Sunday, February 24, 2008

Chris Millward on Do Previews Detract or Enhance (Comment Pull Quote)

Chris Millward wrote in the Lost season 4 episode four discussion:

What are others thoughts on watching previews vs. not?

There have been many cases where the preview goes so far beyond what was necessary to make me interested in a movie/show that I regret having watched it. I still watch previews/trailers for movies (though trepidly), but for serials such as Lost, House, Heroes, etc. I already know I'm going to watch the show. I'd rather not be thinking while watching the show, well I know that Jack is going to be standing there doing ____, and I know that at some point he will be ____, and the show only has 10 minutes left, how are they going to make that happen. There are times when exploiting foreknowledge can end up bettering the experience, but that seems rare with marketing-driven previews. For the most part, I'd rather take in the narrative in a single serving.

An example of being in love with a premise and then having too much revealed in the trailer: Children of Men. The setup, a future with no children, was amazing. For me personally, I wish they hadn't revealed in the trailer that there was a single pregnant woman. There was plenty of opportunity to build tension in the trailer (his relationship with the rebel leader, Orwellian government, a mission of great importance) without the reveal.

Anyway, its a two way street, because I definitely see the benefit to trailers. I just wish there was some way to spark interest without giving away the farm (or a significant piece of the farm).

Open question: Any instances come to mind where previews either enhanced/detracted from the viewing experience?

[I can certainly think of times when previews have done both. For the most part I do not care what happens in the story I want to see how it is told, so I do not care about spoilers. Often I need a spoiler to get me interested -- I did not start watching LOST for example until I heard about that hatch. But now with LOST I would never want anything spoiled by someone who had seen farther ahead than me -- I would not want someone to tell me about a twist. But also, with LOST, I want to be invested in it on a week to week basis. I think guessing at things is part of the experience, as is being ramped up by previews of next week's episode. On the other hand the previews really bothered me when I saw season 3 episode 6 because they called it the "fall finale" and really, it was just an episode, and I felt let down. So I am in a total muddle about this, and, like Chris would like to hear what people think.]


Mary Hamric said...

I agree with you. For example, I want to see Vantage Point because the trailer is so utterly compelling. Sometimes the trailer is so fast, punchy and strong and the movie is not. We'll see. I haven't seen it yet but I want to.

Kenney said...

I watch this silly yet incredibly entertaining show called Primeval, and their previews almost always give away too much. However, it doesn't really detract from my pleasure of the show since I don't take it too seriously. I just want to see people running away from dinosaurs each week.

Doctor Who I've found does a pretty great job with it's previews for upcoming episodes.

Madd_Hadder said...

When it comes to television shows I don't typically need to see previews because the shows I watch I watch every week and seeing a bad preview for one week will not turn me off of a show.

When it comes to movies, I like to see previews for movies about which I am already excited (Ironman, Indiana Jones, Dark Knight, Pineapple Express) because it just revs me up more, but they also risk giving away too much. For example, using Vantage Point, I would have rather not known ahead of time that the President wasn't really shot. Or Snake Eyes gave away the villain in the trailer but the movie tried to hide it until the end.

Matthew J. Brady said...

I think it's a little different with TV shows than movies, but who knows. I know some shows do it really well, like HBO shows (The Sopranos, The Wire). Others aren't as good. I used to love Gilmore Girls, and my wife and I would always complain because the previews would make each show look like it was going to be a shrill, soap-operatic drama like everything else on the WB, but then the scenes played much differently in the actual episodes than they did in the preview commercials. Another interesting case is Battlestar Galactica, which has decent enough previews, but then they do this thing during the opening credits of each episode where they show a really fast-cut montage of scenes from that episode that I guess is supposed to get you all excited about it. But you're already watching the show, so it seems kind of pointless. I don't really mind it, but I have heard some complaints, and I do notice myself watching for those clips in a way that Geoff mentioned.

