How trailer mania is ruining film culture
The unquenchable thirst for trailers has turned blogs and magazines into P.R. firms for big Hollywood studios
Over the weekend, the cast of Furious 7 — the latest entry in the Fast & Furious franchise — walked the red carpet at a California premiere. Stars like Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, and Tyrese Gibson showed up to sing the movie's praises. Michelle Rodriguez called it a "car-gasm." The entire event was available for Fast & Furious fans to devour as an extended live-stream.
The key difference between the Furious 7 premiere and the hundreds of similar events held in Los Angeles every year? The cast wasn't there to premiere the movie; they were there to premiere the movie's trailer, more than five months before Furious 7 will arrive in theaters.
This is modern-day cinema culture: an ever-churning, ever-widening cycle of hype that prizes the anticipation of movies over the experience of actually watching them.
I'll give the Furious 7 trailer this: it delivers. If you want an early glimpse of the insane stunts that will make up the backbone of the next Fast & Furious movie, you'll get your fix.
But the same can't be said for much of the internet's ongoing fixation with trailer culture, which gives fans of pretty much any movie a steady I.V. drip of content to consume. Take, for example, the latest in an interminably long string of ads for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1:
"Trailer" is a disingenuous way to describe this video, and even "teaser" is much too generous. It's a 39-second commercial for Mockingjay that spends eight of those seconds on an advertisement for Doritos, and squeezes in a hashtag encouraging viewers to purchase #MockingjayTickets in advance.
This is the kind of thing that should play as an advertisement before a YouTube video you actually want to watch. But because anything about The Hunger Games is, in theory, newsworthy to its devoted fanbase, website after website ran straight-faced blog posts about it, to the tune of 750,000 views and counting. There's only one thing that makes that Hunger Games video any different than an advertorial: Websites aren't even getting paid to host it. They're voluntarily doing the dirty work of P.R. firms in return for the theoretical traffic boon of a headline promising yet another glimpse of the latest Hunger Games movie.
Blogging has led to an exponential growth of sources for quality film criticism and analysis. But it's also led to a kind of infinite feedback loop that allows studios to carefully engineer the hype train for the movies they plan to release.
It's a cycle that could be seen in last week's mysterious Marvel event. Step one: Marvel announces it will be hosting a special event. Step two: Bloggers speculate wildly as to what might be announced. Step three: Marvel actually holds the event, revealing a massive slate of superhero movies bound for theaters over the next eight years. Step four: Bloggers report the news, and use it as fodder for any number of stories in the months or years to come — speculation, explainers, suggested casts, actual casting notices, trailer releases, trailer breakdowns, and an endless stream of variably plausible rumors, right up to a movie's actual release date.
These are all subjective calls, and every publication needs to determine the newsworthiness of such events with its own readers in mind. (The Week, for example, reported the details of Marvel's announcement shortly after the event concluded, and will surely write news updates about Marvel movies in the future.)
But we'd be kidding ourselves if we pretended that all of these news grabs were equally valid, or that all writers were using proper judgment before throwing a story up online. Here's one particularly egregious response to the Marvel event: a Bleeding Cool story suggesting that readers should pony up $9.99 per month to access a subscription-based service that might get them an invitation to an unspecified future event, at which Marvel could pitch them even more movies to spend their money on. Why would a Hollywood studio even bother to run advertisements when credulous, well-trafficked websites will run stories like that for free?
For all the great work being done every day, film journalism has become bogged down by a pair of interrelated problems: a film industry that thrives on a culture of endless fan-generated hype, and an Ain't It Cool-esque approach to blogging that has inspired a cottage industry of websites uncritically reporting everything that comes across their inboxes or Twitter feeds.
And all of it can be avoided if bloggers are just a little more judicious about the P.R. grabs they're inclined to pass off as actual news.