I’m going to assume that the upcoming WARRIOR, which I haven’t yet seen, does not have one of the closest-held secret switcheroos since THE CRYING GAME. That is, that the trailer below does NOT feature only scenes from the the first 30 minutes or so, and that the real story kicks in after the big fight between the brothers. Maybe one brother kills the other and the bulk of the film is about the aftermath — an MMA version of MILLION DOLLAR BABY.
Now I dunno about you, but after seeing that trailer several times in theatres and on TV (though less frequently than you might suspect at UFC programming and PPVs), I feel like I’ve seen the movie in one-minute miniature. The few-second moments come in what could be — even if they’re actually not — chronological dramatic order. The trailer seems to more or less tells the entire story and give the character outlines except for the one final plot detail. If that trailer were extended another 10 seconds to show Tom Hardy’s character KO’ing Joel Edgerton’s in the climactic fight (or Hardy submitting to a choke … however it ends), it more or less would be the movie in miniature. Then consider the following trailer from a well-known movie from 1943.
Now obviously a comparison of the two movies’ merits would be ridiculous. But keep in mind that CASABLANCA wasn’t planned to be a exceptional film (in the sense of “an outlier”). Rather it was planned as another product of the Warner Brothers factory, so the clip makes for a reasonable comparison of what a “typical” early-40s trailer was like, though it offers the advantage that everyone now is, or should be, familiar with the finished film. What the CASABLANCA trailer is selling is an atmosphere and milieu, and its stars. Unlike WARRIOR, you could not tell from this trailer what the plot of CASABLANCA is about except that there’s a romantic triangle involving Bogart, Bergman and Henreid. The “letters of transit” is, of course, a classic Macguffin, but it is still the narrative skeleton and the trailer basically doesn’t mentions them — we see Ugarte being hunted down without any sense of who he is or why; and there’s a brief allusion in the line “I want those letters” in a moment from the scene where Ilsa threatens to shoot Rick. But that’s it. The trailer even includes the climactic “action” moment — Rick shooting Maj. Strasser — but without giving you any sense that it is in fact, the dramatic climax. None of the now-classic lines — “here’s looking at you, kid” “play it, Sam,” “I am shocked SHOCKED,” “We’ll always have Paris,” “of all the gin joints …” “I stick my neck out for no man” (or any other sense of Rick’s cynicism or woundedness for that matter) — are “stepped on.” Nor is “As Time Goes By” played. Indeed … here is the trailer for CASABLANCA’s 1992 re-release, done in the contemporary style and altering nearly everything I just said about the 1942 trailer.
As you can infer from that, critics have been lamenting the increasing spoilerage factors in trailers for some time now. But the reason I highlight the WARRIOR trailer isn’t just that seemed unusually coherent as a stand-alone story. It’s also that one factor in this trend, I am now convinced, occurred to me specifically because of WARRIOR’s subject matter — the influence of ESPN and other sports channels. I don’t know how this could be provable, but I think audiences may have been primed by sports programming to want and accept one-minute-digests, and this is influencing the cutting of trailers. That WARRIOR trailer is (feels like) basically the film’s highlight reel. Or, to put it another way, it feels like the SportsCenter segment on the movie. Having seen hundreds of game segments, I mentally kicked myself for not noticing the similarity before. You can go to a sporting contest and see the entire game. Or you can watch SportsCenter, the segments of which are specifically intended to give you the sense of the game/fight — the big plays, the dramatic turning points, and the conclusion. After all, the point of a SportsCenter segment is to boil down the entire three-hour game (or three-round fight, to continue the WARRIOR analogy) into a digestible minute or so. It is NOT the segment’s purpose to do what a movie trailer used to do, and theoretically still should — to “tease” you into wanting to watch the whole game later. And not because ESPN doesn’t rerun and repeat whole games, it has an entire channel devoted to just that — ESPN Classic. But among sports fans, it’s fairly common and accepted to say “I saw the SportsCenter segment” as an answer to the question “did you see the game?” And in today’s sports-programming-saturated culture, it’d be hard to see how that preference could be hermetically sealed.
Or maybe … THESE are the bad influences on movie trailers like WARRIOR’s: