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Trailers Trashed

The movie trailer: The ultimate triumph of movie marketing.

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When it comes to my geekish bona fides, I bow to no one. My teenage comic-book collection was epic; my Star Wars action figures and assorted paraphernalia filled a small closet. But I don’t know how to deal with my nerdy brethren and sistren when they go berserk over a movie trailer.

From the full disclosure department: I’d live a happy life if I could avoid theatrical trailers altogether, especially in an era where telling a movie’s entire story seems to be the unstated goal. Press and promotional screenings generally oblige that preference by firing right up with the feature presentation, but every once in a while a trailer is “attached” to a new release—as happened when Disney spot-welded the trailer for the upcoming TRON: Legacy onto Alice in Wonderland, to capitalize on its presumed huge opening weekend.

What often happens in cases like this is that the trailer itself—following the lead of shows like Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood—becomes news. The TRON trailer had fanboys ejaculating exclamation points all over their blogs, as did the new Iron Man 2 spot that debuted during the Academy Awards broadcast. It’s the ultimate triumph of movie marketing: As long as you sell anticipation for the movie, the movie itself becomes largely irrelevant.

There’s little question that this technique of turning a trailer release into an event works. It was working at least as far back as Nov. 20, 1998, when the teaser for Star Wars: Episode I had the geek elite flocking to Adam Sandler’s The Waterboy, essentially paying full admission price to see two minutes of footage before leaving the theater.

But there’s something depressing about how this phenomenon folds into the Ain’t It Cool-ization of film coverage, where a movie is deemed newsworthy only until anyone has actually seen it. I can’t help wishing that folks could collectively tone down the Pavlovian salivary response and fall in love with movies with half as much enthusiasm as they seem to be falling in love with commercials.

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