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Pop Culture

Cover your eyes and ears - movie trailers are giving too much away

Film trailers divulge key scenes and leave moviegoers with no surprises

The Martian's suspenseful premise of an astronaut stranded and left for dead on the so-called uninhabitable Red Planet is undone by its trailer, which reveals that the spaceman succeeds in growing crops and establishing communication with his comrades on Earth.

Although it felt like I had already seen every major plot twist from the trailer, I ended up catching the movie anyway because of strong word-of-mouth reviews and the casting of charming Matt Damon in the lead role of astronaut Mark Watney.

Thankfully, it contained more thrills than I expected.

But nobody likes spoilers. People go out of their way to avoid spoilers.

Yet, film trailers these days often slap moviegoers in the face with annoyingly huge spoilers, divulging key scenes that should - and could - have been left out.

It is all part of movie marketers' desperate attempts to make their films appear more exciting so as to draw in viewers, amid a competitive media landscape where audiences are inundated with entertainment options.

They are taking the hard sell route, targeted at viewers who are still sitting on the fence about what to watch and need to know that the money they fork out for a movie ticket will be worth it.

These overkill trailers are not made for the risk-taking movie buff, who would gladly step into a cinema to watch whatever is showing.

These are for the more casual moviegoer who needs that extra push to be convinced that if he is going to watch a horror movie, it'd better contain as many scares as possible.

A more subtle and artistic trailer that merely teases where a film is going, on the other hand, would be lost on him.

The trailer for the dystopian movie Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials gave away the fact that it would feature zombie-like monsters called Cranks - mysterious creatures that were meant to come as a shock to the group of central characters and the audience - as the film introduced a new landscape outside of the Maze of the first instalment.

While more hardcore fans may be irritated by this disclosure, the trailer reassures the average viewer that the sequel will be just as action-packed as its predecessor, maze or no maze.

But the spoilers in some trailers can really get out of hand. Earlier, so many pivotal explosions and near-death action sequences appeared in the trailers for action-thriller No Escape and disaster movie San Andreas that there were no surprises left.

It is even worse when trailers for comedy flicks disclose so many jokes that it gives you unrealistically high expectations of a mega laugh fest, only for it to come crashing down as soon as you realise later on that those were, in fact, all the best jokes.

Last year, the National Association Of Theater Owners in the United States released voluntary guidelines calling for studios to keep their trailers to a maximum of two minutes, or 30 seconds shorter than the norm, amid complaints from audiences that the clips were revealing too much.

This past summer, directors of two of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters also grumbled publicly about how the trailers for their own films were giving away too much information.

Director Colin Trevorrow, who helmed Jurassic World, criticised the movie's trailer for including the scene where leading man Chris Pratt is seen riding a motorbike among a pack of velociraptors. Fans were bewildered because the dinosaurs are known to be vicious carnivores, so it hardly makes sense for them to appear to have befriended a human.

Calling the trailer "bananas", Trevorrow said in an interview that the audience's "suspension of disbelief is earned" by the time that scene happens in the movie itself, but when the trailer is simply showing snippets without providing any context, then he can imagine why it would baffle audiences.

Terminator: Genisys director Alan Taylor also openly criticised the film's publicity team, which decided that it would be a good idea to reveal the biggest spoiler of all - that good guy John Connor has turned into a villainous Terminator.

While he understood that the marketing team wanted to make it clear to audiences that this new film would go in a different direction from all the previous Terminator movies, the film-maker said he did not shoot the movie with the intention to reveal that twist from the start.

Film-makers will continue to have this fight on their hands, in addition to the other one of maintaining the final cut of a movie.

Movie marketers will likely not stop heaping us with massive information dumps in their promotional clips because they have only a few minutes to sway viewers to buy a ticket for a movie and they are going to stuff it with as many exciting teasers as possible.

Never mind the audience's overwhelming sense of disappointment over those films whose trailers have too much hype.

After all, the marketing guys are hardly thinking about long-term success. All they want is for their films to make a splash during the opening weekend because good box-office openings typically mean that theatres will show the movies for longer and on more screens.

As long as the trailers wow audiences enough to get them to enter the cinemas, that is all that matters to them.

The only thing I can do to manage my expectations is to avoid watching trailers as much as possible.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2015, with the headline 'Trailer or spoiler?'. Print Edition | Subscribe