Trailers as a cultural indicator

While watching my Back to the Future DVD for the umpteenth time, I decided to go and check out the original theatrical trailer. Since the film first opened in 1985, the trailer was suitably cringeworthy, what with all the flashing LEDs, arrays of ‘futuristic’ buttons, shots of the Delorean’s profile and the silly dialogue:

V/O: How far are you going, mister?
Fox: About thirty years…
[cue Huey Lewis music]

This didn’t surprise me too much, since I expect trailers like this from all 80s movies. However, Back to the Future could have opened yesterday and they wouldn’t have had to change much at all. As I see it, the content of films themselves haven’t changed anywhere near as much over the years and decades as the trailers for those films.

So what’s going on here? Are the trailers reflecting and amplifying the cultural conditions of their age, trying to tap in to the zeitgeist and just pull people into theatres by any means necessary? Or is the art of the trailer gradually asymptoting towards some theoretical and unattainable level of ‘trailer perfection’, wherein the ‘Perfect Trailer’ would enrapture any viewer’s mind such that they would be compelled to see the movie (much like Langford’s image-hack)?

I suppose it’s probably a mix of the two, more’s the shame. But surely there must be some study out there correlating the evolution of trailers with cultural change?

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