The Way Back Trailer Machine: Alien

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Do you remember those moments from your younger years where a trailer would come out that had you so absolutely excited to see a movie you almost couldn’t contain yourself? Before the days of the internet you couldn’t watch a trailer dozens of times in a row, analyzing every minute detail. You had to rely on the movies or maybe catching it on TV.

The trailer for Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) didn’t need to do anything¬† to draw you in. An almost maddeningly slow start of moving through space before the title slowly appears on the screen.

It’s simple, but effective. Driving the point home even further is a complete lack of dialogue. The trailer somehow manages to be a slow burn. As it progresses small bursts of sound play out over the images. There’s no rush to give away the plot, no need to offer up explanations, just shots and subtle sound that builds to a cacophony of alarm. And then…

“In space no one can hear you scream.”

Chills.

By today’s standards it feels bold. Other than assuming there’s probably an alien involved and some bad things are gonna go down, details are slim. Where’s the quip filled dialogue? The meta self awareness? Or just every jump scare of the movie?

If I had one complaint about contemporary trailers (and let’s be real, I have many) it’s the need to give away every aspect of the plot in the trailer. When did this start exactly? Audiences didn’t used to need to understand what was happening. They didn’t need to know every character, every motivation and every twist.

That’s why you see the movie.

When did the shift happen? And why? The modern trailer seems to treat audiences as dumb and cater to our desperate need of instant gratification. We consume new footage and spoilers like they’re water in the desert. And I’m as guilty as the next person! And yet the trailers that truly stick with me, the trailers that truly intriguing me, are the ones that leave me wondering.

Isn’t part of the point of this genre the suspense and the tension? When you give away the best moments in the trailer, what’s left?

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