Trailers that give away too much plot.

In many respects knowing what’s coming isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the entertainment world. For example: if a successful show, film, or game spawns a prequel, it’s okay to know a bit about what’s going to happen before we see said prequel. In that case it’s up to the creators to flesh it out…




Mitchell family staring at each other
My reaction to this trailer and many others.

In many respects knowing what’s coming isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the entertainment world. For example: if a successful show, film, or game spawns a prequel, it’s okay to know a bit about what’s going to happen before we see said prequel. In that case it’s up to the creators to flesh it out beyond what we already know. However… for any release in general to be spoiled by its trailers just really bothers me. I have felt this way for years, and and it’s a complicated issue to be sure. The most recent example that reminded me of this was the trailer for The Mitchells vs. The Machines. The main family seems to be a parody of the Incredibles family, as they have a similar likeness and the trailer points out that “regular people” exist, not everyone’s a hero, et cetera. Good message; we don’t have enough of that ratio-wise.

The trailer starts off with the takeover of Earth well under way, as a robot says “The last humans must be here somewhere.” Immediately after that the same robot talks exactly like a human would, so, whatever. Robots can pick up on human behavior, but, when you over-humanize a robot/alien species it just makes them less interesting as robots/aliens because they’re treated as humans in another “skin.” Creators of fictional works: please stop diluting your fab creations by overly humanizing them. Let them be bizzare as all hell. That’s the point. Turning them into pseudo-humans is just an unnecessary (albeit proven) way to farm relatability out of the viewer. Ugh. Anyway. The trailer goes on to let one of the characters of this dysfunctional family give a spiel on them and the general family dynamic. Cool, it’s good to set up a basic understanding of this family and give us a chance to care/relate to them. Then we get a segue into the robot apocalypse with some shots of them landing on the planet. Okay, cool.

unhappy AI from The Mitchells vs The Machines
Based on the plot, I consider this AI the protagonist.

And then we get an unhappy AI that, as before, sounds too human. Sure, maybe these robots just happen to have perfect human-sounding voice technology and mannerisms, but again this just feels like humans with a different appearance. Not actually robots. This AI says to capture all humans. Not too revealing, it’s just one of their goals. Insert a scene displaying what a “functional” family would do, and said family shows up doing all kinds of skilled acrobatics meant to look goofy yet effective. Next up, a literal “who’s behind this?” showing the unhappy AI again. They go on to explain that they were an invaluable resource taken for granted, so I’m guessing that’s why we have an invasion. So the humans are being captured… so they can be re-educated? Learn to appreciate tech? I do admit the whole “swipe, poke” thing is very funny.

Mitchell family member uses purse against machine
Look, it’s a member of the Fighting Polygon Team from Super Smash Brothers!

But then after a fleeting moment of happiness I’m brought back to reality: an over-revealing trailer. One of the family members says “we’re the last ones left?” Okay, so the robots succeed in capturing just about everyone, one more thing I know without having to watch the film. Insert predictable “family that doesn’t have their shit together, gets their shit together” transition. Some shots of the family fighting back. One of the humans is whirling around in the sky, then some kind of white void-looking space where they use a purse to engage in melee with, well, a polygonal shadow that looks like it came straight out of Super Smash Brothers Melee (search SSBM polygons and you’ll know). Then… Furbies? Alrighty then. Now we know the family will win, because – especially in a kids’ film – it’s almost taboo to have a sad ending where the antagonists succeed and the humans fail the main goal. Loaded trailer. Not everything was revealed, and it could be a worse trailer, but I wasn’t pulled in much. I think the film wasn’t done justice by its trailer in this case, which is quite common.

This is a very small slice of my frustration with tradition and why we need to examine/dismantle it. Aside from tired plot loops, which is a whole issue in and of itself, trailers are often rife with poor design. Either too much of the plot is revealed in the trailer which serves to demystify the film-watching experience, the trailer isn’t a good representation of the full content, or some other issue manages to mire the potential. I’m not a master of how a trailer “should” generally be designed, but I do know that for all my capacity to digest content.. trailers are rarely fun anymore. I know it’s tough to build a trailer with scenes only from the first 20-30 minutes of a film, too; I just don’t think it’s necessary to do all this other stuff. Even for content aimed at kids. Let the main antagonist be a mystery. Don’t tell us more than a fraction of why the conflict exists. Think about good pacing. Leave us wanting more! We’ll freakin’ show up, believe me.

Side note: traditional trailer design annoys me. It seems there is this expectation for viewers to follow along at the speed of light with a lot of fast cuts. The simple reason is: it’s just to tease you, make you want to see the full scene in the theatre. I get it. However, when everything’s blurring along with 20 .3 second clips I can’t properly digest what I’m being shown! The tease becomes wasted like a solar panel that absorbs energy but has no battery or device to transmit its power into. For me, digestibility is way more valuable than a lot of fast clips that just serve to confuse and yank me along. Don’t cut the camera for 3-4 seconds, so I can actually process the moment. Quality over quantity. Also, at :31 seconds into the trailer we get the common “From the makers of” text. That used to be in earnest, but now it’s quite plainly used to artificially boost one movie’s chance of success with a previous hit. I think it’s worth putting these up once in awhile, but it seems like so many films have used these as a crutch for a long time now. Also, this text is shown for a second or less. I barely have time to read “From the makers of” let alone the actual title below it that they’re bragging about working on! I know trailers cost money to advertise (on traditional broadcast television, not Youtube), and so there’s an impetus to cram, but this trailer’s three minutes! It’s not like it was a 30-second TV spot. Ah well. As some would say, it’s usually best to avoid trailers these days. I tend to agree.