July 1, 2012 Volume 26, Number 07
Just the entrée, please… we'll skip the appetizers
By Bruce Soderholm | ChristianWeek Columnist
Grabbing popcorn may be the best use of your pre-movie time, explains Bruce Solderholm. Photo by protoflux.
Seat reclinedcheck. Cell phone silencedcheck. Obscenely overpriced popcorn properly positionedcheck and doublecheck. "Ground control, we are good to go. Commence movie screening countdown."
"Ummm, Theatre-goer, this is Houston. We have a problem."
"Roger that. Please clarify. What's the current ETF (Estimated Time of Feature)?"
"Theatre-goer, you are F minus 22 minutes and the trailers haven't even started yet!"
Today's typical pre-feature theatre routine exemplifies the triumph of commercial crassness over the celebration of a creative art form. While I can live with cheesy on-screen trivia and pandering movie theatre magazines, the facial tic I'm currently developing comes from being held hostage by on-screen commercials and in-your-face trailer hype.
I am old enough, unfortunately, to remember a time when a trip to the cinema meant bypassing the commercials that were unavoidable on TV. And while I'll concede a few can occasionally be clever, a lame ad is still lame even if it's blown up to IMAX proportions.
Next come the trailers, which are really previews, but are so named because they used to be shown after the feature. These carefully constructed film previews are juiced up with provocative images intent on filling your vision and detonating in your brain like the multicoloured pyrotechnics of a fireworks show.
Trailers initially draw you into their confidence with a smooth, yet authoritative voiceover. Then, as the simplified plot premise unfolds, images of A-list actors emerge, and are followed by the suggested main conflict.
Subsequently, the pace of the action-filled images and their accompanying sound bytes accelerates until you feel like you're entering hyperspace in a blur of light and sound. A successful trailer is intended to deliver a rush to audience members that will make them eager to return for a major fix when the film finally opens.
So what's the problem? The most obvious one is that rarely can a movie deliver a product as good as its preview suggests it is. This makes sense, since with thousands of images to choose from, a film studio can easily select the most powerful ones to engage an audience for roughly one to three minutes.
Another gripe I have is that trailers reveal far too much of a film's plot, and even its chronology, despite the scrambling of the scene samples chosen. The human brain is amazing in its capacity to connect the dots and fill in the blanks. Likewise, the average filmgoer sees enough movies and knows enough typical storylines to use preview images to predict what will happen in the film. This might not pan out for films like The Tree of Life or Inception, but let's face itoriginal film chronology is a rarity.
Finally, I want to be able to experience a film's best moments in their proper context. This is especially true of comedies. How many times have you found out the best and only laughs were the ones highlighted in the trailer?
Watching movie trailers is one situation where the adage, "Less is more", applies. Tantalize me, tease me, and entice me please, but don't lay it out in such detail that nothing is left to my imagination. In fact, until they start giving me less for my money, ad and trailer time may be when you're most likely to find me in line buying popcorn.
Bruce Soderholm is a freelance writer and educator who makes his home in southern Ontario.