The new trailer for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” that debuted Monday offered more than enough tidbits to whet fans’ appetites for what’s certain to be a galactic blockbuster in December.
We see the new big baddie cradling the demolished helmet of Darth Vader. We see our hero and heroine in the thick of battle action. And we see our old friends Han, Chewie, Leia, R2-D2 and what may be Luke Skywalker wearing a dark cape, his robotic hand exposed.
What we don’t see: almost any hints about the movie’s plot. The story is still a blank slate in viewers’ minds. And that leaves all the room in the world for imagination and anticipation.
So why do so many other trailers do the exact opposite?
In the season premiere of “Fear the Walking Dead” in August, the first proof of the impending zombie apocalypse came when a young drug dealer staggered back to his feet after being shot and then pummeled by a truck.
It was a shock to the lead characters. But for those of us who had been anticipating AMC’s new spinoff, there was absolutely no surprise. The second the dealer drove his black car down to the L.A. River, anyone who had seen the widely broadcast previews recognized his costume and the setting instantly.
We had already seen him as a walker. And poof — the episode’s tense finale was ruined.
It’s difficult to muster much sympathy for those who complain about their friends disclosing plot points to the movies and TV shows that they discuss as a group in social media. If you haven’t watched yet, Twitter is a known danger zone.
But shouldn’t producers keep major twists from their own audiences, at least before the movie or show debuts? What fun is there in watching “Citizen Kane,” “Psycho” or “The Sixth Sense” when you already know the secrets hidden in plain sight?
Alan Taylor, director of this summer’s “Terminator Genisys,” went public with his chagrin that one of the movie’s trailers gave away a game changer that put a new spin on John Connor, one of the key figures throughout five movies and a TV series.
And while the previews for the latest installment in the “Vacation” franchise featured an impressive string of howlingly funny (and filthy) laughs, you couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of disappointment while filing out of the theater.
All but one of the movie’s funniest gags had already been shown in the red-band trailer, shown only before R, NC-17 or unrated movies.
“That is a bummer,” wrote Evelyn Watters, co-founder of the Golden Trailer Awards, which give accolades to the best in feature-film previews. “When I saw the trailer, my response was, ‘That movie looks hilarious and I can’t wait to see it.’ … I know there was a big backlash from a lot of vocal people when the movie came out.”
The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips pointed out a similar situation with the recent “Sicario,” starring Benicio Del Toro and Emily Blunt.
“Get a load of the second ‘Sicario’ trailer, the one being used in England and elsewhere,” he wrote. “This one gives it all, and I mean ALL, away.”
How much is too much? Obviously, the whole purpose of a trailer is to tantalize potential ticket-buyers. It seems an easy temptation to show off the movie’s best stuff.
“That’s a constant consideration you have when you are dealing with a trailer, how much to reveal or not,” said preview creator Mark Woollen. His company, Mark Woollen & Associates, is one of Hollywood’s big players in the business, having crafted campaigns for films such as “The Social Network” and “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
He should know a thing or two about keeping secrets, as he was charged with putting together previews for the film adaptation of “Gone Girl” by Kansas City native Gillian Flynn.
An unexpected revelation takes the plot of “Gone Girl” in a totally different direction midway through the story, and it is impossible to experience the intrigue that goes before if you already know the secret.
“One of the things with ‘Gone Girl’ is that we were basically working with the first hour of the movie,” Woollen said. “We didn’t want to give away too much of the plot, so we tried to create anticipation, to create a mood that would get the audience interested.”
It worked. I had decided I was through with director David Fincher’s work after the ludicrous and sadistic “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” But the preview for “Gone Girl” made me reconsider, and I ended up thoroughly enjoying the movie.
I wasn’t alone. It was a box office hit and went on to become Fincher’s biggest-grossing film in the U.S.
The Golden Trailers call previews “potent mini-epics with a fast-paced show whose frenetic and sometimes irreverent style is perfect for the post-MTV era.”
Making a trailer is a lot like making a whole movie, Woollen said. But a good preview isn’t necessarily the same as its source material.
Perusing the Golden Trailers’ winners list, you notice that even a film of questionable quality can spawn a great trailer. Among the most recent batch of award recipients: “Ted 2” (45 percent positive “Tomatometer” rating on RottenTomatoes.com), “The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death” (22 percent positive), “Cake” (49 percent positive).
Golden Trailer co-founder Monica Brady thinks a good trailer should be driven by telling a story. Don’t list other movies the producers and director have worked on in the past. Sell audiences on what’s in the current film.
Just don’t give away all the twists and turns.
“The trailer should serve as the appetizer, teasing you and making you want the full meal,” wrote Watters.