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By Matt Rodriguez

A Year Without Trailers: A Film Watching Experience

Warning: Mild spoilers below for Terminator: Genisys, Suicide Squad, and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. If you've seen the trailers, however, you're okay.


The last new trailer I remembering watching was the debut teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2014. It would be my last because on January 1, 2015 I set out to avoid all new film trailers for an entire year.


Trailers have gotten to the point where they’re no longer teasers for a film but more like abridged synopses, and I wanted to see what it was like to experience a film completely free of bias and expectations. Of course simply not watching any trailers wouldn’t free me of any prejudices, as I would soon find out, and I would come to realize that it’s nearly impossible to go into a film blind. And so began my year without trailers.


I honestly thought that this would be fairly easy and just a matter of not clicking a YouTube link to watch the latest trailer for the next big blockbuster. I’m fortunate enough that the majority of the films I see are at screenings, which generally skip trailers altogether and go straight into the movie, unless you’re Warner Bros. and like to play two trailers beforehand. No matter. I can just close my eyes and cover my ears. I also don’t have cable, so trailers that play during commercials shouldn’t be a problem either. It all seemed pretty straightforward.


Boy was I wrong…


Trailers are nothing more than glorified advertisements trying to get you to see a movie, and advertisements are everywhere. The internet had now become a dastardly minefield where a trailer could be lurking behind any webpage. I never thought to take into account automatically playing videos on social media or the five second ads before videos on YouTube. You don’t realize how much involved they are in your everyday routine until you’re actively trying to avoid them.


The first half of the year didn’t feel too different, as films tend to have a six month marketing period so I had already seen the trailers for most of the films coming out during that time. Early on I did discover that comedies and horror films are the best ones to watch without seeing any trailers. It’s great not knowing any of the jokes or scares going into a film and to just be surprised as they happen on screen.


For instance, I had no idea that John Cena was in Trainwreck until he showed up, and he had some of the best lines in the film, some of which you can hear in the trailer. A fellow critic also told me that one of his favorite jokes from the film was in the trailer. Getting to experience the humor fresh and actually in context of the film definitely gave me a better appreciation than just hearing a montage of jokes compressed together for a 2-minute trailer. It's the same for horror movies, only replace the humor with fright.


The same cannot be said for action blockbusters. The bigger and more mainstream a film is, the more pointless it is to avoid watching trailers. This is especially true for any film involving Marvel or DC. Superhero films are dissected to death when any information is released. Trailers are broken down, frame by frame, to extract even the tiniest of clues. The only way to avoid information for those genre of films is to avoid the internet altogether.


I knew that John Connor was a Terminator in Terminator: Genisys without watching that spoiler-filled trailer, mostly because it’s all everyone talked about for a few days. A lot can be said in 140 characters on Twitter, and posting images from trailers doesn’t help either. It’s also how I know how Jared Leto looks as the Joker in Suicide Squad or that Doomsday will be in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Unless you skip social media entirely, elements of a film are going to be spoiled.


There were plenty of cases where I went into a film knowing close to absolutely nothing, however. This was mainly with smaller less mainstream films. One of the benefits of not watching trailer I found was that it forced me to pay more attention to the people involved in the film rather than what’s on screen. Brief descriptions are a good place to start when you want to learn more about a film, but I began to care more about the directors, actors, writers, producers, etc. when deciding what films to watch. I was drawn to Sicario because it was being directed by Denis Villeneuve with Roger Deakins as its cinematographer, not because of how the trailers presented it. Although based on those two names alone I had a pretty good understanding of what it would be like.


The buzz around a new trailer tends to die down rather quickly, often in a day or two. Like a bad craving, there were times where I had an urge to watch a trailer when it debuted, but that would quickly recede after an hour or two and by the next day I wasn’t even giving it a second thought. It’s why we’re always so inundated with them. We see one and then quickly move onto the next, barely giving it a second thought. It’s why we now have 5-second teases for 1-minute teasers of 3-minute official trailers that are recut into 30-second TV spots. It’s the least amount of footage in the most number of combinations.


It was relieving to skip over all of that for an entire year. Some days were more of a chore than others to avoid trailers, but overall I’m pleased at how it went. Now that it’s a new year I have no intention of going back and watching already released trailers for upcoming films that I missed, like Captain America: Civil War for instance. That defeats its purpose.


I’m in the business of writing about films so I’m going to be surrounded by trailers all the time. By not viewing them it did make it more difficult to write about them, but it made my movie going experience a better and more fulfilling one. While it was a good experiment to try out, I don’t think I’ll be actively avoiding trailers this year. I may skip a few for some of the bigger blockbusters I know I’m already going to see or want to experience without seeing any material beforehand, but that’ll probably be the extend of it.


I spent New Year's Eve watching Pitbull’s New Year’s Revolution on FOX at a friend’s house. At 12:00 we rang in the new year with raised glasses. By 12:15 I had already seen two trailers, one for Dirty Grandpa and one for The Finest Hours, like nothing ever changed. Here’s to 2016.