Some of us still remember Previews of Coming Attractions.
That's what advertisements for upcoming movies used to be called, before we switched to the sleeker term, "trailers."
That new term was actually an old term going back to the early days of cinema. Trailers were shorts shot during rehearsals, with "Meanwhile, back at the ranch " cards to draw you into the story. They were called trailers because they came on after the main feature.
This wasn't such a good idea since audiences of this new form of entertainment assumed they were supposed to leave the theater when the movie was over. So trailers got moved to the top of the bill.
Showing the trailers first has obvious benefits. It gives the audience extra time to buy popcorn. When stuck in traffic, you know you've got 10
extra minutes before the movie's actually going to start.
But there's also a downside to today's trailers. Like signaling the end of civilization as we know it, for openers.
It's not just the astroids, apocalypses, aliens, epidemics, police states, zombie takeovers, animated monsters, next world wars and the endless array of space vehicles for Tom Cruise to pilot that they bombard us with at breakneck speed.
It's that the words are gone.
This began when trailers started becoming impossible to read. Back when they were still called previews, the film's title along with the stars' names, accompanied by sparkly-teeth close-ups, were key parts. But as Hollywood began embracing fast editing, so did trailers.
Now the close-ups happen faster than you can say, "Hey, wasn't that Brad Pitt?" They're edited into montages like subliminal machine guns, apparently trying to introduce attention deficiency disorder into what were previously well-functioning brains.
If written credits are there at all, they're at the end, too fast to be read.
The credits happen to be valuable for some of us slow-brainers in the audience, especially ones responsible for writing reviews. Luckily, the demise of the written word on-screen coincided with the rise of movie websites full of information, offering even amateurs the chance to be reviewers themselves. But this still leaves the unanswered question, why are trailers the way they are?
The not-so-hidden answer is that reading is no longer required. Movies can tell their stories without it, so why bother anymore? Put your brain on autopilot, let the movies guide you into an eye-popping, post-literate future where thinking itself has been replaced by a series of bar codes.
Let's see - we're still talking about the future, right?
Brain atrophy is my excuse when I can't keep up with the twists in the latest movie thriller. And it's also my explanation for projects like "Identity Thief," the R-rated road-trip comedy starring Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy that's tops at the box office this week.
It tells of a mousy junior executive in Denver named Sandy Patterson who has his plastic identity stolen by a wild woman in Florida. His solution is to go to Florida, find her and bring her back to confess. It raises the obvious question: Which part of sociopath do you not understand, Sandy?
You can see the car crashes, bar brouhahas, crude motel sex and mutual humiliation coming before you even walk into the theater. While Bateman has the likeable wimp routine down (beginning with the name "Sandy," his masculinity is a constant source of gags), as he mostly plays straight man to McCarthy.
Since stealing the show in "Bridesmaids" with her in-your-face confidence - coupled with nonstop raunchiness, an ample physique and great comic timing - the unique actress has become almost a movie genre unto herself.
Making the audience love the deranged survivor she portrays here is further testament to her considerable talents. But it can't save the movie as you walk out of the theater trying to remember where you left your brain.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.