Critics are calling Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” “a masterpiece.” Slate raves: “After the towering one-man dramas of ‘There Will Be Blood’ and ‘The Master,’ Anderson has returned to the sprawling, Altmanesque style and Southern California setting of early work like ‘Boogie Nights’ and ‘Magnolia’!” “Beautiful and funny and rich and weird!” says Badass Digest. “‘The Big Lebowski’ meets ‘American Hustle,’ with a sprinkle of Omar from ‘The Wire’!” adds Uproxx.
Whoops, sorry. Those are the reactions to the trailer for “Inherent Vice,” which is by nearly every account a two-minute tour de force on a par with a postage-stamp replica of Picasso’s “Guernica.” Right, folks?
I’ll be in my office watching this trailer on repeat till December if anyone needs me. http://t.co/9HEASx8bQx
— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) September 30, 2014
Very possible I’ll be starting every day off with the Inherent Vice trailer for the next two months. http://t.co/2FxCHeLC4T
— Will Leitch (@williamfleitch) September 30, 2014
GOOD MORNING INHERENT VICE TRAILER https://t.co/FQDQaZN8WB
— Robbie Collin (@robbiereviews) September 30, 2014
I get that people are excited for “Inherent Vice,” the product of what would have seemed like an impossible pairing between Paul Thomas Anderson and Thomas Pynchon. I’ve seen comparisons to “Southland Tales” and “Airplane!” float through my Twitter feed, and since I prefer the nutbar PTA of “Boogie Nights” and “Punch Drunk Love” to the magisterial PTA of “There Will Be Blood” and “The Master,” my already sharp interest has been further piqued. But I’m not watching the trailer, and, in the internet parlance of the day, Here’s why:
Trailers are commercials. Some of them are very good commercials, overseen and even crafted by the filmmakers themselves. But they’re still advertisements for products that, in many cases, I already know I’m going to consume. The chances of my seeing “Inherent Vice” would be no less if the trailer were a godawful mishmash of disparate tones than if were a miniature masterpiece that bathed my synapses in liquid fire. Why on Earth would I watch it when the decision has already been made?
Trailers ruin movies. Or, if “ruin” is too strong a word, they lessen the experience of watching them, the way it would if some blabbermouth friend told you a film’s plot in advance. Some trailers are more subtle about it than others, but even the best pull enticing moments out of their original context and serve them up in an appealing stew. If the trailer is a good one — by which I mean one that successfully stokes your desire to see a movie — those moments remain lodged in the back of your mind, and you can’t help but anticipate them. It’s worst with suspense-driven movies, where the most incidental bits of knowledge can put you ahead of the game — “He hasn’t gone down to the basement yet, so I know he can’t die in this scene” — and in horror movies, where studios ruin sublime shocks by revealing them in advance. I was horrified to learn that “The Conjuring’s” “hide and clap” sequence, one of my favorites of the year, had been spoiled by the film’s trailer — and retroactively grateful I’d never been tempted to watch it. The best-case scenario is that a trailer doesn’t have a negative impact, but why take the risk?
If people want to watch trailers, more power to them: It’s a free country, etc. But except in rare cases, like when I’m trying to figure out which of two movies by unknown directors to see in an open film-festival slot, I don’t. (I also skip the flap copy on hardback books — or did, back when I still bought them — and fast-forward through the “Next Week On…” scenes at the end of TV shows, unless it’s a show where I’m not that invested in what happens next. I know this is weird.) With trailers come judgements, and those judgements start to coalesce into a narrative that, to revise an old saying, can be halfway around the world before the movie gets its pants on. Remember when the first trailer for “The Wolf of Wall Street” dropped, and everyone agreed the movie looked like one of Scorsese’s worst? Yeah.
Of course the trailer for “Inherent Vice” makes the movie look appealing: That’s what trailers are supposed to do. (“BREAKING: Commercial successfully sells product.”) Sometimes, as with “The Wolf of Wall Street,” the process involves highlighting the movie’s most marketable elements at the expense of accuracy. (My all-time favorite is the trailer for Steven Soderbergh’s “Solaris,” which included the line “Sometimes love is so strong, it opens a passageway to a place where anything can happen.”) But even if they’re on point, trailers eat away at the element of surprise, disrupting the careful construction by which a movie reveals itself — not just in terms of plot, but of tone. No great movie is ruined by knowing too much in advance — A Trivial Pursuit card gave away the endings of “Psycho” and “Citizen Kane” years before I saw them, and it doesn’t prevent me from esteeming them both — but you only get one shot at viewing them with no preconceptions, and I’ll take that shot every chance I can.
Every once in a while, a movie studio will play its cards close to the vest, the way Disney-Pixar sold “Brave” as an adventure story about a rebellious princess finding her own way in the world and left out the bit where her mother turns into a bear. But with pre-release campaigns lastings months — and, in the case of franchise installments, sometimes years — and opening weekends more important than ever, there’s no sense leaving anything in the tank.
As I said, it’s purely a matter of personal preference, if one into which I’ve probably put way too much thought. If you want to watch the trailer for “Inherent Vice,” it’s right here. Go ahead. I won’t judge.