Trailers as movies

Here’s something I keep expecting to see but haven’t yet: an entire movie or TV show told as speedily as a trailer.

The people who put together trailers are brilliant at overlaying video and audio, cutting rapidly, and conveying the gist of narrative and atmosphere in a very short space of time. While the trailer for a movie never tells you the entire story (even if it sometimes seems like that) you know what’s going on. It would only take a few additions to actually tell the entire story of a movie, rather than just enough to whet your appetite.

We’ve become increasingly good at parsing very compressed video and making connections between seemingly disparate images, so I keep expecting to see movies and TV shows taking advantage of this. We’re now capable of making sense of a movie told at this pace in a way that those in 1895 alarmed by a film of a train wouldn’t be.

I’m not saying it would be for everyone, or even that it would be more than a one-off experiment — an equivalent perhaps to the four-way splitscreen Time Code — but I haven’t come across such a film. (Let me know if you have!)

Aside from trailers, those “Previously on…” summaries at the beginning of new TV show episodes are similar, trying to get across several hours of story in only a minute or two.

The best way to think about a story told at this pace is to watch a trailer for a movie you haven’t seen yet, ideally that you know nothing about, and imagine that you’re not watching pieced-together fragments of a longer, slower movie, but merely the first couple of minutes of a movie. What you’re about to see is the real-time, first two minutes of a film that will carry on at the same pace for 100 more.

Here are some of those first two minutes:

Green Lantern:


Friends With Benefits (includes swearing and Hollywood sex):

Cowboys & Aliens:

They vary quite a bit, and the end of that Cowboys & Aliens one is probably close to the peak of abstraction in terms of trailer storytelling — so many clips from scenes, allusions to events, unexplained characters, images that don’t immediately make sense.

Think how much story you could tell in a couple of hours if it was told at that kind of pace, with the audience working hard to piece together so many fragments relayed so quickly, with video and audio overlaid on each other, storylines merely hinted at, flashbacks and flashforwards… You’d need a lie down afterwards, but it would be amazing.


  • I wonder... if you used a *big* chunk of content (eg. a season of tv drama, like the Wire, 24 or Lost?) crammed down this way into. A season of 24 in 48 minutes is about one tv episode length, near enough.

  • I think the compression's probably twice that: If we say that a movie trailer is two minutes long, and a movie is as long as two episodes of US TV drama (roughly)... then a season of '24' could be compressed to 24 minutes. The same kind of compression would mean viewing all 60 episodes of 'The Wire' in an hour.

  • Yes. And I offer this, which I have never seen in its entirety, but has always stuck in my mind because having watched it, I really see no point in viewing the entire thing:…

  • Michael Bay films go part way towards this: they're incredibly dense, fast, and spectacular. Fairly exhausting, too: but I'm not sure if they're condensed in quite the way you talk about, more super-saturated.

    But then - consider how much more compressed films are anyway; watching slow 70s scifi really makes this obvious.

    Also, the production costs. Each shot is a set up...

  • I did look at the trailer for the next Transformers movie, to use as an example above, but aside from the final few seconds it's very slow!

    And yes, films are more compressed now than they were (hence example of the Lumiere film), which is why I think it's more likely that we'll see a film like this now than any previous time.

    And yes, it would be expensive, but I'm in the position of just being able to write about it in theory, not have to do anything in practice :)

  • There's a Roger Avery film, Glitterati, (based on a Bret Easton Ellis character) which will never be released - and as such only exists as the highly compressed travelogue in The Rules of Attraction.

    Oddly, I was thinking the same thing about comic books recently. Reading compilations of 70/80s UK comic strips where stories were told around 6-pages at a time. The compression of ideas seems almost wasteful.

  • This is the opposite of that, in some ways, but a step in that direction -- the trailer Brian de Palma made for "Femme Fatale" is the *entire movie,* run mostly fast enough to get from beginning to end (including credits!) in about two ends, with occasional slowdowns to introduce the key characters. What's interesting is how much of the story you can infer and how much remains mysterious, at that speed.…

    One other thought might be something like, oddly, "Arrested Development," which would periodically cut to wholly different subplots with their own theme music and elaborate sets, dropping in fast enough -- just a few seconds, sometimes -- that we get the one big joke or guess the rest of the subplot, before returning to the main story. A movie built like this would be something to look forward to!

  • In a similar vein, it appears the company Hollywood Video used to do 60-second theatre spots as radio ads for their DVDs. Apparently the one they released for Lord Of The Rings struck a somewhat comical note - unintended, of course.

    I have also recently learnt about Austrian artist Wolfgang Matzl's ingenious 60-second version of Christopher Nolan's notoriously convoluted and seemingly uncondense-able dream movie "Inception", using cut-outs of vintage etchings and stop-motion animation. His version has been submitted to The Jameson Empire Done in 60 Seconds Competition - all about compressing your favourite movie, 18 international entrants, winner to be announced at a finalists' party in London on March 27th. I am presently not sure as to who are the other entrants. Last year Mark Wong was the winner with his rendered version of the 1986 classic 'Top Gun'.

    Anyway here's a link to the Matzl short:…

  • I've never seen a minute of the TV program "Lost." But having seen this "Unanswered Lost Questions" video, I no longer feel any desire to.

    Of course, that probably has more to do with the show's lack of "finishibility" than the narrative-compressing prowess of that video.

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5 Mar 2011 at Twitter

  • 11:11pm: @russelldavies A smoking cap might be both more relaxed and more elegant than a fez...
  • 6:50pm: I want to see an entire movie told in the same way as a movie trailer. And I wrote about it:
  • 5:17pm: I sent @archiveteam cash to pay for 1TB of storage. Every little helps to save some history:
  • 1:37pm: I'm never going to change the world by sitting in coffee shops reading the… ooh millionaires' shortbread!
  • 12:20pm: @nickludlam Ta! Ordered.
  • 11:50am: @mike_forester Ahh, that’s what I should have looked for rather than angrily tweeting :) Many thanks!
  • 11:49am: @anu Ah ta. No I only really need to use IE to check websites, so Home is probably fine. Just a bit bewildering, so much variety!
  • 11:47am: @anu Not sure what “join domains” means...
  • 11:44am: I want a Windows 7 to install in VMWare. I have XP. Do I need Home/Pro/Ultimate? 32/64 bit? XP Upgrade? I want to pay money, why so hard?!
  • 11:36am: What is it about Amazon that always slows Safari to a beachball-spinning crawl? It’s like being given concrete shoes when you enter a shop.
  • 11:31am: @hamstand Mutual respect, yes. But pedestrians won’t respect conscientious cyclists because the bad cyclists give all of them/us a bad name.
  • 9:26am: Best night's sleep in a while. Eleven hours, uninterrupted, nice dreams. Much better than @samuelpepys' night.

5 Mar 2011 in Links