Is it OK That Film Trailers Deliberately Mislead Us?

By James Bagshawe on at

I’ll begin with a confession that will shake you to your very foundations: I didn’t think much of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. There, I said it. It’s not that I didn’t want to like it. I’m a fan of the franchise and I’m a fan of Jeff Goldblum’s character, Dr Ian Malcolm, in particular. So when I watched the trailer and I heard him utter the iconic line “Life… finds a way”, I knew I’d watch the film.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when that iconic payoff line was nowhere to be found. We did see Dr Ian Malcom – briefly – and his speech closed the film. But that epic closing line? Nada. This is one aspect of modern movie-making that I can’t get on board with: the evolving (but not new) trend for filling the trailer with a bunch of shots that never make it into the actual film.

In truth, misleading trailers enrage me. Why is it that film studios get a free pass with this stuff? A trailer is an advert; it’s designed to make you pay money to consume a piece of content. If you see an advert for a beer you’re entitled to think you’re going to get beer when you consume that product, right? If you then break into a can of fizzy piss, you’ve every right to be upset.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom isn't the only offender. Far from it. Current studio darling, Marvel, is leading the way. Take the little-known independent production: Avengers: Infinity War. Towards the end of the trailer you see the whole Marvel universe running into battle with my (and everyone else’s) favourite character, the Hulk, in full stride. Anyone who has seen the film will know that this particular scene never happens. Changes like this make me angry… and you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

According to the Russo Brothers who direct the two Avengers films, this deception is just another tool at their disposal to ensure that the actual film is a surprise. They said as much an in interview with Empire Magazine:

“When I was a kid and saw The Empire Strikes Back at 11am on the day it opened…It so profoundly moved me because I didn’t know a damn thing about the story I was going to watch. We’re trying to replicate that experience.”

Yeah, sorry chaps, but that’s bullshit.

The original trailer for The Empire Strikes Back (as far as I’m aware) does a surprisingly good job for a trailer cut in 1979 at whetting your appetite for the film, and it does it without needing to use shots that never made it into the final print. It also has some pretty snappy special effects going on to reintroduce the cast. Cutting edge stuff.

The Russo brothers have previously spoken about how they made that shot specifically for the trailer and how they had to do it because “We [the viewers] consume too much content”. Yes, of course. It’s our fault that you misrepresented the content you were advertising.

By that quote, I imagine they mean that every major trailer is dissected the instant it’s released and that it has become harder than ever to guard the element of surprise. I have some sympathy for them as regards that point, but I still feel that you can preserve the element of surprise without misleading your audience. It’s been done successfully since trailers first walked the Earth: the established method of clever editing.

What’s more, there are plenty of trailers that don’t seem overly concerned about preserving the element of surprise. Perhaps the most famously spoiler-ific trailer of them all was for Terminator: Genisys. This was the second trailer released for the film and it just… told you everything.

There was no mystery after this trailer was released; no element of surprise. Paramount clearly thought the franchise name would be enough to make it successful and, sadly, they were right. Terminator: Genisys, with a budget of $158 million, made over $440m worldwide. That’s not enough to call it a true success, but it was enough to warrant speculation that it might get a sequel.

And fear not, franchise fans! The series will be ‘rebooted’ now James Cameron has taken back control and stuck Tim Miller in the director's chair. Don’t get me started on reboots. In fact, do. That’s another bête noire that needs attention.

This proud tradition of trailers telling you more than you need to know is not new. If you – heh – cast your mind back almost 20 years to Cast Away (yes, that’s right, Wilson’s antics are almost 20 years old now) you might remember a trailer that showed you the whole story in microcosm. If not, rewatch it quickly. We’ll wait.

I’m glad I never saw that trailer ahead of watching the film because I thoroughly enjoyed Cast Away. The experience was undoubtedly improved by not having my suspense diminished due to knowing what lay ahead. Just a heads-up to those of you who feel the same way: don’t watch the second Dark Phoenix trailer.

I’m not sure what’s worse: being lied to by your trailers or having them spoil the film for you. I’m still going to hang my hat on the third option: just cut a good trailer with shots from the movie, but this is not the done thing, apparently. Now I’ll admit – grudgingly – that misleading or overly-revealing trailers are not a giant issue in the grand scheme of things. The world won’t stop spinning because life, uh… didn’t find a way. But I do think that some form of trading standards should be enforced at this point.

As things stand, film trailers are getting into the perennially seedy world of video games as far as misrepresentation is concerned. I am half-expecting to see another Endgame trailer pop up with the strap line ‘Target Footage’ in the bottom corner. It is not too much to ask that a trailer tells us the truth, not the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Hey, that’s a pretty catchy line…