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posted: 6/5/2014 5:30 AM

Reel life: Trailers of the past weren't spoilers

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  • In 1982, Steven Spielberg refused to show the title character in trailers for "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial."

      In 1982, Steven Spielberg refused to show the title character in trailers for "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial."

  • Video: "D. Strangelove" trailer

  • Video: "Joe" trailer

 
 

Down with trailers!

I hate most movie trailers.

I avoid them at all costs before I see the actual movies because, as I have learned the hard way, they can ruin the jokes, kill the surprises and generally spoil what should be a wonderful movie experience.

Take the trailer for Seth MacFarlane's new comedy "A Million Ways to Die in the West." One of the biggest laughs (based on audience reactions) involves a famous character actor making a surprising and clever cameo appearance.

It's just a throwaway comic movie reference, and I laughed. I wouldn't have if I had seen the trailer that shows us the cameo.

Thanks, Universal Pictures marketing department.

In Joss Whedon's "Cabin in the Woods," an American bald eagle flies majestically over a picturesque mountain landscape. It suddenly hits an invisible force field and becomes instant bird toast. And I went, "What the H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks is that?"

I wouldn't have, had I seen the trailer, that shows this surprise.

See, the art of constructing the perfect trailer involves revealing enough about a movie so that our interest is piqued, but without sacrificing the movie experience.

Not like the trailer for "Million Dollar Arm" that shows us the entire movie in condensed form: the setup, the conflict, the joyous climax, the warm, glowing aftermath.

I loved the trailer for 1979's "Alien." Using Jerry Goldsmith's nerve-tingling score, moody atmospheric shots and a quick-edited montage, the trailer lets us know the story will be scary and science-fictiony, but does it without spoiling a single surprise.

(The first "Alien" trailer showed nothing but blackness and the title letters accompanied by the phrase, "In space, no one can hear you scream." Perfection.)

Today, the trailers would probably include the movie's shocking, infamous "chest burst" sequence.

Studio marketing teams don't particularly care about preserving a pristine moviegoing experience for you and me. They care about one thing on opening weekend: getting as many butts in theater seats as allowable by law.

Today, trailers would probably show us the title character in "E.T. -- The Extra-Terrestrial." Steven Spielberg refused to do it in 1982.

Variety reported last week how online movie trailers have become big business.

"A movie trailer has become almost as much of an event as the actual movie itself, because all the studios make a huge deal out of premiering their trailers, which can get millions of views in a few days," Dave Karger, chief correspondent at Fandango, reported.

The industry got into a squabble last January when the National Alliance of Theater Owners (NATO) proposed new rules limiting movie trailers to two minutes.

Hollywood's studios didn't like this one bit. Neither did Cinemark, the nation's third-largest exhibition chain. The new rules have stalled.

Meanwhile, the Movieclips network, with more than 7 million subscribers, averages 200 million trailer views per month, prompting Karger to point out the obvious: "It's a huge audience out there."

Minus one film critic -- at least until he's seen the movie.

Film critics notebook:

• Here's a rare chance to see a brand-spanking-new 35 mm. print of Stanley Kubrick's classic 1964 black comedy "Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" on the big screen.

Originally envisioning "Strangelove" as a serious Cold War drama, Kubrick decided the material merited a comic approach, and brought in writer Terry Southern to bump up the dark laughs. Hence, Peter Sellers' classic line, "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here. This is the War Room!" musicboxtheatre.com

"Dr. Strangelove" opens at the Music Box Theatre, Chicago. Rated PG. 95 minutes. . . . .

• The After Hours Film Society presents David Gordon Green's "Joe," starring Nicolas Cage as an ex-con with a shot at redemption through his relationship with a needy kid (Tye Sheridan). It's at 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 9. Tickets cost $9 at the Tivoli Theatre, 5021 Highland Ave., Downers Grove. afterhoursfilmsociety.com.

• You can tell it's summer. The Classic Cinemas' annual Wednesday Morning Movie Series returns June 11 and goes through Aug. 6.

The series kicks off with "Despicable Me 2." Movies start at 10 a.m. at Classic Cinemas. (See the list at classiccinemas.com.) Expect games and costumed characters. $1 admission.

• The fourth annual Eye on India Festival continues through June 29 with Indian films celebrated along with art, literature, theater, music and dance. Go to eyeonindia.com.

• Dann Gire's Reel Life column runs Fridays in Time out! Follow Dann on Twitter at @DannGireDHFilm.

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