Play this trailer for Shark Night 3-D on top volume. At about 0:57, put your ear next to your PC speaker for about a minute. Congratulations! You are now deaf in one ear! (Note: Don't really do that.)
Lately, you know you've seen a movie trailer when you've heard the sound of a guy beating a late-model Subaru into scrap metal with the blunt side of a pickaxe. The pounding gets faster and faster until it culminates in a piercing shriek or a super loud crash. This is the trailergasm — and it's getting mighty boring.
(Welcome back to Monday Hate, where we hate things because it's Monday.)
You know what I'm talking about. That thing that every "exciting" movie trailer has to have, where it goes "Thud. Thud. Thud. THUD. THUD. THUDTHUDTHUDTHUD THUDTHUDTHUDCRASH." Each thud coincides with a "shocking" image from the movie. (Often, the "shocking" image is a guy brushing his teeth, or a woman scratching her head, but it goes by really fast and there's a loud bang, so you figure it must be scary.)
I've noticed the "trailergasm" in many many trailers lately. But a nearly perfect example came out just last week — the full-length trailer for The Thing. Skip to about 1:45 for the part I'm talking about:
There are tons more examples of this below, including a taxonomy of the different types of trailergasms. But why exactly is this huge trend a problem? After all, we love crazy loud noises and strobey pictures of stuff happening too fast to make out — it reminds us of the sensory-overload psych experiments we did for $50 and a macadamia-nut cookie in college. But there are a few issues with the trailergasm:
1) It's being massively overused. See the tons of examples below, which are just scratching the surface. This is the biggest problem — if this were just one tool among many in the trailer-makers' toolkits, it would be fine.
2) It's lazy — and an cheap substitute for trying to create tension by actually showing us something intense or scary from the movie. A guy is going jogging! But it's a quick cut and there's loud noise, so it must be intense.
3) It's part of the Michael Bay-ification of movies. Michael Bay really helped to pioneer this trend with the trailers for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen — which not coincidentally was the movie which pushed the "you can't tell what's going on, but it's loud and choppily edited, so it must be exciting" school of film-making to the limit.
Check out this amazing TV spot for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which is the Platonic ideal of the trailergasm:
Obviously, nobody wants trailers to be subtle, or to tell the whole story of the movie. Trailers are meant to be thrilling, and to whet your appetite. But too much of the "jackhammer" technique risks totally killing the excitement of a trailer.
It gets to the point where you have the opposite reaction — you start to wonder if maybe the movie doesn't have any decent scenes for the trailer to showcase, and that's why they had to resort to chopping a bunch of scenes up into teeny snippets and adding a "crash bang" effect.
Seriously, stop pounding on our heads, movie trailers! You're hitting the law of diminishing returns, and the excitement is totally wearing off.
And you know, I just kind of recoil at the idea that we're being trained to associate certain sound effects with "thrills and suspense." Including the pounding thing, but also the whining motors thing and the "cyborg fart" from Inception. Sound design is an incredibly important part of movies, and these trailers turn it into a blunt instrument. And a kind of shorthand. Which is bad for trailers, but also could be bad for movies, in the long run.
Thank goodness some trailers still feature an indy rock or grunge rock song, the way Watchmen did with Smashing Pumpkins. But really, we need a new Don LaFontaine to narrate the shit out of some new action movies.
So here are more examples of this trend, which threatens to destroy everything we hold dear (not really):
This Battle: Los Angeles trailer has the "thud thud thud" but instead of the thuds getting faster, they're replaced by a scary whine of terror, like the grinding engines of alien domination. Or a whole bunch of Silverlake scenesters whining about their neighborhood getting trashed:
There's a fair amount of what I'm talking about in the first proper Tron Legacy trailer:
The Cowboys & Aliens trailer has a fairly muted trailergasm, culminating at about 2:07:
But the most amazing example of this phenomenon might come from this trailer for Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which manages to have two trailergasms in a single one-minute trailer. First, there's the "thud thud thud" kind, which lasts until about 0:27. And then there's a second trailergasm, which consists of sirens going "wrrm wrrm wrrm wrrmrmrrrmrrmmrrm," and culminates at about 0:54. Only Michael Bay could give us two climaxes in a single minute!
You'll notice that the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen TV spot above combines the thud thud thud THUD THUD THUDTHUD thing with the "whirring blades of doom" thing that worked so well in the Terminator Salvation trailers. A similar "twofer" effect happens in this Rise of the Planet of the Apes trailer:
Some trailers also try to replace the accelerating thudding partially with the Inception-style "cyborg fart." Like this Super 8 TV spot:
Major thanks to Aaron Stewart-Ahn for all his help with this article, including coining the phrase "cyborg fart." Thanks also to Alan Bostick, Hector Lima, Hollander Cooper, Mitch Dyer and Carl Ingebretsen for input.