the waiting game

Why Are Movies the Only Kind of Entertainment We Still Have to Wait Around For?

Photo: Marvel

I’m not sure if you’ve already made plans for May 3, 2019, but if the date’s still free, you should now consider it booked: Marvel will be releasing a movie that day. What’s this 2019 movie about, you ask in excitement? Well, like a bunch of other release dates announced by the studio in the run up to last week’s San Diego Comic-Con, this 2019 film is an untitled Marvel project. But don’t let that dampen your enthusiasm — or thwart your anticipation. Untitled Marvel Project No. 7! Just five short years away!

Marvel’s swaggering, flag-planting gambit — we OWN early summer 2019! — was just the most egregious stoking of the fever that swirls around Comic-Con, which has become an annual orgy of anticipation. I’m not immune to this fever, of course, having spent a good 20 minutes last week frantically searching for links to the newest trailer to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, once people began tweeting about its premiere during Nolan’s surprise appearance at Hall H. The trailer in question only became available to the non–Comic-Con–attending public this past Wednesday — where, again alerted by Twitter (our national trailer-availability early-warning system), I ended up watching it on my phone while pulled over in front of a Dunkin Donuts on Route 17 in New Jersey. (Verdict: Pretty good!)

Let’s put aside, for a moment, the fact that all this excitement was generated around what’s essentially a two-and-a-half-minute ad for a movie that won’t even be out until November. Or the fact that, in summers past, similar frenzies were generated by films that turned out to be less than mind-blowing. Compared to other big reveals at Comic-Con — which included all those untitled Marvel films, plus a snippet of footage from Batman v. Superman, plus a glimpse at Wonder Woman’s chocolate costume — the new Interstellar trailer was a cornucopia of fan satisfaction. And what’s truly fascinating about the movie world’s increased reliance on anticipation — the generating of which has now become something between a cottage industry and a dark art — is how movies now stand as the one medium in which anticipation still counts for anything at all.

In music, the past year’s biggest event was not a tease for some far-off future release; it was Beyoncé dropping an entire album (complete with videos) as a surprise. The recent surprise release of a new ‘N Sync album was such a surprise that even ‘N Sync were surprised.

Television, as a medium, used to stoke anticipation annually: There may have been no more torturous wait in all of pop-culturedom than the one between a cliff-hanger season finale and the next season’s premiere. This rarely happens with TV now, given that the industry barely honors seasons and viewers are typically streaming or bingeing shows in any case. Sure, there are series finales (Breaking Bad, Mad Men) that force us to sit and stew, madly anticipating what’s to come. But the most daring recent gambit in TV is the Netflix model of releasing a whole new season all at once, which completely obliterates anticipation. If you’re dying to know the particulars of Frances Underwood’s fate, the answers are only as far off as the fast-forward button on your remote.

In part, this difference — movies becoming more existentially entwined with anticipation, as other mediums become less so — can be explained by technological and economic factors; after all, one of the reasons Beyoncé dropped her whole album in one day is because it’s a lot easier for someone to leak an album online early than it is to leak, say, all of Ant-Man. Also, movies have become so dependent on opening-weekend box office that it makes sense to stoke anticipation to a rolling boil before anyone’s actually seen, let alone weighed in on, the film. In 2012, Prometheus earned fanboy ire and a so-so 73 percent on Rotten Tomatoes — but it did well enough at the box office worldwide to also earn a sequel. It’s also probably logistically impossible to make an entire summer blockbuster without anyone catching wind of it, then release the whole thing as a surprise — though, seriously, wouldn’t it be awesome if Christopher Nolan showed up at Comic-Con and said, “Hey, I made a fourth Batman film — and here it is!”

In a sense, the rise of the anticipation industry around movies has served to disconnect all the teasers, trailers, leaked photos, and tossed morsels of information from the final product they’re meant to promote. Will Interstellar, the movie, be good? I sure hope so! But in the meantime, Interstellar, the teaser-trailer, has given us as much to talk aboutargue about, and speculate over as most movies can ever hope to do.

You can grouse about this — there’s must be someone who longs to run into Hall H in tattered rags and shout, like Charlton Heston at the end of Soylent Green, “Commercials! All these trailers are just … commercials!”— or you can enjoy these teases for the occasionally thrilling micro-bursts of anticipatory ecstasy that they are.

Once Mad Max: Fury Road comes out in 2015 — having had to wrestle with notoriously tricky elements such as characters, pacing, and plot — there’s a pretty good chance your reaction to it might be mixed. In fact, I can almost guarantee that the movie that you hope you’re going to see is way better than the one you’ll eventually get. That’s the dark side of the rising anticipation industry: all that eventual disappointment, oozing up like some sort of toxic industrial byproduct.

So let’s not think of these teaser-trailers as glimpses of glory to come. The best trailers, these days, run about two-and-a-half minutes — or about the length of a catchy summer pop song. So maybe it’s best to think of these teases like that instead: a great, giddy, disposable moment of pop enjoyment. Who cares if the album wasn’t so hot, if the single is pure pleasure? Sure, Prometheus was kind of a muddled mess. But man, that trailer ruled.

Why Do We Still Have to Anticipate Movies?