How to Judge a Movie From the Trailer

04 Feb, 2013

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Given that nothing of any real consequence ever comes out in July save for the trailers of movies that are released later in the year, it seems like now would be the appropriate time to give advice on how to spot the signals in a trailer that a movie might actually be worth the ten dollar price of admission. If an editor has done his job right then a trailer should be a highlight reel of all the best parts in a movie without revealing too much and spoiling the show. But the glimpses can be brief and few and far between when you’re also being told that it’s nominated for every award ever and critics are enamored with the acting and the set design. So in order to simplify things, here are some of the key elements of a trailer you should look into when deciding on whether or not to see it.

1.  Average Length of the Segments

One of the more clever ways of hiding a movie that is completely awful garbage is to flash one frame of every single scene in the trailer so that you think interesting things are occurring. If all you see in a trailer are people holding a weapon and looking off into the distance and then one brief moment of PG action that can be shown on television then the movie is likely trying to hide every single one of them. And if the producers don’t want you to see something, that must mean there is something wrong with the product and you should always try to avoid it.

2. Is there a clear story to the trailer?

A trailer, if done properly, should be almost a summary of the first act of the movie. It should present the protagonist, antagonist, and the plot very clearly, or at least as clearly as it can without spoiling anything significant. If it’s a diamond heist, show the thieves, the people who own the jewelry store, and a brief glimpse of the robbery going down or going bad. Simple and intriguing. If you can’t get a clear idea of what’s going on in the thirty seconds they are trying to tell you what’s going on, odds are they don’t know either. Avoid.

Fast and Furious 6

3. Who is in it?

This shouldn’t really matter. Some people can’t act, but the line where a movie shouldn’t be watched because of the people in it is getting blurrier because of the fantastic mistakes and fantastic successes people have made. Look at all the great actors and comedians in Movie 43, which critics have cited as a theatrical bowel movement. Ben Affleck has made some pretty trashy movies, but now he has almost impossibly reversed his appeal and has become a successful director. Actors are an important part of a movie, but even more important is the material. See #2 if you want to know how to spot good material.

Movie 43 cast

4. When in the year is this coming out?

This was briefly touched upon in the introduction. Nothing of consequence ever really comes out in the early months of the year. Once late April, early May hits then the big budget summer blockbusters start coming out. Then between late fall and winter, all the movies producers expect will win baskets of awards come out. What that means is, if you look at your calendar, you are likely going to be more prepared for what’s in theaters than glancing at the listings in your newspaper.

5. Does it look good?

While this may seem to negate some of the previously mentioned rules, what all this really comes down to is personal opinion, and if you like a certain genre despite its criticisms, then you like a certain genre. Movies are a visual medium so when something looks nice enough to you that means the movie is doing its job and you will be entertained. It might not always be so simple, after all Pacific Rim looks incredible, but not incredibly deep. That’s because the trailer followed the rules above. You have a clear sense of what’s going on in every scene you’re shown, the plot is clear, and the people acting in it no longer matter when you see the robot cock its arm back to punch the giant monster. Take that against the trailer for something like Fast and Furious 6. The camera cuts almost every second from people looking off in the distance, the antagonists and the plot aren’t clear, and the advertising seems to be more focused on the people in it than the substance. It’s an action movie sure, but one minute of cars crashing isn’t enough to convince me to sit through the other 89 minutes of nothing happening. Context is everything.

Pacific Rim robot punch

By Marc Price

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About the author

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Marc Price

Marc Price is currently attending Rutgers University and is probably far more into movies and TV than what one might consider healthy. Hoping to one day be a screenwriter, he constantly makes excuses for sitting around daydreaming hoping to one day stumble upon the idea that will land his name on the silver screen. When he’s not writing movies, he is writing about movies, talking to friends about movies, or in the process of watching a movie. Fueled by high hopes and whatever is left in the fridge, he knows he’ll someday achieve his goals. It’s only a matter of time.

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