Movie previews are a different beast; depending on the movie, I might want to watch a bunch of trailers, but sometimes they do give away too much. In fact, there are some that give away so much, there might be no point in watching the movie. I know you want to lure people into the theater, but putting the most exciting or funny bit in the trailer will leave people feeling robbed. They expected that to be just a hint of the action/comedy, not the best part. And whatever you do, don't put the final moment of the movie in the trailer. That bugs me to no end (offenders include Meet the Parents and One Night at McCool's).

Really, there's an art to a good trailer, but usually the editors take the easy route and just throw together a few scenes. I still like to watch them though, because sometimes there are some that are just sublime. The one I always think of is the trailer (teaser?) to Magnolia, which consisted almost entirely of the characters introducing themselves to the camera. Pixar also does some nice ones, usually containing a scene that introduces the concept but isn't actually in the movie. I think my favorites of those are Monsters, Inc. and The Incredibles.

Anyway, yeah, trailers/previews. They can be good or bad. I'll shut up now.

Jason Powell said...

Previews for TV shows completely suck. They are a mega-pet-peeve of mine.

1.) They do indeed often spoil stuff that would be way cooler to experience fresh.
2.) They are often deceptive, particularly for serial shows. Maybe the next episode is going to spend five minutes discussing some long-running subplot, and the preview will include a significant portion of that five minutes, making you think that the next episode will actually be progressing that subplot quite a bit, but actually no.
3.) Or they will take the ending of particular serial episode and show it early in the preview, suggesting that what will be the cliffhanger is going to be the episode's inciting incident.
4.) They'll do an annoying thing like show a scene that cuts off very abruptly, i.e., someone swinging a baseball bat at someone else's head -- ooohhh, exciting, and then of course there's a CUT right before the bat would connect. The promise is implicit -- tune in next week and you will see the bat connect. Then you watch the episode and that violent edit is actually in the episode ... the bat connecting with the head was never meant to be shown, it was always going to be cut away from. This is one I particularly hate.
5.) Dovetailing with the above, although it's more common in movies: Taking a montage that is in the movie or show, and using it as the preview montage. Again, the implicit promise is that what you're seeing as a montage in the preview will be fully fleshed-out scenes in the actual film or show. Then you watch the film and just see the same exact montage. Pisses me right the f*ck off.

Another thing I hate is "previously" montages before TV shows that include scenes from well before the most recent episode. These are spoilers in and of themselves, because with serial shows, these "previously" blurbs completely telegraph what threads are going to be picked up on in the episode you're about to watch. Maybe it's more helpful for when the shows air weekly, but I was always profoundly irritated that "previously on" and "next time on" montages would be put on the DVDs of TV shows as well. I guess for completeness' sake you put that stuff on, but I would love if the DVDs came with a "disable" function for previously/preview stuff. When you watch four or five episodes in a row as many people do, those things are so disruptive.

Matthew J. Brady said...

Good points, Jason, although I don't think the previews bug me as much as they do you. Speaking of DVDs, the Sopranos sets (and maybe other HBO series) are nice, since they separate out the "previously" and "next time" montages into separate menu options from the episodes, so you don't have to watch them if you don't want to. That's thoughtful of them.

Geoff Klock said...

Jason -- that is a seriously good point about the spoiler-aspect of the "previously on." Suddenly they spotlight a character in the "previously on" that you have not seen in years, and then they expect it to be a surprise when that character pops up at the end of the episode to, I don't know, get revenge or something.

When I think of it like that, though, spoilers just become this inescapable thing, and I think to myself, "do I really want to be this incredible fastidious person, avoiding all previews and so on?" On some level I guess, a lot of the time, I just have to be satisfied with imagining what it would be like to be this person that sees the thing cold, as I have occasionally seen things.

