Just like filmmaking, there's an art and a craft that goes into cutting a trailer and putting together a marketing campaign for any particular movie. Some ad campaigns can be huge successes, even eclipsing the actual film itself, while others can fall flat, misrepresent the film, or even hurt the movie’s life at the box office.
"The Nice Guys" may not have broken any box office records, but it certainly wasn't a flop either. Financially it has been a modest success, and the critical reception to the film has also been warm as well. In fact, "The Nice Guys" is certainly one of the most entertaining and fun movies you can catch at the cinema so far this summer, but something felt off to me as I watched the film. I had the strangest sense of deja vu that I just couldn't shake. Later it hit me, I'd already seen most of the movie through trailers alone.
"The Nice Guys" may not have suffered a financial wound from the marketing campaign, but it has suffered an arguably worse offense, an artistic one.
It all started innocently enough with the original trailer debut. The red band trailer is a different story, but if we focus on solely the first green band trailer, you've got what could honestly be a trailer that stands strong enough on its own. While it does tend to give away a few great visual gags (Gosling tossing the gun to Crowe only to have it fly out the window, Gosling in the bathroom stall) it keeps a lot of information hidden with quick montage editing and a brief but interesting summary of the plot. I was sold simply from the extended opening of the trailer. I knew I wouldn't miss this in theaters.
Unfortunately, they couldn't leave well enough alone.
Where does one even start with this second trailer that came along? It opens in the same way that the original trailer did, but this time with another scene, so now we've essentially seen two full scenes from the movie without having even paid for a ticket yet. This trailer includes a lot of scenes featured in the original (the bowling alley where Holly meets Jackson, Holland and Jackson interrogating the hotel bartender) but this time includes more jokes from those said scenes. As an audience, we've already begun to piece the movie together in our heads at this point as we slowly learn more and more about the film solely through advertising. Important pieces of the plot, like Amelia jumping on the hood of their car after they're arguing that she's most likely dead, should not have been included.
The greatest offense to the audience's intelligence that this trailer commits though is absolutely ruining key exciting moments of the story that should be experienced cold.
For starters, the film opens with a young boy nearly being run down by a car that is plowing its way through his own living room. Exciting? Hilarious? Absolutely. But this visual cue has already been shown to us, so now when we see the boy walking down the hallway when watching the feature, we are counting down the seconds until the car comes crashing through the wall, rather than being surprised by something so absurd.
This also applies to the scene in which Holland and Jackson try to dispose of a dead body, only to have it land on the table of an unsuspecting dinner party. The comedic effect that should have been gut busting, is dulled by revealing this scene beforehand.
The character of Blueface is fantastic. He's deliciously weird, wicked, and goofy. Beau Knapp does a grand job of playing him as both a comically dense cartoon and someone dangerously on the edge who could go off at any minute. The problem? As soon as I saw him walk onscreen, I mentally resisted becoming too entertained by his character because I knew his fate. It was only a matter of time before I'd see him pummeled to death by a van, thanks to the second official trailer.
The same goes for Yaya DaCosta's Tally. When she is introduced to us in the film, she's the secretary of Judith Kuttner (Kim Basinger). She's great with kids and happens to catch the eye of Holland March. Shane Black delights in subverting our expectations by flipping the situation around so that Tally is a cold-blooded killer who's a part of the whole porn film conspiracy that is the center of The Nice Guys. I'm sure I would have delighted in the surprise as well, had it not been for the fact that this was another reveal from the trailer, even going as far as to include the joke about Holland March not realizing that she's killed three people as he insists she isn't a murderer.
The third, final, and highly unnecessary trailer is more of the same, coming in at a whopping 3 minutes, and revealing more jokes, sight gags, and plot points than you can shake a stick at.
So in the end, what does this all boil down to? Overstuffed trailers have started to become a dime a dozen in the movie industry. How does the trailer campaign for The Nice Guys stand out from any of the other ridiculous trailers of today? In a way, it doesn't. It doesn't change anything, or bring to light any new information. But it does highlight a disturbing mindset of Hollywood that is far from new, but should continuously be brought to the attention of everyone.
Hollywood doesn't trust its audience.
Studio Executives are even more cautious and nervous about advertising for their films in the atmosphere of today, because there are so many alternatives to going to the movies in this day and age. They feel the only way to get to audiences' wallets is through highlighting every single great moment of a film to prove to skeptical minds that their movie is worth paying 15 dollars and a babysitter for. They think if we only see the bare minimum of a great film, we'll move on, but if we see enough that makes us laugh in a trailer, we'll shill out money when it comes out.
To a degree, I understand and even empathize with this. Many people only see two or three movies in a theater once a year and are much harder to sell on paying money to experience cinema compared to someone like me who constantly frequents movie theaters. Therefore, sometimes showing off all the greatest assets of a film seems like the best solution. But there is truly a middle ground for successful advertising and I think "The Nice Guys" had achieved that middle ground with its first trailer. Unfortunately, the studio got too nervous too quickly, and went for the big guns, showing them off in what could essentially work as a 3 minute, compressed version of the film.
The damage done here isn't to the studios or the finances. Instead, it's the film and its audience that take the blow. Trailers like these rob us of truly experiencing a film the way that it's meant to be seen, and that can also damage the way a viewer feels about a movie, even influencing a viewer to dislike the film, feeling cheated.
The solution to this problem is a simple one. If studios take the risk and trust their audiences, they can return to the days of crafting fascinating, artful advertising like the campaigns for movies like "Alien" or "Super 8." Both of these films grabbed America's attention with their opaque and mysterious trailers, inviting unsuspecting viewers into a world they've never been to before.
Advertising for film should be like fishing. The trailer is the bait that gets the fish to bite, except in this scenario the fish ends up benefiting from getting caught (hopefully). The trailer shouldn't be the boat the fisherman is trying to get the fish into. Sometimes the fish don't bite, but that's just a risk the fishermen have to take.
Unfortunately, there's no end in sight for bloated trailers, as the films that dominate the box office are the ones whose trailers give us perfectly precise summaries of their stories in 3 minutes or less. It'll take another "Alien" campaign to get the advertisers back on track, and who knows? Maybe that's closer to us than we think. Until then, one can always plug their ears and shut their eyes during the Opening Attractions.