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Column: How many trailers can dance in the head of a moviegoer?
Recently, my wife and I went to a showing of "Jason Bourne." At the time it was scheduled to start, we saw a featurette about the making of the new version of "Ben-Hur."
Then we saw a trailer for "Loving."
Then a trailer for "Doctor Strange." And one for "The Accountant."
More trailers: "Inferno." "Why Him?" "The Girl on the Train." "Split."
Twenty minutes after "Bourne's" scheduled start time, we got a brief promo for Coca-Cola and another for Dolby 7.1 before the movie started.
I wish I could say this was an aberration. But this was the third movie in a row where we sat through seven or eight trailers. And that's not counting the advertisements and promos that greet you before the movie's start time.
We didn't used to track trailers. They were simply a way to gauge whether we wanted to see the movies highlighted, with us showing a thumbs up or down to each other as they ran.
But the number appears to have increased in recent years. After that heavy load, and then two hours or so of a feature film, it's hard to even remember which trailers were shown without taking notes. I am much more likely to pay attention to online trailers, even ones that run longer than their theater versions, in part because I can watch one at a time.
No limits: The National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) does have trailer guidelines suggesting most trailers should last no more than two minutes, with the exceptions maxing out at three minutes.
But a spokesman for the group said that it has no limit on the number of trailers before a movie, and that all its guidelines are voluntary. And, bottom line: "Everything that shows up on a movie screen is subject to negotiation between theater owners and distributors."
Regal Cinemas had the seven and eight trailers we saw before movies; an email about its policies went unanswered.
A spokesman for the Cinemark chain said it plays a maximum of six. Cleveland Cinemas aims for a maximum of four, occasionally five "if the total running time is not excessive," said marketing director David Huffman.
Kurtiss Hare of Akron, Ohio's Nightlight Cinema says the theater averages about four trailers with a film, along with spoken introductions, and definitely tries to keep it under five. At the same time, he said, "We mostly have control, but many of our prints come with highly suggested trailer placements."
Huffman said trailers are placed based on studio requests. Preference is given to movies from the same studio and to ones from matching genres (horror movies get horror trailers). Consideration is also given to when the movie is being released.
"We generally don't play trailers for films that are more than four months away from being released," Huffman said by email. That's akin to the NATO guidelines, which recommend against trailers for movies more than 150 days from release.
Like them or not: A casual survey via Facebook indicated a lot of people like trailers.
"Movie trailers are part of the theater going experience," said one commenter. "There are times I cringe when the eighth 'The following PREVIEW has been approved for audiences' appears, but these trailers are the number one way of my decision-making on what movies I will be paying $10 to watch in the theater versus Netflix or Amazon Prime in the comfort of my home."
"If I miss them I get cranky and have a hard time settling in," said another. "Reviews matter to me more, but (the trailers) are part of the experience, almost like the preamble that gets me situated for the feature. I could do without actual commercials though. That's an assault."
And another: "I enjoy seeing sneak peeks of coming movies. I do hate it when they show commercials for things or products that are not movies. Those annoy me!"
But others differ.
"They should be abolished," said one commenter. "I have seen countless trailers that allow me to have a conversation with someone who has seen the movie and they wouldn't know I haven't. And often the best zingers are used in the trailer because, you know, you want to know the punch line of a joke before you sit through it."
Another comment: "Too many trailers show the end of the movie — the literal end of the MOVIE! I'm not psychic but I can recognize when I'm watching the denouement of a buddy action flick, or the final scene of a PG-13 horror movie."
"What I really can't stand is sitting through a comedy and realizing that the only funny parts are the ones that I already saw in the trailer," said another post. "Are you listening, Melissa McCarthy?"
Misrepresentation: Then there are trailers that flat-out misrepresent the movie. Matt Miller of Esquire.com looked at various trailers for "Suicide Squad" and found "the same two-minutes of footage, slightly reorganized and repackaged to make (the movie) seem like a dark brooding anti-hero flick, a 'Deadpool'-esque self-aware comedy, and an emotional action-drama."
Angie Han of Slashfilm.com said one "Sweeney Todd" trailer did not make clear it was a musical, and another for the latest "Fantastic Four" was "brimming with shots that weren't in the movie."
Asked about movies that were not what the trailers implied, Facebook folks quickly came up with "Into the Woods" (also with a trailer that did not suggest a musical), "Fight Club," "Anomalisa," the Bill Murray version of "The Razor's Edge," "In Bruges" and more.
Delay: But the problem with trailers is not only what is onscreen. It's that audiences are becoming accustomed to the long delays.
As one movie fan said: "If am running late, I can count on the trailers for extra time to get to the movies."
But some late arrivals then stagger around in the dark, searching for seats, risking spillage of popcorn and drinks on the floor, themselves and those of us who have arrived early.
Hey, I've seen those struggles. And I'd give up a fistful of trailers to avoid seeing them again.