Matt -- yeah. HBO does that with The Wire as well. Although, possibly because the show is so complicated, they also include, on the page where you press play, a paragraph that is a near summary of what happens in the episode you are about to watch. This always makes me think of Paradise Lost, where Milton gives a prose summary of the section you are about to read before you read it. It really emphasizes that you are supposed to be paying attention to how he is doing it, rather than what the content is, though of course Genesis was a text he could have expected everyone to know. It just strikes me as really interesting that in earlier centuries surprising plot twists were just not the reason you went to see the show -- everyone watching Oedipus KNOWS what is going to happen before it happens. Is the "too much information" movie trailer not simply a stupid mistake, but some kind of update of this situation?

Also -- I think a lot of the time with movie trailers the case is simply that the guy putting the trailer together is far more talented than the director in a lot of cases.

I would love to see a weekly half-hour TV show that consisted of nothing but fake Borgesian trailers for movies that do not, and will not, exist.

This is a great topic. I am already tempted to put it in the best comments thing in the right toolbar, and we are only a few posts in.

neilshyminsky said...

Jason - Re: "Previously on" - YES! God, I hate it when the recaps reference a four-year old show, spoiling the reveal 20 minutes in of, say, someone we had long thought dead.

The best previews, to my mind, were also the least technically accomplished. In the early seasons of Star Trek: TNG, back when the cold-start teasers that preceded the opening credits were still kinda novel and rarely reached a minute in length, TNG's preview for the next episode would consistently only of the next episode's cold-start. And given that these usually contained some kind of surprise or moment of tension, they always worked.

Geoff Klock said...

I feel like LOST did this once, where they featured a character on the "previously on" and then gave you a cold open flashback where you were not supposed to know who it was at first -- but of course you know it is whoever was featured in that "previously on."

Matthew J. Brady said...

Geoff, that's a really interesting thought about the inescapability of spoilers. It might be why I don't usually sweat them, unless they give away big twists or something. Take your recent experience with Cloverfield, when a commenter got so upset that you mentioned that the monster spawned little monsters (at least, I think that was just about the only plot point you gave away), and thus apparently completely destroyed his viewing experience. But was that really such an integral surprise that defined the movie? I would say no.

Hey, this reminds me of another discussion that took place on the blog, in which you purported that if the summary of a comic (the one in question was 52) is as entertaining as the actual comic, there's no point in reading the comic (I might be mischaracterizing the discussion, but that's what I remember taking from it). Similarly, if spoiling the plot points of a movie/TV show/comic ruins the experience, it probably wasn't worth experiencing anyway.

I think it comes down to how well the creators use the medium. Since I talk mostly about comics, I'll use them as an example: sometimes people complain if an issue is just talking heads, consisting only of a couple people having a conversation. I would say that if you can get the same experience by reading a dialogue transcript as by reading the comics story, the creators have failed. That type of scene can be made more exciting depending on how the artist draws the characters, using different facial expressions and viewing angles to vary the mood (or changing the size of the panels, or inserting dialogue-free panels, or any number of other techniques). In film/TV, this sort of scene can be made interesting depending on how the actors perform the dialogue and how the director shoots it. But if they bring nothing that isn't already on the page, there's not much point. That's kind of a simplified way of looking at it, but I think it fits; if you're going to use a certain medium to tell a story, use the strengths of the medium.

Sorry, I got off on a bit of a tangent there, but this discussion has apparently struck a nerve. Back on the subject of previews, I mentioned that I usually watch them and rarely find that they ruin a viewing experience for me. But if there's a movie I want to see, I usually avoid reading reviews beforehand. I prefer to come into the film without any expectations, although I'm looking for more than just plot. I like to experience the whole thing, from the tone suggested by the cinematography, to the level of intensity of the acting, to the camera moves, music, and editing. In a good movie, that sort of thing can't be summed up in a trailer, and if it can, it's probably not that great a movie anyway (which could lead me on a whole different tangent, similar to the recent discussion of Shoot Em Up).

So that's my philosophy, or whatever. Sorry to ramble, everybody. You can wake up now.