We've entered an era of ludicrous movie marketing, one where marketing teams release teasers for teasers of movie posters. There's so much disincentive to go to a movie theater — high prices, low comfort, terrible peers — that studios are trying insanely hard at every point during a film's lifecycle to build maximum hype. And it's completely ruining my ability to suspend disbelief.
The newest example is the trailer — excuse me, "teaser" — for the newest Mission Impossible movie, Rogue Nation, which was released yesterday (the full trailer was released today). It's essentially just a minute's worth of what will probably be some of the film's best stunts. But I want to talk about one moment in particular that has set the internet ablaze: Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt hanging from the side of a giant plane.
Cruise's stunt with the shots of Simon Pegg removed
That's an awesome concept, stunt, and shot sequence. And it's also a scene that is now completely ruined for me. Imagine what experiencing that scene would feel like if you had no idea it was coming, and the first time you saw it happen was in front of a 30-foot-tall theater screen, surrounded by a similarly clueless audience.
What's worse is that Yahoo just published a conveniently timed interview with Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie that breaks down exactly how they pulled it off. (To be fair, paparazzi photos of the stunt have been around since last fall, but that's a wholly separate issue.) Sure, there is a thrill in knowing for certain that it was a real stunt and not done with computers. Maybe knowing the stunt was actually performed by Cruise will increase the thrill when you see this stunt on the big screen, instead of you shrugging off any excitement because the assumption all spectacular shots must be faked.
Filmmakers must sell me on the reality of the film
I take issue with that line of thinking for two reasons. First is the notion that the filmmakers must sell me on the reality of the film. Take for a example a superhero film: I shouldn't have to think about how ridiculous it is that I'm watching an adult dressed in a rubber suit punching another adult in a rubber suit. The filmmakers can convince me to care by building a world with clear rules (and exceptions), presenting broad themes for me to chew on during the whole experience, and deploying great dialogue alongside thoughtful cinematography. McQuarrie might attempt all these with Rogue Nation, but the marketing for the movie has thwarted his efforts before the first ticket's been sold.
Second, the idea of a collective, in-the-know thrill is akin to that of the first drop on a roller coaster. Sure, it's exhilarating, and the anticipation while you slowly climb to the first big drop you know is coming brings its own type of excitement — but it's fleeting. The real fun comes after the ride starts, found in the twists and turns you can't see coming because you're having too much fun holding on for dear life.
Many of you have probably already muttered "well don't watch the trailer," to which I respond that I usually don't! When I found out that a director whose work I loved was making a sci-fi movie called Looper starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon Levitt, I spent four years militantly avoiding every poster and trailer. Every time the television spot for Interstellar began I literally covered my ears and closed my eyes. My experience with both of those movies wound up feeling refreshingly clean, but that's an absurd way to live. It really shouldn't be this hard to enjoy a movie on your own terms.
It really shouldn't be this hard to enjoy a movie on your own terms
The thing is, this isn't changing any time soon. A pattern has emerged. Earlier this month, we saw an unbelievable scene unfold in one of the first trailers for Furious 7. Barely a week later Universal Studios published a featurette that showed how the stunt was performed. (Meanwhile Furious 7 won't be in theaters until April.) And this is just one of myriad ways that studios are trying to build hype.
These movie studios are revealing more and more of their movies because they're increasingly desperate to turn a profit. The industry is in its own action film right now, replete with high risk climbs and dives. With increased risk that films won't make their money back post release, more marketing muscle gets put into promotions. Like some of the best stunts, studios only get one shot at opening weekend.
These kinds of stunts are the reason I want to see a big-budget action movie in the first place, but by the time I'm seated in the theater I'm all too familiar with what's going to happen. I'm left stuck in a cinema ouroboros: I want to see fewer movies because of marketing, and I get more marketing because people see fewer movies.