Friday, December 23, 2011

Untimely Trailers?

With the Christmas movie rush in full swing, we've been seeing the premieres of trailers and teasers for several highly anticipated 2012 films. On Monday, "The Dark Knight Rises" gave us our first look at Tom Hardy as Bane and Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. On Thursday, the teaser for Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" paid homage to the original "Alien" trailer.

The biggest splash, however, was made by the trailer for "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." The film is a little less than a year away, set to be released on December 15, 2012. However, the filmmakers released no simple teaser, but a full two-and-a-half minute trailer that introduced us to all the major characters. Big effects shots were missing, as "The Hobbit" is still in post-production, but there was lots of footage of Martin Freeman as Bilbo, Ian McKellan as Gandalf, and all the dwarves. Teasers being released so far in advance are no longer rare, but a full trailer that already shows off so much eye-candy is practically unheard of.

I loved the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and I've been happily anticipating "The Hobbit" for a very long time. Being a fan of the original Tolkein book who already knew everything that was supposed to happen, I had no qualms about watching the trailer. I enjoyed it very much, especially hearing the singing and the introductions to the dwarves and the hints of Gollum's appearance. At the same time, I was getting the feeling that I was seeing too much. Sure, there was no sign of Smaug or the three trolls or the Lakemen, but there was Cate Blanchett reprising her role as Galadriel, and some of the voice-over all but confirmed the return of Ian Holm as the elderly Bilbo. It didn't really hurt to know any of this, but I felt like I was ruining some minor surprises for myself all the same – and this is, I remind you, a full year ahead of when "The Hobbit" is actually due to be released. No doubt there's going to be far more information and marketing material in the same vein to come.

Out of curiosity, I went and looked up the first teaser that was released for "The Fellowship of the Ring," which also appeared about a year before the film hit theaters. It was a very simple trailer, heavy on voice-over, without a whole lot of actual footage from the film, and most of that was clearly reworked from the Internet-only preview that had surfaced the previous March. I found it a much more effective piece of marketing than the new "Hobbit" trailer because it gives the viewer so much room for speculation. Ditto the new teasers for "The Dark Knight" and "Prometheus." A couple of brief glimpses of totally out-of-context visuals from "Prometheus" has moved it much higher in my "to see" list for next summer.

Then again, two-and-a-half minutes of "Hobbit" trailer isn't nearly as egregious a marketing tactic as the six-minute preview for "The Dark Knight Rises," which is currently attached to IMAX screenings of "Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol." I haven't seen it and don't plan to, but apparently it's the prologue for the film, a pre-title sequence like the first Joker bank robbery in "The Dark Knight." This is not unprecedented, as James Cameron also offered a similar preview for "Avatar," roughly fifteen minutes of footage that screened in select IMAX theaters four months before it was released. However in that case, fans had to actively seek out the special sneak peeks for the movie. It wasn't thrust upon unsuspecting viewers, like the "Dark Knight Rises" preview has been. And this is one movie I want to know as little as possible about before going in. I even had a friend vet the trailer for me first, to make sure it was safe.

Still, these early promos clearly aren't hurting anything from the studios' point of view. The "Hobbit" trailer did its job, and now a movie that isn't coming out for a whole year is the talk of Hollywood, getting the existing fanbase revved up, and generating plenty of buzz to attract potential newcomers. I expect that at some point these earlier and earlier marketing campaigns are going to hit some point of diminishing returns, but it hasn't happened yet. Especially with these big franchise films, some fans are hungry for any information they can get their hands on, as soon as they can get it. I guess the rest of us will just have to get used to longer marketing cycles and more prolonged campaigns.

I mean, some movies get promoted before there's even anything to show. If you think about it, "Avengers" has all the others I've mentioned beat at the early marketing game, since it has been setting up the upcoming movie as far back as the first "Iron Man" movie in 2008.

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