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TRAILER PARK : Why Give It Away?

August 21, 1994|Judy Brennan

Want to bank that $7.50 instead of spending it at the theater? In a growing number of cases, it seems, all you have to do is watch a movie's trailer--either the theatrical or the TV version--to be given a film's entire repertoire of sight gags or plot, twists and all, leaving many to wonder what's left to actually see the film for.

Trailers for "The Mask," "When a Man Loves a Woman," "Iron Will," "Forrest Gump," "Clear and Present Danger" and the upcoming "It's Pat" divulge nearly all plot elements or visual gimmicks, leaving those who actually pay to see the films disappointed to realize they've basically already seen them.

It's certainly not a new trend--trailers for "An Officer and a Gentleman," "Free Willy" and "Home Alone" all essentially gave away the endings--but as the number of releases has grown, competition has become much more fierce, and one of the main weapons in the marketing battle is the trailer. And studio marketing executives cheerfully admit that they sometimes pull out all the stops in making trailers.

Chris Pula, the New Line Cinema marketing president who masterminded the trailer for "The Mask," which showcases nearly all of the film's dazzling special effects (and who also masterminded the tell-all trailer for "Home Alone" when he was at Fox), decided to release the revealing trailer for several reasons--mostly to get as many people to the opening weekend as possible.

"When I started putting together this campaign, I was looking at 'The Mask' going up against 'The Flintstones,' 'True Lies,' 'The Lion King,' 'City Slickers II' and 'Beverly Hills Cop 3,' " recalls Pula. "Although (Jim) Carrey had a hit with 'Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,' he still wasn't a proven movie star. We knew this film was facing major competition and that we had to create a strong interest and wanna-see. Certainly in the heat of the summer, with a movie like 'The Mask' you have to pull out all the stops." That meant showing most of the special-effects gags in the film.

"Because a movie has to fight for its brand awareness or broad identity, sometimes you have to help the consumers out," adds Pula. "There's a lot of choices out there and they want to know what they're shelling out that $7.50 for."

And in the case of "The Mask," consumers arguably got their money's worth. The film has already grossed $70 million.

"I would say that 'The Mask' trailer is the best trailer of the year," says 20th Century Fox President Bill Mechanic, "and that's certainly not my movie. But the use of that trailer was a major tool in attracting an audience."

But for film purists, the trend comes at a cost. Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan and Time magazine critic Richard Schickel both say they receive a large volume of mail from moviegoers fed up with the studios' giving away too much of a movie's story, particularly the ending.

Take "Clear and Present Danger," for example. "The trailer has Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford's character) confronting the President, which is the climax of the movie," says Turan. "Now if you see the trailer before the movie, you don't know that that scene is the climax. But you certainly do afterwards. Sometimes the audience can feel cheated. But I think sometimes the studios are counting on people having short memories."

From the mail Turan and Schickel say they are getting, "the studios may be risking alienating their audiences," adds Turan. Schickel agrees.

A critic for 25 years, Schickel says he's "often lured by trailers. I can tell you in the case of 'The Mask,' I liked the trailer better than the movie! But really, if you give away the 10 best images, you may be giving away the premature deconstruction of the film.

"On the other hand, we're all a little bit childish about the movies. If the story's good, we don't mind seeing it and hearing it over and over again."

That's something that Disney is banking on, say its competitors. The studio has the reputation for being the biggest abuser of the tell-all trailers, especially with recent films like "Iron Will" and "When a Man Loves a Woman."

Richard Cook, president of Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, which releases Disney, Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures movies, begs to differ. "Clearly, if you have something that's unique, you want to tease. (But) with kid movies, you have to show them there is a story and identifiable characters. You want to make them excited and lure them into the theaters. You have to get the picture open."

And the objective of trailers, of course, is "to get butts into seats," says Universal Pictures senior vice president for marketing Bruce Feldman. "But there's a fine line between exploiting what you have and going to far. Around here, in all of our discussions, we generally resist giving away too much."

Simply put, he says, the element of surprise--one of the purest treats of going to the movies in the first place--should always win out.

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