Why I Keep Watching These Frustratingly Vague Trailers Against My Better Judgment

Cersei Lannister sits on the Iron Throne in Season 7 of "Game of Thrones." (Courtesy Helen Sloan/HBO)
Cersei Lannister sits on the Iron Throne in Season 7 of "Game of Thrones." (Courtesy Helen Sloan/HBO)

On Wednesday afternoon, my brother sent me a YouTube link followed by a series of texts. “Watch this now,” he wrote -- with seven exclamation points.

I was working, so I suppressed the urge to watch the latest trailer for the upcoming "Game of Thrones" season. But as soon as I got home, I clicked play.

The calculating Littlefinger narrates over contemplative piano music. Then it switches to Jon Snow’s gravelly voice as the trailer moves to the North. Daenerys and her dragons show up. Bows and arrows are drawn and dragons breathe fire. The camera quickly cuts to more fan-favorites (looking at you Pod and Brienne!) and more fighting — all as heavy drum beats rise to a crescendo. Then, we’re back to an uneasy quiet, narrated by Sansa Stark.

We fade to black. “#WinterIsHere 7.16” it reads with a final, ominous boom.

I get chills — fully aware that I'm buying into the hype these production companies are starting to go too far in encouraging. I'll click replay, trying to uncover undecipherable plot points. Yet much like Jon Snow, I will know nothing, even if I watch again and again.

There's an intriguing yet infuriating art to these type of trailers. They're excruciatingly vague, incredibly exciting — and obviously effective at getting audiences to pay for a movie ticket or buy a digital subscription. Watching and re-watching isn't ever in question. It's an automatic compulsion that goes against my normally-logical brain. That's a pretty draconian skill to be able to wield over your viewers.

When the teaser trailer for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” came out in April, the little kid (and adult fan) in me watched the trailer over and over again. With swelling music, explosions and glimpses of fan-favorite characters, how was I expected to wait until Dec. 15 to see the full movie? It didn’t matter — Disney had me hook, line and sinker. I simultaneously loved and hated every second of it.

Studios use the devotion and nostalgia fans have to suck them in, trailer by trailer. There’s nothing that rushes me back to my childhood faster than hearing even just a little bit of Darth Vader's breathing. And sure enough, in "The Last Jedi" trailer, you hear just a few seconds of the iconic sounds of his mask. The thing is: Darth Vader isn’t even alive in this movie.

And then take what "Game of Thrones" did in March on Facebook. The show's page live streamed a melting block of ice, inside of which was the premiere date.

Viewers were encouraged to type the word "FIRE," which would then trigger a flame thrower. Over 150,000 people tuned in — I was not one of them. I didn't have the patience nor interest in indulging this one.

A "Game of Thrones" trailer in March consisted of nothing but cuts of characters walking down hallways and sitting on thrones and chairs.

Was I mad? Absolutely. I just watched people walk down a hallway for a minute and a half and learned nothing new from it. Was I excited? Yes.

If I can be indignant for just one moment: This all feels wrong. Call me crazy, but I'd like to think there was a time when movie studios wouldn't include cheap tricks in a trailer just to pique my interest in order to possibly get my money. The studios are toying with fans' genuine investment in their stories.

So what is a good trailer that is exciting yet substantive? That'd be the trailer for Marvel's upcoming Netflix miniseries "The Defenders."

"The Defenders" is a version of the crossover "Avengers" movies that dominate the box office. Instead of Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, Captain America and Black Widow, we get Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist.

As Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” plays in the background, four vigilantes meet each other and take on “the bad guys” with chemistry and guts. I wanted in to this gritty world with a hard-drinking private eye and a blind lawyer who fights crime. Marvel won me over. But it won with a trailer that didn't sacrifice substance for intrigue.

As an impatient, yet dutiful fanboy, I know I'm not innocent here. I watch these trailers every time, excited to get back into my favorite stories — or discover new ones — even for just a few minutes, knowing that someone was paid a lot of money to suck me in.

Even if I have to wait months and months to get the full story, these trailers are part of the memories made with friends and family by going to midnight premieres and holding all night binge-watching sessions. And all of those great moments — they all started because I watched that trailer. It's clearly a love-hate relationship between me, HBO, Disney and Marvel. But that’s half the fun.


Headshot of Bob Shaffer

Bob Shaffer Producer
Bob Shaffer was a producer in WBUR’s newscast unit.



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