Vassar: Films are becoming overly commercialized

Ethan Vassar

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.

It’s no secret that the movie industry is becoming more commercialized. The success of the Marvel cinematic universe has galvanized major studios – namely Warner Bros and Universal – to create cinematic universes of their own, which forces audiences to see previous installments for the current one to make sense. Even more concerning, and less apparent, is the increasingly evident nature of these films: acting as trailers for future films.

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For many, the trailers are the best part of going to the movies. The previews aim to prepare the popcorn munching audience for a return trip to the silver screen, highlighting the funniest, most dramatic, and action-packed scenes from the film. In the digital age, having a compelling trailer is extremely important, as platforms like YouTube and IGN make the trailer re-watchable and provide fans the ability to deconstruct every frame. Their reception is crucial to the film success, so important that some films have been re-shot and re-cut to try and capitalize off the success of a certain trailer.

Movie trailers are certainly a viral sensation, and some would even argue that movie trailers are their own works of art.

Some of the most popular trailers in recent years belong to films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Captain America: Civil War and c. Recently a trailer for the nineteenth entry into the MCU, is Avengers: Infinity War was released. Released a day before the trailer was a teaser trailer, comprised of people reacting to previous Marvel trailers. Here we have an ad for an ad for a film that’s just another ad. Adception.

 “It’s just one more step of everything being commodified, meant to sell you something else,” says Colorado State media professor Kurt North. North ties the idea of weaponized intertextuality to the issue.

Captain America: Civil War was released earlier this year | Wikipedia Commons

Audiences once made connections and allusions to other media themselves, but they are not put in intentionally by filmmakers. What once elicited an emotional response now elicits a financial one. For example, if you want to see how Civil War truly affected the Avengers, you’ll have to watch Spiderman Homecoming because there’s an easter egg referencing Captain America’s status as a war criminal. You’ll have to see Black Panther if you want answers about Bucky’s fate or Civil War’s effects on the titular character. And, you’ll certainly have to watch Infinity War to see how all the other events and story arcs of characters of a movie released three years ago concludes. This is all in the name of wanting to tie you into the next installment, planting seeds in your mind for your next trip to the movies.

Marvel is not the only studio guilty of such tactics. Warner Brothers’ mess of a film, Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice, includes two three minute scenes that are essentially trailer for Justice League which in turn acts as a trailer for the Aquaman and Flash solo films.

It’s incredible: the rising action of the film stops so that Wonder Woman can open an email (an email!) to treat fans to glimpse at another film in the franchise a year away. Not only is the storytelling lazy (she opens an email for Christ sake, Justice League members don’t deserve to be introduced alongside such a menial daily task), but the tease is just crammed down the viewers throats. Hell, Batman even has a dream sequence that’s basically a trailer for a film we’ll never get.

This makes six percent of the film a trailer for future installments. Although six may seem like a low number it doesn’t take into account how excruciating ham-fisted these parts of the film are. Stories should be cohesive, with a beginning, middle and end. So maybe the six percent is way too much.

Notice that the biggest culprits of weaponized intertextuality are big budget studios: Disney and Warner Brothers. This is no coincidence. Thanks to the success of the MCU, “Hollywood has cut out mid-budget filmmaking for adults” according to CSU media studies professor Nick Marx. The contemporary movie industry relies on spectate to drag its audiences off their couches and into theatres. These spectacles delight in hitting the audience over the head with references and plot points that will only be solved in future installments. 

Despite the annoyingly formulaic nature of these films, despite the creativity they stifle, there is a silver lining.

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“It’s a necessary evil,” says North. “If it gives me another Star Wars I’ll look past it. When it’s done well it’s not that big of a deal.”

For the characters we’ve grown to love to continue gracing the silver screen every year, the serialized, commercial nature of films is just something we’ll have to endure.

Collegian Columnist Ethan Vassar can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online @ethan_vassar.