Teaser trailers are getting stingier. True, they were always meant to tantalise us with a few seconds of footage from films and TV programmes we wouldn’t get to see for months, but as studio execs get slicker at viral marketing and riding the hype whilst keeping every bit of plot information they can under wraps, the teaser trailer is torn in two directions – revelation and secrecy. Too often, this becomes a pointless exercise in frustrating your audience.
To illustrate my point, let us return to the halcyon days of my youth – to the golden year of 2001, when two of my favourite books hit the big screen at once: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
At the time, I thought Harry Potter was the better movie. I was young and naieve. It’s still plain, however, that while the Lord of the Rings teaser is overloaded with exposition, the Harry Potter teaser contains everything a young fan might want to see without giving too much away – the letters swooping down the chimney! The Hogwarts Express! Hagrid! The Great Hall! Dumbledore! Snape! McGonagall! Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the tantalising prospect of Quidditch on the big screen! Nothing could be more exciting.
Fast forward to 2012, and the teaser for The Dark Knight Rises resembles something put out by one of those irritating people who fake trailers for new movies by splicing together footage from old ones. Some offcuts from Inception – a few clips from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight – while Commissioner Gordon wheezes something inaudible from a hospital bed. Even the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them appearances by Bane and the new Batman costume can’t save it.
It is possible to do this properly, as JJ. Abraham’s trailer for Star Trek (2009)showed. It contains no footage from the film we saw in cinemas – it doesn’t even tell you the name of the film. Yet, lifted as it is by marvellous sound design, Leonard Nimoy’s goose-pimply voice over and the surprise reveal, it’s a wonderful bit of cinema in its own right, and a concise introduction to the dynamic visual style of the Star Trek reboots.
The worst culprit is the most recent – the first teaser trailer for Doctor Who Series 8, the first season starring Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. Of the 15 seconds the trailer lasts, 10 of them are taken up with the Doctor Who logos that top and tail it. 2 of the remaining 6 seconds are taken up by staring at a dark screen. The other 3 seconds show a few frames of Peter Capaldi, standing in silhouette, against the TARDIS console. And that’s it. No monsters, no Daleks, no alien planets. No glimpse of the main characters in action – not even a proper look at the new Doctor’s costume, and photographs of that were released to the media months ago. Instead, a total waste of 30 seconds of my life.
(Yes, I played it twice.)