting makes it a cinch to find clips of people watching clips of other people watching trailers.

At the same time, while they’re as vital to the ritual of moviegoing as popcorn and broken water-fountains (and often a grand consolation prize if the feature presentation is an utter disappointment) that doesn’t mean that trailers are sacrosanct. They are, after all, commercials — that’s all they ever have been, and the only rule that matters in advertising is to remain a step ahead of your consumers. If the consumers subvert your strategies and usurp your role, then you find a way to wriggle back on top. (I’ve watched two whole seasons of Mad Men, I know what I’m talking about.)

The effect on the movies themselves is the more ominous issue. Have we entered the age of being given the movies that we deserve? We demand them, shape them, and criticize them before they appear, we bookmark their websites and hunt for stills and clips, we read plot outlines, leaked scripts, filmmaker interviews, celebrity gossip; via the almighty internet, we inform the artists what we’ll accept and what we’ll spit out, when to pull the rug and where to plant the trap — all before we ever set foot in a theater. Is it any wonder we so rarely feel thoroughly satisfied when we walk out? The appetizer has become the meal.

Still, we trailer-worshipers should probably feel grateful — rather than making them obsolete, the internet and its video-sharing networks have reinvented appreciation of them, giving rise to a malleable, open-source artform in which everyone is invited to present their own Brokeback Mountain parody or paint their favorite kids’ movie as a Requiem for a Dream spin-off. This firsthand experience is becoming nearly inseparable from that second- or thirdhand experience, making would-be leakers and bootleggers of us all. But in the critical moment, as the moon rises in the sky over Benicio, all is forgiven, all is permitted; desire truly makes beasts of us all.

Science Fiction

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A Simple Plan

from xkcd

Drama

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