Has YouTube Ruined Movie Watching?

It's an increasingly familiar phenomenon. From online clips to "red band" trailers, it's possible for movie fans to see large chunks of their favourite movie ahead of its official release. If they make the pilgrimage to the influential San Diego Comic-Con, they can see so many 10- or 20-minute showreels of forthcoming treats from the studio slate that they could probably stitch together a Frankenstein's Monster of a movie, a harlequin of bits and pieces.

All part of the marketing strategy of the modern movie, but maybe the process is beginning to belittle the experience of sitting down in the dark and expecting to be surprised by the latest blockbuster. Have we been so ruined by YouTube that we think nothing of viewing the 'edited highlights' out of context or dramatic heft?

Of course, PR folk are in the business of making even the most mediocre product look enticing, so these previews include all of the coolest explosions in a blockbuster (or the best jokes in a comedy) - the so-called 'money shots'? The very existence of 'red band' trailers is designed to ensure that horror movies (usually censored of their gory set-pieces) don't get left out. Trouble is, when you get around to seeing the actual movie, you realise that there isn't an awful amount left in the spaces in between!

The other problem is overkill. Exclusivity is fine, except the PRs aren't all that bothered about exclusivity. The same clip is fired across the Internet and it's rare to find a movie blog that won't automatically republish it. The fanboys - in constant fear of being left out of the pack - are propagating the meme to the point where it becomes meaningless, just another toxin polluting our capacity to enjoy the movie when it eventually comes out.

There are a few directors who have mastered the art of catering to the Comic-Con crowd. Christopher Nolan's use of enigmatic Easter-egg hunts generate huge buzz without actually giving anything important away. Even when he eventually gets around to releasing extended footage - chiefly, the opening sequence from The Dark Knight - it doesn't dilute the film's overall narrative impact. Not coincidentally, Nolan's recent films have been amongst the biggest box-office hits of recent times.

But for marketing departments less adept at supplying information to the hungry blogosphere, back-handed attempts at hype are increasingly counter-productive. Perhaps, before too long, the answer might be to take the radical step of releasing nothing until the film is released. For contemporary audiences, the thrill of seeing something genuinely new might be more valuable than yet another sneak peek.

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