Monday, June 16, 2008


There's a hysteria that accompanies the paranoid cult of spoiler avoiders. You know, the people that flip their wigs if they read or hear a plot point of a film?

Last week, Toronto film critic Peter Howell wrote a short opinion piece about this surging madness:
Does not the real enjoyment of a movie come from the performances, the writing and the directing, rather than the mechanics of a plot that you already know the ending to?
Answer: Yes.

If you go to the movies simply because you crave a twist, then stay home and watch Law & Order or read a book.

I half expect there to be a PAC someday that will lobby for legislation criminalising "spoiling" as some sort of invasion of privacy. That is how red-fanged and loony some of these guys can get.

Don't get me wrong. I like to go into a movie fresh, but I do it of my own volition. It ain't that hard.

Here's a thought: If you don't want to know anything about a film prior to seeing it, then DON'T READ REVIEWS! If it's a benign up or down endorsement that you seek, then check in with The Today Show or Richard Roeper on Friday mornings.

There also have these things called "trailers". You know, previews? You can watch them and decide if you want to see a movie or not. Funny thing is, they tend to give away much more than any critic ever does, yet people don't complain about them.


WaywardJam said...

Great points! I try to write so as to not give away much, but like you said - if you don't want to spoil a film, DON'T READ REVIEWS!

That's why I am always so late to commenting on people's reviews. I go to see a movie, not evaluate what I think in comparison to x, y and z.

I rely heavily on trailers to entice me and hate when they spoil it with the one scene you just know is the ending. Advertisers do have it hard, though. I have a friend who loves for me to retell a movie point by point before she goes to see it but my wife hates even the least bit of info. How do you market, let alone write, for the entire spectrum?

Mandy said...

I personally don't want to know what's going to happen in a movie (or book, play, TV show, etc.), because I love plot. Don't get me wrong, I also enjoy great acting, directing, cinematography... but I think that the writing is important too. Not just the pretty words or funny dialogue, but the plot as well. I don't want to know "it was the butler who did it!" before seeing the film.

That being said, I don't read reviews of movies I'm really interested in seeing before I see them. I peek at Metacritic to see what the metascore is, and I might read a blurb of a review, but I don't read the whole thing... just in case major plot points are given.

I made the mistake of reading about a book I just finished on Wikipedia, before I finished it. I was interested in the back story of the novel and author, but the Wikipedia page had a huge plot point (the death of a major character) written in the summary of the novel. But I guess it's my fault for reading the summary in the first place. I learned my lesson.

Fox said...

Wayward: Yeah. I never set out to purposely spoil a movie for anyone that reads my blog. I don't think any writer/blogger does, but it's not fun to walk around on eggshells either. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I think most movie blogs exist to DISCUSS movies. That's what I enjoy about them

Mandy: I agree. I like to go in as clean as possible before seeing a movie, but sometimes I just get too curious about something. Thing is, that's pretty much ok with me. Mainly, I think I (try to) avoid reviews because I don't want someone else's opinion to shape mine, not because I'm worried about learning plot.

And yeah, I think the best, non-revealing way of getting a read on a movie WITHOUT having to look into the reviews is by checking out the scores on Metacritic. Good call.

Jason Bellamy said...

Fox: Thanks for the post. I wouldn’t have seen the Howell column otherwise, and it touches on issues raised by Ken Tucker’s recent comments in EW, which I touched on in my recent (pre-Happening) conversation about M Night Shyamalan.

I’m with you that a film’s plot twist shouldn’t be its best merit. If it is (see: “The Sixth Sense,” “24,” etc.) then that’s to the film’s detriment. I also agree that people can avoid spoilers simply by not reading reviews of movies they want to see, and on the flipside reviewers can offer parenthetical spoiler alerts, just in case. Everybody wins.

However, I have to disagree about overly revealing trailers in one respect: I complain about that all the time. It’s just one of the reasons that I close my eyes during previews of films I already plan to see. I fail to understand why studios show as much as they do. (For example, a few years back, the “Children Of Men” trailer showed Clive Owen in the effing boat, even though the start of the preview identifies reaching the boat as the challenging goal.)

