Usually I write about whole films: plots, characters, meanings and the stories they tell. However, I have recently become interested in the trailers I see before the main feature begins. In two and half minutes, a message has to be communicated. Curiosity must be engaged. A successful trailer motivates the moviegoer to return to the theatre or pick up the DVD and actually view the film. A good trailer can do that while also delighting the viewer.
I started really taking notice when those sitting next to me would make one-line comments about the trailers. “I’ll wait to see that at home.” “Another Nicholas Sparks adaptation!” “Hope we didn’t just see all the best jokes.” “That looks AWE-some.” I opine via a non-verbal thumbs-up or thumbs-down to my row.
To get a better sense of what trailers are and what they say about us, I decided to ask a few friends who are very thoughtful about film what they make of this cultural phenomenon. They frequently pointed out that trailers are primarily a tool for advertising, and that this often lowers their status as an art form. On the other hand, trailers are often celebrated and loved for showing great creativity. Trailers have to balance out the commercial aspect with the creative aspect to be persuasive to the film-savvy.
Comment author Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma responded, “A good trailer reveals just enough to entice, but not enough to destroy the experience. If too much is revealed, mystery is dishonored. Likewise, trailers can present art as purely commercial currency, which ultimately dishonors everyone who participates in the transaction.” Kirstin highlights the mystery and creativity that I think help to engage the audience’s curiosity. Since trailers are so short, they must condense a longer story and make an instant appeal to the viewer’s affections. What might these features tell us about our experiences, if we take trailers seriously?
Some argue that we too often merely consume culture. The sheer amount of information available to us has turned us into a culture of entertainment glut. This makes it increasingly difficult to be discriminate or discerning about our cultural intake. It would be easy to disregard trailers as commercial excess; however, might we end up missing something?
We might forget that humans are aesthetic creatures. We take in experience, time and space, through our senses. We then must use discernment to understand the qualities and meanings of those experiences. This means that we need to be mindful of our curiousity as well as good stewards of our time. Film trailers can help us with these two challenges.
First, trailers appeal to our aesthetic sensibilities and highlight our human curiosity toward stories and our visual and aural experiences. They give us a small glimpse of a larger picture, drawing us in. The discerning viewer must reflect on what is compelling about the film. In addition, it is important to consider the limits of our time.
Second, trailers can help us to be better stewards of our time by giving us a short glimpse and feel for a film. This can help us to be more responsible with our time and resources.
Viewing film trailers is a good example of how we might think about our aesthetic curiosity, the drawing power of beauty and story. They also allow us to be better stewards of our time and experiences. By paying attention to our daily aesthetic choices we can start discovering good, creative and engaging films.
Here are two great sites for watching trailers: