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Trailers for trailers

I’ve loved movie trailers since my earliest days on the web. As a teenager, I would wait impatiently for postage-stamp-sized previews to download over dial-up. In college, Apple’s trailers site was a daily visit, despite its reliance on the clunky QuickTime player.

Now, decades later, I still adore trailers, but the medium and its surrounding tech have matured. Full HD trailers download almost instantly—even over my DSL connection. The average trailer’s quality has improved, too—it’s less a sloppy afterthought and more a carefully-planned salvo in a months-long marketing campaign.

One recent change to the medium sticks out. Many action-heavy trailers now begin with a stinger—a 4–5 second preview of the trailer’s most exciting scenes, stitched together with fast cuts and scored with a cacophony of rising sound effects. It’s literally a “trailer for the trailer”:

I don’t really understand this trend. “Nano-trailers” make sense on social media; quick cuts catch a user’s eye as she scrolls through Instagram. But why do studios tack nano-trailers onto the trailers themselves? Are viewers more likely to watch the entire preview if the pre-trailer piques their interest? Are we so attention-poor that we can’t wait for a two-minute trailer to slow-boil?

And what’s next? Where does this trend lead? Will we eventually see trailers for trailers for trailers? A half-second megaclip with 12 single-frame smash cuts, scored with a single BWWWWAAAAAP?

My head hurts. ■


  1. Film strip artwork courtesy of Vecteezy.
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Quick take on the new ‘Force Awakens’ trailer

This is a great movie trailer.

It gives away just enough plot detail. We sense The Force Awakens’ epic scope, but we’re not spoiled by a blow-by-blow story outline. We meet the main characters one by one (Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, Han Solo), but they’re sketched out in very faint strokes.

The preview also feels like Star Wars. I credit the music, which was apparently composed just for the trailer. We hear rearranged versions of three iconic leitmotifs (The Force theme, the Han & Leia love theme, and the Skywalker overture), cementing us in a familiar world.

As for the previewed movie itself, here are a few thoughts:

  • As with the last trailer, I love the wrecked Star Destroyer on the desert planet. When Rey rappels into a cavernous loading dock, we get a sense of scale that space battles can’t offer. The off-kilter colossus inspires both dread and awe—akin to watching giant ships sink on screen.
  • The trailer hints that Finn, the young male lead, is an AWOL stormtrooper. It’s fun to take the cartoon army drones from earlier film and crack them open this way. What motivates the Empire’s foot soldiers? What’s their story? What happens when they doubt the cause?
  • The masked baddie clearly worships Darth Vader. “I will finish what you started,” he pledges to Vader’s misshapen mask. What does he mean? My guess: he’s fixated on eradicating the Jedi—the first mission that the Emperor gave to his right-hand cyborg.
  • Han Solo is this film’s Obi-Wan Kenobi: the aging, wise mentor who’s seen some shit in his day. That’s a fun switcheroo, since Han was young, dumb, and Force-skeptical in the original films.
  • Why has the Force fallen into legend? Why would anyone doubt that the Dark Side and the Jedi ever existed?
  • A related question: where is Luke Skywalker? We know he’s in the film, but he’s been absent from every trailer. Lucasfilm has released no official images of Mark Hamill in costume. My guess: Luke appears in the movie, but only at the very end—maybe even the literal last shot. The Force Awakens may well have been titled “The Search for Luke” instead. When he finally shows up, will Skywalker be a good guy—or a villain?
  • It’s fun to see Carrie Fisher back in Leia-garb (sans side-buns). Based on her limited trailer screen time, Leia may be more a bureaucrat than an action hero this time around. Are she and Han still together? Their embrace in the trailer seems like a “goodbye” moment. Were they just recently reconciled / reunited?
  • Somebody’s going to die. We see Rey weeping at one point in the trailer. My money’s on Han Solo. One more rollicking adventure that ends with a hero’s send-off. After all, Harrison Ford wanted his character to be killed off two sequels ago.
  • My main worry about Episode VII is that it will play the nostalgia card too often. I’m glad to see the old gang, but the echoes here seem over-loud. Do we really need the Millenium Falcon? Wouldn’t that ship have been mothballed decades ago? And why set your battle scenes on a desert planet and a snow-bound planet—mirroring Tatooine and Hoth? Most problematically, why are the Rebellion and the Empire (or whatever they’re called now) still going at it, half a century later? Wouldn’t this conflict have wrapped up by now?

Overall, I’m pumped for The Force Awakens. But my New Hope is tempered by painful memory; The Phantom Menace’s trailer was kick-ass, too. And we all know how that turned out.