Which is another way of saying that I, personally, do like to discover a film as much as possible the first time I see it. This discovery isn’t limited to plot twists and outcomes, but ideally it certainly includes them. One thing I find a little annoying about Tucker’s comments and now Howell’s is that these are two guys who routinely see films or TV shows before anybody else. So on the whole they don’t have to do much work to avoid stumbling across a spoiler (and with the Internet, you can stumble across a significant spoiler without reading reviews). And it bothers me that they get to enjoy seeing things spoil-free without caring that we get the same experience.

And that brings me to the experience: Obviously there are oodles of movies that I watch time and time again. Over time, I see them in new ways (sometimes better, sometimes worse, sometimes just different). And yet in some respect every subsequent viewing is a reliving of or a reflection upon that first viewing. I liken it, in a sense, to relationships: the person you fall in love with changes over time, as do you, but a key element of a couple’s love is tied to that first initial explosion of attraction and bonding, etc. Which is to say that watching a surprise twist for the 25th time is kind of like falling in love with it all over again. First impressions are important.

Lastly: Echoing something I said earlier, I think that Howell is on to something when he talks about how plugged-in we all are in our daily lives. How many of us really leave the office behind anymore, for example? It’s difficult. So maybe the current obsession with spoilers is largely due to the fact that when it comes to our entertainment, we want some things that we can discover at our own pace, at our own time. Sure, some people are overly sensitive about spoilers, but I understand where they’re coming from.

One thing that made me laugh, though: Tucker uses James Bond as a tongue-in-cheek example of a place where spoiler warning shouldn’t be required (I agree, and can’t imagine that anyone would argue). But at the same time he suggests the fate of the Von Trapps was in doubt in “The Sound Of Music”? I’d say Bond saving the world and Edelweiss saving the Von Trapp clan are on equal footing.

Good post and discussion.

Fletch said...

Minor disagreement: you say about trailers that "they tend to give away much more than any critic ever does, yet people don't complain about them."

Heck yeah, people complain about them, myself included. They're way too long and they almost always give too much away. Teasers are the best trailers - after all, they "tease" you into wanting more. Why would they keep giving us more (longer, newer trailers) without us paying for our tickets?

Fox said...

Jason & Fletch: Y'all make some fair and solid points on the trailers. And it's not as easy to avoid the trailers as it is reviews, especially when you are a somewhat captive member of the audience. (I suppose you could plug your ears and cover your eyes, but that's a little strange).

I can especially see how trailers spoil comedies. And the longer the trailer - which seems the case these days - the more jokes you hear before the movie comes out.

Still, a good joke will always make me happy no matter how many times I see it. EX: Everytime I watch *Rushmore*, the "these are OR scrubs", "Oh, are they?" joke makes me laugh.

Here's another thought...

What about when movies have MULTIPLE trailers? For a recent example, I know *The Happening* had two full-length trailers that were completely different. I think this is also the case for *The Pineapple Express*.

And Jason, you make an excellent point about people like Tucker, Howell, et al having priveleges that we don't. Their point of view on this topic is definitely skewed because of that.

debbie said...

SATC trailer. Worst spoiler ever. I mean, I already knew the characters, so I was interested in the movie for the plot. Where are they now? What are they doing?

What? Steve cheated on Miranda? Thanks trailer. Charlotte is pregnant? Thanks again.

And, yeah. The movie stunk too. That's my scholarly informed opinion from someone who has probably seen over 300 movies.

Fox said...

Nice one Debbie... right in my ribs. >(

debbie said...

What's a blog without a heckler?

Daniel G. said...

I'm about as spoiler-phobic as you can get, but as you say, it's not too hard to live this way. I avoid reviews, I never watch trailers (I'll either literally close my eyes in the theater or arrive late so as not to get to them), and I tiptoe around any discussions before I see the movie. I've got a great memory and too many movies have lost their suspense because I knew what was coming from the trailer.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Wait a minute - the Wizard is Frank Morgan?!??! Thanks a lot Fox! Now The Wizard of Oz is ruined for me. Way to go.

Fox said...

What can I say... I get a kick out of ripping the curtain open prematurely for people... wah wah... eh.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Hey your comment came exactly 12 hours after mine. I notice things like that. It's what makes me special.