Cinema, Simplified

14 Jun

Your guide to movie trailer styles

I love movie trailers because they are efficient. To fulfill their purpose of enticing film viewers, they must promote the best aspects of their source material. This is done by showcasing the highlights—the highest drama, the funniest jokes, the most compelling special effects, the best music—nothing is held back. Brace all these with a mere semblance of plot, and you’ve got the perfect mini-movie, just as entertaining in its brevity as a full-length film.

To promote your enjoyment of this media art form, Maximum Know-How here offers our list of the 12 types of movie trailers:

1. Stable Narrative—This is the standard format. The first half establishes the setting, premise, and characters. The second half is “the collection,” comprising plot points, dialog snippets, and memorable visuals.

Never seen this film, but sure want to. Great trailer.

2. Jagged Narrative—Adapts the Stable Narrative for action, suspense, and horror films by filling  the collection with moments of violence, danger, or swift movement, all cut quickly together. These moments can be taken completely out of context because we’re conveying the visual idiom of the genre, not the plot.

Both trailers for this film are excellent. We learn the players and the premise, and are ready to watch.

3. Give ‘Em What They Want—Used mainly for franchise sequels or adaptations of popular literary works. For the latter, the audience already knows the story and simply wants to see what you’ve done with/to it. For franchise trailers, communicating the plot is less important than letting viewers see familiar characters, themes, or inside jokes.
Lightsabers? Check. Laser blasters? Check. Space battles? Check. Weird aliens? Check. Let’s see it!

4. The Assault—A more intense variation of the Jagged Narrative, trailers in Assault mode pummel the viewer with noise and combat spread across the entire running time. The target audience for these films are more focused on eye-candy than plot or characterization, which means they work best for heavily violent action or horror. Pounding techno music increases the tension.

Just about any Jason Statham film should qualify here.

5. Cavalcade—Focused primarily on presenting a large, all-star cast. A great technique for ensemble comedies and war epics.

Look at all these famous people having fun! Don’t you want to see this?

6. Licensed to Sell—Like the movie they advertise, these make it clear that licensing—of music, cars, toys, whatever—is their sole purpose for existence.

In this sense, these trailers kind of serve as public service warnings.

7. Artsy Enigma—Less about plot than creating an emotional connection to the premise or characters, these can work really well. Divided into three subcategories: Esoteric (if you had already seen the movie, then the trailer would feel like a joyous reunion), Spare (franchise teasers), and Ostentatiously Vague (so full of itself that it doesn’t need general audiences to understand the plot).

Sorry, what’s going on?

8. The Giveaway—These are trailers that intentionally give away the entire plot of the film, whether because they think the film is so good that you’ll like it anyway or because the film is so bad they are pretending there’s even more intrigue in store.

Great film, but I was like, “That’s it? I already knew that would happen!”

9. Dramatic Ironicalness—Maybe you’re in on the joke but the actors aren’t, or perhaps the producers break the fourth wall just for the trailer. These attempts are either brilliant or stupid.

This trailer was far, far more entertaining as a unit than the movie was.

10. The Non-Trailer—Video entertainment that has little to nothing to do with the advertised film.

So funny. I watched this over and over again. Never bothered with the movie, though.

11. Deceiver—There’s a (small) difference between marketing and lying: the former portrays the best version of reality; the latter misleads you, knowing but not caring that you’ll be an unhappy customer. These trailers are bad marketing because they’re selling something to the wrong audience.

This movie apparently has stomach-churning violence and gore. Surprise!

12. Fail—Incoherent, boring, or reveals its movie as the piece of rubbish it is.

I haven’t seen this movie, so I’m totally jumping on the insult bandwagon.

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