Kurland On Film Editorial: When Did Teaser Trailers Become Movie Trailers?

By Scott Kurland

Is it bad that I remember a time when the best part about going to the movies were the previews? Is it even worse that these days I dread the coming attractions because they now give the entire movie away? Once upon a time there was wonderful era of film trailers ...uh let’s call it the Spielbergian period. These were teaser trailers for films either directed by Steven Spielberg or produced by Spielberg. Sometimes, it was just his studio label “Amblin Entertainment” attached to the film. Whatever the case may be, this was a magical time for cinema.

The entire goal for a movie trailer was to give the audience a taste of the film that was coming out. It seems these days studios rather just give everything away and call it a “Teaser Trailer”. In my opinion you have to earn that right, just like Zemeckis, Dante, Spielberg, and Sonnenfeld did. Spielberg was the king of the teaser trailer, I mean you got giddy just watching a map of Neverland with the names Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams on it. Then the next thing you know it’s on fire and a giant hook appears with the logo “HOOK,” and coming soon to a theater near as an ending tag. 

Spielberg did this for  his films for almost two decades, and the  most memorable was the teaser for “Jurassic Park”. This was a trailer where miners were digging in a cave and they find a chunk of something unknown. The next thing you know we’re in a lab and a voice over narration is explaining evolution in front of a microscope. What does it reveal? Dinosaurs.....via a mosquito sustain in amber.... Then “Jurassic Park” appears. Now that’s a trailer!!! I don’t know what the movie was about, nor did I care. Spielberg took something boring like microscopes and made it cool.

Why does this matter so much? Because this is proof that Hollywood was once creative. Not just creative, they were chock full of creative marketing ideas. Keep in mind this was a more patient time for movies. I guarantee if you tried to make a teaser for “Avengers” that way people would revolt. Actually, when I think about it, DC films tried it with both “Dark Knight” and “Man Of Steele”, and people (trolls) took to the internet to complain. Honestly, what is wrong with a little mystery? Today’s trailers give away too much too soon.

As cool as the “Ant-Man” trailer was, I know the entire plot of the film. Same goes double for the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson film "San Andreas". Both of these films give out not just the major plot points, but what the entire film is leading up to. “Ant-Man”, a former convict trying to make good by his young daughter, must take out an evil corporation. “San Andreas”, a pilot and his ex-wife must fly through an earthquake to save their daughter. That’s not just huge plot points that’s the entire movie. I’ll be reviewing these films, but honestly you could easily just skip them both based on the trailer details.

I miss the days of Joe Dante films like “Explorers”. That entire film is about twelve year olds Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix building a rocket ship to go into space. However, the teaser entices you because of how ominous it is. The entire trailer is Jason Presson, Hawke, and Phoenix building something. You have no idea what it is, you never see the kids, all you see is the outside of the garage. Then they activate whatever they’re working on and we see “Explorers” from the director of “Gremlins”. “Explorers” is not a great film, but it’s such a fun movie and the teaser helps you appreciate it even more. There’s no special effects and no amazing visuals on this trailer, but what it does do is open your imagination.

We aren’t creative anymore as filmmakers, we want to make films fast and easy. We want to release films just as quickly on DVD/ Blu-ray as fast as we released them into theaters. I remember a time when it took almost a year for a movie to come out on video. “Jurassic Park” was released June 10th, 1993 into theaters and not available on VHS until October 4th, 1994. That’s a year and a half turn around for a video, and come to think of it the teaser was released in 1992. So for two years Universal let “Jurassic Park” take over our world. We don’t do that anymore, Hollywood took all the excitement out of movie release dates as well.

I will say there is one director who has brought back the Spielberg teaser style, and that man is J.J. Abrams. Not just his teaser for “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens”, but “Super 8”, “Star Trek”, and “Cloverfield” (he was the film’s producer) all have great teaser trailers. This may sound foolish, but a truly great teaser trailer is a lost art form. To have the ability to communicate an entire film in under two minutes, and actually make people want to see it is a talent all by itself.

Every now and then Pixar manages to release a clever teaser for a film, but those  days are so few and far between. We lost that simple age where all Robert Zemeckis  had to do is show a Delorean and a voice over to get people into a movie theater. No more teasers for a terrible film that looks entertaining like “UHF”, all of that is gone. 

When they released the teaser trailer for “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, it clocked in at two minutes and 16 seconds. That’s the length of a regular movie trailer, and like a regular movie trailer it gave away the plot. That’s right the biggest film of the summer gave away the entire movie with their “teaser trailer”.

We’ll never get back that nostalgia of the 1980s and 90s, those video store days are gone. However, YouTube allows us to revisit those trailers over and over again. This is sad for two reasons, 1.) it proves the teaser trailer is dead. 2.) it also signifies that YouTube has become this generation’s version of Blockbuster video....how depressing. Although, I will say it is better to live in a world with movie trailers then a world without them.
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