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The Trailer as Prologue

I wrote a blog post a while back about the problem with spoiler heavy trailers, and referred specifically to The Girl in the Spider's Web as a case study for trailers that, more or less, spell out the whole film from start to finish. If you want another example of this, I suggest watching the trailer for Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw. Why even go to the cinema?



Maybe its that I am always thinking about story structure, but I found the trailer for The Girl in the Spider's Web so telling that I had to distance myself from the film before seeing it. This meant NOT watching it in the cinema when it was initially released and avoiding the home release for a few weeks as well. I watched the film last night and I enjoyed it - quite a lot actually. It lacked some of the more stylish elements of Fincher's take on the character from 2011's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but Clare Foy's take and the overall storytelling was still quite good and reminded me more of the Swedish originals.


The film also reminded me of a Jason Bourne film and, on more than one occasion, I though that Sony should double down on this franchise because they might finally have something to rival Paramount's Mission Impossible and Universal's Fast and Furious - if they play their cards right. Okay, wishful thinking but this character could have a long cinematic life if Sony was prepared to commit.


There was one problem with the film - the first half of the story is built on a premise that we know not to be true.


I won't spoil anything for the film, but I will say that the prologue of the film establishes a piece of information that Lisbeth Salander believes to be true - only for a bombshell twist to be dropped at the halfway point proving otherwise. The only problem is that we knew this to be the case because the trailer and all the marketing material for the film is built on explaining this twist. It's the unique selling point of the film and what separates it from the others.


Now, if you haven't seen the trailers and went into the film blind, one could argue that the twist is fine. But you have to assume that every movie goer at some point engaged with the marketing material, especially the trailers. After all, how do most people find out that the movie even exists?


With this in mind, we find ourselves in a chicken and egg scenario. Do we tailor the marketing of the film so as not to spoil the film, but perhaps hinder the chance of maximising box office return (spoiling key set pieces or action sequences might be enough to get people interested in paying to see it)? Or, do we figure out the marketing first and then adjust the film accordingly?



The filmmakers in this instance could very easily have avoided this issue by placing one scene early in the film that satisfied the audience's insider knowledge of the story. The protagonist Lisbeth might not have known the truth, but we did and the filmmakers could have given us a wink and a nod. Instead, the filmmakers seemingly went down the road of 'let's try and fool the audience entirely'. Like that ever works.


Marketing is so important to filmmaking (and any type of media production) and trailers are almost like movie events in themselves now. Just think about the hype surrounding the latest Star Wars or Marvel trailer. Audiences will watch these endlessly and so you have to assume that they will be far more knowledgable of the film before they go in to the cinema than you might like. Yet, the industry has become so competitive that it is understandable to me now why studios go to such extremes to sell the film - even if it means spoiling it ahead of time.


Solution: In a film like The Girl in the Spider's Web, one well placed scene in the first act to bring Salander up to the same speed as the audience would resolve the issue of the audience knowing more than the film wants us to. But for other filmmakers who are in the process of making their films, they need to be thinking ahead as to how this will be marketed. The two go hand in hand.


Screenwriters who are serious about their work being made into screen media should be considering this also. Think about what information the audience will likely receive from marketing materials before going into the cinema. Assume, they'll have engaged with the marketing.


One one side note: if you've seen the latest Star Wars film, Rise of Skywalker, check out the blu-ray/digital release trailer. I'll put the link in the description. Think about how spoiler heavy that trailer is and ask yourself, why do you think they did this. Is it because they know everyone has seen it, or far more likely, is it that they want to acclimatise you to all these twists and turns so that you'll be more accepting of them when you revisit the film?


(Image copyright: Sony Pictures)