Are Movies Obsolete?

By Staff
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Today, I am confessing precisely one sin: I seek out and watch movie trailers. Online–at <a title=”Apple’s website” href=”” target=”_blank”>Apple’s website</a>, at <a title=”Empire Movies” href=”” target=”_blank”>Empire Movies</a>–I find them piled up, ready to go, waiting for me.</p>
<p>The appeal of the movie trailer is simple. Most of them convey an explosively transparent emotional arc, a film in miniature, with music to cue your emotions as you accept a movie’s premise and experience only its dramatic highlights and plot twists, often inter-cut with rhetorical questions (“What if you lost everything?”) presented over a black and otherwise empty screen. With the resounding basso of the movie-trailer-announcer-man, a preview has the potential to make every movie seem incredible, mostly because you don’t see or hear much movie at all; a few facial expressions, a sentence or two of dialogue, and some rousing music all constitute great movie trailers. </p>
<p>Christopher Orr, an editor at the <i>New</i>
<i> Republic</i>, has his own peculiar relationship with trailers, though his is less drooling addiction and more beef. He believes that today’s previews ruin movies, mostly by doing just what they do: revealing too many dramatic highlights and plot twists. To prove his point, Orr recently engaged in a little film criticism experiment. First, <a title=”he reviewed the movie <I>21</I>” href=”″ target=”_blank”>he reviewed the movie <i>21</i>
</a>–which he dubbed “a slick thriller about card-counting MIT students”–based solely on the details of its trailer. The next day, he <a title=”reviewed it again” href=”″ target=”_blank”>reviewed it again</a> after watching the actual movie. Much to his delight, he found his own trailer-review near-complete in grasping <i>21</i>’s plot and characters. More to the point, Orr’s critical assessment of the movie remained unswayed and un-dented by actually seeing the film. It was still crap, point proven.</p>
<p>But what gives? Sure, I think it could be interesting if more critics took a swing at Orr’s thought experiment, especially since trailers often <i>do</i> contain spoilers. But the before-and-after critique has its faults. First of all, many a bad movie can be sighted from miles, nay, even leagues, away. Mainstream film is homogeneous enough in narrative structure, character development, and thematic content, that busting <i>21</i> might be something of a cheap shot, regardless of its entertainment value. Most importantly, though, Orr’s whole shtick admits the obvious: Critics often have little need to actually watch a film in order to write their reviews. Watch the trailer, make a few witty remarks, and that sucker is cooked and ready to file.</p>
<p>(Thanks, <i>
<a title=”Columbia Journalism Review” href=”” target=”_blank”>Columbia Journalism Review</a>
<a href=””>Michael Rowe</a>
<em>Image by <a title=”laasB” href=”” target=”_blank”>laasB</a>, licensed under <a title=”Creative Commons” href=”” target=”_blank”>Creative Commons</a>.</em>

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