Commenting on the Critics with Simon Columb…
He has become the third co-host of the SlashFilm podcast and now it appears that Jeff Cannata is joining the legion of Star Wars fans who refuse to watch the trailer. He tweeted:
“Just to be clear, I love teasers! But Star Wars is different. Would love to be able to walk into a theatre having never seen a single image.”
If you have no idea who Jeff Cannata is, I strongly recommend hunting down his work here: http://jeffcannata.com/
This week saw blockbuster film fans of the world rejoice. After years of production hell, Jurassic World is well on its way to release next year. The trailer revealed a combination of stories we had heard about (a genetically modified dino) and scenes of an open park in full operation [watch it here]. On Friday, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens landed [watch it here]. With a Sith lord here and a Millennium Falcon there, the trailer served its purpose. Fans are now desperate for the future.
But Cannata argues a legitimate question. To watch or not to watch? (whether ‘tis nobler for the mind to suffer/the flashes and explosions of outrageous publicity…). Should we refuse to see the publicity material, chosen specifically by the studio, to whet our appetite? Or should we partake in the gratuitous moving billboards that are splashed over YouTube and our social networks? To make matters worse, as the iconic font reveals after 88 seconds, a further 12 months are due before we can judge the film at all
I remember seeing The Matrix Reloaded trailer at the cinema. The excitement and buzz surrounding the relentless onslaught of Agent Smith’s attacking Neo and the epic scale that was clearly achieved was something that, at the point of the trailer, was simply mesmerising. I was bought early on. My ticket would’ve been bought as I left the cinema that day. Then, emerging from the darkness following the fateful first viewing of the film, I was unimpressed. Granted, all the footage from the trailer was in the film, but the story itself wasn’t held together as succinctly as The Matrix. The baffled audiences felt duped as they couldn’t make head or tail of the tri-thread narrative and wider philosophical allegories it attempted to show. If I had gone to the film trailer-free, would I have been more open to a dense, thought-provoking film? Did the kung-fu and sci-fi spaceships that dominated the trailer sell me on the action and ‘fun-time’, rather than the tricky plot and spiritual metaphors that clouded the film when I saw it? I’ll never know.
But this isn’t your usual series. Star Wars is a mega franchise that is built on merchandise and advertising. The experience of trailer-watching is part of the excitement. Producers expect you to watch in preparation. Of course, when you attend a film festival, rarely have you seen a trailer in preparation. This is primarily because the experience is a different beast – wild and untamed, challenging and profound (Unless it’s awful and surely didn’t deserve billing at the festival in the first place). But Star Wars? Jurassic World? These are famous for their merchandising! They are so big that events are created around them. These are blockbusters, and part of the process of blockbuster-watching is the build-up beforehand. The comic-con panels! The “viral” websites! The teasers and trailers! Who doesn’t recall the iconic little-child-with-Vader-standing-behind-him Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace poster! Never forget the stupid T-Rex bones, stomped upon by Godzilla in 1997, one year before it’s release in ‘98! Or even that T-Rex foot, in the rainy mud, revealing The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Maybe it will be awful, but at least you’ll remember the day you watched that trailer and your dreams felt so close to being realised …
There is an etiquette to follow. Don’t watch it hundreds of times. I’m not a big fan (sorry Flickering Myth!) of frame-by-frame and deep-analysis of the trailer. Those small snapshots within the trailer are supposed to tease and by December 2015 (or May 2015 for Jurassic World) you should have forgotten them anyway. I’m excited for both J.J. Abrams and Colin Treverrow’s offerings because of the sneak-peeks revealed this week – and this feeling is a part of the magic of the Hollywood machine.
Simon Columb / @screeninsight