Consider the trailer for Martin Scorsese's upcoming Shutter Island, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, to be the latest example of a trailer that appears to give away so much that it's hard to imagine what can really be surprising about the movie once you see it.
Let's go over just the information they've handed us.
Why ruin the movie before anybody sees the movie? After the jump...
The film, which opens October 2, follows this plot — and these aren't spoilers; this is just based on the trailer: Two federal marshals visit Shutter Island, a mental hospital for the criminally insane, where only the most dangerous and horrible criminals are sent, to investigate the recent escape of a patient. They are rendered vulnerable by having their weapons taken away at the door. The institution is the Creepiest Place On Earth.
While they're investigating, they come across a hidden note, which says, "Who is 67?" This is a big break in the case — which means it would probably be a big moment in the movie, if they didn't already tell you it was going to happen. At any rate, Agent DiCaprio begins asking questions. If they have 66 patients, why is there a note asking about a 67th patient?
And then it turns out that HE may be the 67th patient, because the evildoers at the hospital have drugged him and now have him trapped in their world of criminal insanity. This would probably also have been a big revelation in the movie. Of course...now, not so much.
These pills cause him to have hallucinations in which he sees a blonde woman who isn't really there (played by Michelle Williams) (and while this isn't entirely given away, the later shot of her with a little kid makes me think this may be a wife and child he has lost either tragically or foolishly). So he becomes trapped in this nightmare, and it becomes clear that because he has discovered all these secrets about this place, he will not be allowed to leave. Dun! Shouldn't have given up your gun, Skippy. This all ends with a violent and climactic showdown on the cliffs of the island. Aaaaand, scene.
Isn't this kind of a detailed description of the direction the movie is taking, for a story that's clearly a thriller full of twists and turns? I realize it's a well-worn complaint at this point, but haven't we basically just seen the entire thing?
Everything doesn't have to be as clever as this dynamite little promo for Psycho in which Alfred Hitchcock tours the set of the movie and talks about it in detail for more than six minutes without giving away much of anything that will expose the fundamental framework of the story. But a little creativity could avoid these situations where every moment of significance in the movie is used to create tension in the trailer.