By Anthony Breznican
LOS ANGELES -- Should moviegoers be teased or spoiled?
That's the question facing studio marketers who decide how much to reveal in trailers.
Some fans complain that commercials, like one for the new thriller "Changing Lanes," give away too many plot twists and amount to condensed versions -- spoilers -- of the films they promote.
Studios counter that the practice often results in box-office success.
"I think these spoilers come from insecurity over the product and the heavy demands put on studios to generate a strong return. They think the only way to draw an audience is by giving everything away," said Evelyn Brady, a Los Angeles advertising executive who created the Golden Trailer awards three years ago to honor the best movie commercials.
She has a personal gripe with the trailer for last summer's "Captain Corelli's Mandolin," which sets up Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz as World War II enemies -- only to reveal scenes of them falling in love.
"Watching that, I said: 'What am I going to buy the ticket for? I've just seen the whole movie,"' Brady recalled. "I think it's far better to tease and taunt and not give those crucial plot points away."
Regardless of whether a surprise ending is kept under wraps, critics say outlining large parts of a story's buildup in trailers can sap a film of its drama.
Consider the trailer for "Changing Lanes," in which Samuel L. Jackson is a desperate father heading to a family court hearing and Ben Affleck is an arrogant attorney sent to deliver a secret file on deadline.
The strangers meet when they crash their cars into each other on a New York expressway. Jackson is stranded and about to miss his court appearance, but Affleck refuses to give him a ride. As Affleck speeds away, he accidentally leaves his file behind. Jackson retrieves it, and blackmail ensues.
In case that wasn't enough to attract audiences to the movie, Paramount included other scenes from the feud, including Affleck hiring a computer hacker to bankrupt Jackson. Then Jackson starts threatening to destroy pages of the document, and Affleck attempts to withdraw his interference with Jackson's credit file. After he learns it's too late, the ad shows Jackson getting his revenge by sabotaging Affleck's car and causing a major traffic accident.
The trailer ends there, but has it already given away too many surprises?
Veteran trailer producers and even some directors say spoilers are a necessary evil.
"Cast Away" director Robert Zemeckis has compared coming attractions that give away a lot to McDonald's fast food, saying both are successful because most consumers prefer to know in advance what they're buying.
Studios often prepare two versions of the same trailer -- one that gives away a lot of detail, and another that shows exciting shots but little plot, said Philip R. Daccord, a trailer editor at the advertising firm Giaronomo Productions.
"When the studio tests them in front of an audience, the one with the whole kitchen sink tends to test better than the one that only teases," he said.
Marketers insist, however, that a good film satisfies an audience no matter how much plot is given away.
"It's a complaint we've heard for years and years," Daccord said. "But if I could really give away a whole movie in 21⁄2; minutes, there can't be a lot there to begin with."