Cinema and TV needs to reclaim its ability to surprise

The Christmas episode of Doctor Who has been much trailed and gives away information that many viewe

The Christmas episode of Doctor Who has been much trailed and gives away information that many viewers simply do not want. Picture Shows: The Captain (MARK GATISS), Doctor Who (PETER CAPALDI), The First Doctor (DAVID BRADLEY) - Photo: Ray Burmiston/BBC Worldwide - Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide

During the last 20 years cinema and TV trailers have become spoilers. Arts editor Andrew Clarke believes that the time has come to reclaim our right to be surprised and delighted by new films and our favourite TV shows

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator Genisys (12A)

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator Genisys (12A) - Credit: Archant

If you heard a loud bang earlier this week that rattled your windows, it wasn’t a terrifying clap of thunder or a mischievous youth setting off a firework in your front garden, it was just me venting my frustration, howling at the sky, because the BBC have released a trailer revealing things I don’t want revealed about this year’s Doctor Who Christmas Special.

Teaser trailers and I have had a long and distrustful relationship. First in the cinema and during the last 20 years on television they have become objects of fear and loathing. I have got to the situation now where, when a programme I am watching finishes, I quickly switch off the TV, even if I am going to watch the following programme. Why? Because even if the episode finishes on a cliff-hanger the 90 seconds of footage teasing next week’s episode will undoubtedly give the game away and the character in danger will be seen running around, hale and hearty, performing feats of derring do. In the 21st century teaser trailers have become spoilers, both on TV and at the cinema.

Trailers are nothing new, they date back to the dawn of cinema and television, but the way they are used has changed. They used to tease and entice us to watch a forthcoming film or programme but they did so by intriguing us giving us a flavour of the characters or the setting – or perhaps the genre – but what they didn’t do, as the majority of trailers do now is package the entire movie or next episode into a fast-moving 90 second montage.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have watched a film to realise that I have all ready seen it because the trailer had cut together all the major sequences, all the high points of the movie, and left the audience nothing new to discover.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming - Credit: Archant


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To me trailers are nothing but officially-sanctioned spoilers designed to ruin filmed entertainment. The quest for ratings and ticket sales is now so important that nothing can be left to chance. Trailers now reveal everything because it has become accepted marketing lore that audiences don’t like to be surprised. They like to know what they are getting. They don’t mind knowing in advance that the lead character dies, they will turn in or buy a ticket to find out how or why he dies. But, I do mind.

I do mind knowing in advance that Doctor Who will regenerate at Christmas. I like being surprised and wrong-footed by good story-telling.

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I think the movies of Alfred Hitchcock would have been far less effective if they had had their secrets revealed by an overly enthusiastic marketing campaign. Can you imagine what they would have done with Psycho or Rear Window?

It would have probably resembled the trailer for the Harrison Ford-Michelle Pfeiffer thriller What Lies Beneath which very cleverly revealed the shock-ending to audiences before the film was even on release.

Chris Pratt in Jurassic World. Photo: PA Photo/Universal.

Chris Pratt in Jurassic World. Photo: PA Photo/Universal. - Credit: PA

Thankfully some of today’s director’s have decided that enough is enough – that the creators of the movie need to wrestle back control from the mad men in marketing.

Indie-director David Lynch told Rolling Stone magazine in a recent interview: “These days movie trailers practically tell the whole story. I think it’s really harmful. Personally I don’t want to know anything when I go into a movie theatre. I want to get into that world... so I can have an experience.”

He said that he had to fight hard to give away as little as possible about the new series of Twin Peaks and refused to allow any new footage to be used in the trailers.

Other directors are also starting to voice their concern at their lack of control over the promotion of their own films. Alan Taylor was upset at the misleading way that Terminator Genisys was sold to moviegoers, making it look like a reboot and also including many of the film’s surprises. “I certainly directed those scenes with the intention that no-one would know,” he told interviewers.

Director Colin Trevorrow had similar problems with the marketing of Jurassic World. “They have shown far more of this movie than I would ever have wanted,” he complained.

Perhaps the time has come for film fans to add their voice to that of the film-makers. That we want trailers to be discreet promotional reels rather than full-blown spoilers. The time has come for the trailer to once again tease and entice. We don’t need or want them to be movies in microcosm. Let’s reclaim our right to be surprised and entertained.

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