Spoiler Alert (on movie trailers)


Spoilers are the bane of any lover of surprises, twists and intrigue in stories. And in our hyper-connected social media age they are damn near impossible to avoid. So I do my best to attempt the impossible. Sure, I’ll watch the official announcement for a movie and possibly the first trailer a few times, but as a rule I try to avoid them afterwards. If I talk to friends and co-workers about it, I usually state that I don’t want spoilers of any kind. I like my surprises to remain surprising.

With that in mind, I happened to see a Terminator Genisys (really!?!) trailer. Let’s ignore the fact that I think the franchise peaked with Terminator 2, that Terminator 3 was a sadly “meh”-worthy, and that Terminator Salvation was an abomination that made no sense whatsoever; that said, I watched the Genisys trailer with my expectations suitably low. I could be wrong here but isn’t a trailer supposed to be like an aperitif that wets the appetite and gets you primed for more, rather than an attempt to force-feed you the entire plot and all special effects is one go, and spoil all surprises?

Granted, I could be judging this movie prematurely, after all I haven’t actually seen it, but if the idea of a trailer is to entice the audience then it failed on every level. It did a spine-breaking belly-flop onto concrete instead of an elegant dive into crystal clear Evian. It did away with one thing that could have played in its favour, the surprise twist, and pissed it away in a golden shower of special effects. I hope the actor (I’m not spoiling who here or what it was, so you’ll have click the video at the end yourself) is furious about it. Any noteworthy performance has been rendered irrelevant now, since I know what’s going to happen. At what point in the process did the film-makers decide that surprises, twists and intrigue are old news? Do we need to dazzle movie-goers with special effects rather than a good story to get them to flock to the cinemas?

The central argument is that it is a visual medium and that you can’t avoid some spoilers when you have to show it instead of telling it. Fine, I’m with you on that. But spoiling major plot twists is an issue; it doesn’t have to be a necessary part of the process. When I go pick up a new book, I know the pretty picture on the front is just a pretty picture, and that the blurb on the back won’t give away the plot, because giving away the plot is bad for business and bad for art. Who is going to buy the next work by J. K. Rowling, if all the cool plot points are outlined on the back? Only super-duper-fans, and even they are going to be annoyed. So why is this acceptable for movie trailers?

Perhaps the problem is more ingrained in the industry than we think. After all, trailers from the eighties were full of spoilers. They would go out of their way to tell you parts of the plot, structural elements and key scenes because, and this is the kicker, you couldn’t easily go back and re-watch it. The average consumer would have seen a trailer once, maybe twice, before the movie was out and it had to make an impression. Individual spoilers would have faded sufficiently that it didn’t matter if it gave away the end.

In today’s on-demand reality, with instant replay literally at our fingertips, a good trailer needs to be subtle and more elegant, to give slight hints and visual cues, aim to entice and intrigue, rather than slap its special effects cock in our collective face, and spoiling the whole movie. Personally, I find trailers that are deceptive, if not subversive in nature, are much more satisfying to watch in the end. Won’t I have egg on my face, if Genisys turns out to be just that?

But what do you think? Should we just accept that trailers have to, by design, contain spoilers? Is this an industry problem? Let me know.

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