A couple weeks ago, a new trailer for season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery released at New York Comic-con. I enjoyed the first season of the show, and I'm looking forward to the new one. What interested me about this new trailer is how how didn’t feel spoiled at all despite its length and variety of shots.
It's an interesting contrast between this trailer and the story trailer for Red Dead Redemption 2 which didn't seem to spoil anything, but it left me feeling lost, confused about the story, and uninterested. This isn't a completely fair comparison since I watched this with previous knowledge of Discovery's story and characters, but let's take a look anyway.
Let's look at the dialogue in this trailer. Even though I know the characters' names, I'm either going to use the actors' names or a generic label to make this a bit more objective. I'm also going to break up these sections of dialogue into the chunks they fit into:
Captain: Starfleet is a promise: “I give my life for you, you give your life for me, and nobody gets left behind.”
Crew: Aye captain.
Sonequa Martin-Green: Seven signals appeared across the galaxy.
Captain: Discovery must determine the source and intent of those signals.
Woman 1: Spock needs our help. He had a vision. He called it "The Red Angel"
Sonequa Martin-Green: I've seen this angel too, and I had this unmistakable feeling. As if everything was going to be all right.
Alien: I would like to believe in something like that. Something out there that intervenes before all is lost.
Captain: (to Michelle Yeoh) You like being back in the saddle?
Michelle Yeoh: It's an invigorating ride.
Captain: If there's anybody down there, I'm not leaving them there to die.
Alien: We could be walking into a trap.
Woman 2: Something about this isn't adding up. Be careful captain.
Captain: Are you ready to execute this deeply insane plan of yours?
Blond man: This... might hurt a bit.
Sonequa Martin-Green: (To alien) You are my family. We found ourselves among the stars. We've known our strengths.
Captain: This feels bad.
Woman 3: Discovery could be doing something impossible!
Alien: Hold tight.
Woman 3: Oh my god!
Man's voice: As a child, I had the same vision again and again. Now I understand its meaning, and where it must lead.
Woman's voice: Spock.
Some of these sections have dialogue that connect either because they're well chosen or they're from contiguous scenes, but since there's so much b-roll, there's no way to know for sure. The fact the dialogue connect at all means they give something for the audience to latch onto; too much randomness will disorient them. Also, the lines contextualize themselves very well or tell a story on their own. As an exercise, take any of these lines, isolate them, and see if they produce any images, scenarios or questions; most of them do.
Let's interpret each section and look at the progression:
Captain says: "We're all looking out for each other."
There are mysterious signals that need to be found.
Spock had a vision of something that Sonequa Martin-Green also saw, something that shows up when people are in danger.
Michelle Yeoh was out of commission, but now she's back.
The crew is in the middle of something dangerous
Sonequa Martin-Green is worried about her alien friend.
There's more danger
A man had a vision, and has an idea what it means.
There's not a lot of plot in here, but there are a handful of questions that get posed. What are the signals? What is this "Red Angel"? and what is this vision and Spock's relationship to it? Everything else is pretty much vaguely says: "There's action and danger", but that sort of dialogue is perfect for action scene montages.
I think it totally works because the trailer simply poses a few questions, and plants some very enticing hooks for Star Trek fans; Spock appears in the show and Michelle Yeoh returns. Keep in mind this is also a trailer for an entire season of television; each episode is going to have its own story within the larger narrative. It makes sense to be vague, montage the heck out of the show, and let the fans go in frame by frame to analyze the images. It’s harder to be spoiled when you have no context for what you see..
There are some images in this trailer clearly put in there for fans because they speak to Star Trek specifics, like Klingons with hair (none of them had hair in the first season), an Original Series Klingon ship silhouette, a black Star Trek insignia, Original Series style uniforms, the doctor extracting something from Tilly's body, Sarek meditating, and Spock. These images are likely to get picked apart in comment and forum threads; all the other images are action-y, but have no specific stories they tell unto themselves.
The lesson here is: it takes just a few hooks to entice the audience, and relatively generic lines of dialogue are fine to fill the air and pair to exciting looking visuals. I constantly worry about telling a cohesive story, but clearly it's not always necessary.
There's still a sense of progression in this trailerwhich more abstractly boils down to:
There's a mystery
There's danger and action
The stakes are high
There's a potential answer to the mystery
Of course, going TOO vague runs the risk of sounding generic and boring, but so long as the music is good and images are unique, it can still make for a very exciting trailer.