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Commentary: Movie trailers leave little to imagination in films such as ‘Looper,’ ‘The Master’

Courtesy of MCT

When was the last time you were genuinely surprised at the movies?

If it takes a long time to answer that question, you might be quick to blame the quality of the movies and entertainment coming out. You might say that everything is predictable and formulaic, and thus all surprise has been removed from the movie-going experience.

There might be something to that, but perhaps that’s only part of the problem. The real trouble lies in how modern movies have been advertised.

For proof, watch any major movie trailer from the last couple years. For instance, the preview for the 2011 critical hit “Drive” is little more than a two-minute summary of everything that happens in that movie. It might not be evident while you’re watching the trailer itself, but it certainly diminishes the sense of surprise when it finally comes time to sit down and experience it.

However, one of the most extreme examples of this is the trailer for a film that essentially nobody saw, including myself. “The Double” is a 2011 spy thriller starring Richard Gere and Topher Grace. It received negative reviews, and according to Box Office Mojo it grossed just less than $138,000 domestically. The real tragedy here is the preview, which appears to reveal the film’s one massive twist just one minute and 30 seconds in.

The question then becomes why Hollywood has decided to be so revealing in its movie previews. One theory is desperation; perhaps it’s so hungry for success that it is willing to tell the people exactly what they want to hear. In Hollywood’s mind, people don’t like being surprised very much. It’s more important to keep customers at ease than to lure them in to the theater and have everything take a left turn.

There are a couple recent films, however, that make a noble attempt at changing the status quo. While neither of these movies are – or ever will become – box office smashes, they have been huge critical hits and seem to be well-received among those who watch them. One thing they have in common: their advertising revealed almost nothing about what the movies were really about.

The most recent example is “Looper,” which was met this weekend with critical acclaim and solid box office receipts. If one were to judge the movie based on the previews, it looks like nothing but a stylish sci-fi action film that takes place in the city. Anyone who has seen the movie will know that this is only the case in the film’s first half; and the entire climax of “Looper” takes place in a much different setting. In fact, the main plot – Joseph Gordon-Levitt must track down and kill an older version of himself – takes a backseat to a much different set of circumstances.

The trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” takes this practice of revealing almost nothing about the film’s true goals to an extreme level. As it turns out, nearly all the previews for “The Master” are made up almost exclusively of footage that didn’t make the final film. These scenes certainly communicate the tone and basic premise of the movie, but anyone looking for any clues as to the film’s content will be disappointed. For movie fans looking to be surprised at the cinema, this is a welcome change.

It’s no coincidence that “Looper” and “The Master” have been two of the most buzzed-about films in recent months. They are exciting because they are able to genuinely shock and surprise audiences. It’s no fun to know exactly what’s going to happen in the movie you’re watching, and perhaps these recent successes can help to bring a sense of discovery back to the movie theater.

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