Spoiler Alert: Don’t Tell Me What Happens!

Posted: April 17, 2012 in Uncategorized
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By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

I remember this moment distinctly. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this marked the end of an era for me, and was a sign of the changing landscape of pop culture where the overabundance of information would drastically alter our relationship with movies:

It was 1999 and my older brother and I were at the movies, glued to our seats watching the trailers. It was the year that the highly-anticipated Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was coming out. The trailer opened with a view of space, which zoomed into a space ship as the voiceover talked of an “Empire” while the camera moved toward a figure seated in a chair facing away from the camera. As the camera approached, the chair spun around to reveal Dr. Evil who says, “You were expecting someone else?”

It was the teaser trailer for the sequel to Austin Powers. I was extremely excited, because I loved the first Austin Powers, as almost everyone at the time did. But, more significantly, I had not even heard a rumor of a second Austin Powers film being in development, let alone about a trailer already out in theaters. It completely took me by surprise.

Now, thirteen years later, no trailer is ever a surprise. Between television, social media, and other advertising, we are exposed to films long before we ever see a trailer, and way before we see the movie itself. Rather than be surprised, we can usually guess what movie the trailer is for only seconds into it.

It’s not only trailers, though. I just forced myself to close out one of my favorite movie sites, because so many details are being revealed about one of my most anticipated films of the summer – the Marvel Comics superhero ensemble The Avengers – that I’m fearing if I read anymore, I will know the whole film before seeing it. Between scoops, spoilers, official and unofficial images, and a host of chatter, I’ll only be seeing the film so that I can finally witness all of the details in chronological order.

It’s not unreasonable that details are coming out about a film a month before its release, but film fans know it doesn’t stop there. Related to The Avengers, I’ve already read details about the proposed storyline for Iron Man 3, which will be released May 3, 2013. And I’ve read about potential directors and plotlines for Captain America 2, to be released April 4, 2014. The hype machine for movies no longer is measured in months, but in years.

In some respects, this overabundance of information has its advantages. I’m sure Marvel Studios is thrilled that fans like myself are already excited for properties of theirs that are years away from release. And as a fan, I like hearing all the info.

However, as a fan I wonder if the overabundance of information is stripping some of the joy from the movie-going experience. Not only am I never again going to experience the shock and joy of being surprised by a trailer as I was with Austin Powers 2, but I will likely never go into a major wide-release film again with anything resembling a “blank slate,” which I’d consider to be just a synopsis and a trailer.

Surprise is one of the joys of storytelling. We don’t want the end of a movie being spoiled for us; it robs the story of the excitement that comes from anticipating what will come next and how it will all end. Some people in the film industry understand this, like Christopher Nolan, the director of the latest Batman films, who is known for desperately trying to keep all the most important details of his films a secret until it’s released. Others, particularly in the marketing departments, do the opposite by trying to saturate the marketplace with details before the film ever comes out.

The fans are guilty of creating this problem, too – myself included. While it’s virtually impossible to avoid all exposure to a film like The Avengers (I’d have had to be living in the wilderness for the past two years to do that – even then, there may be some deer and raccoons tagged with marketing materials) it’s my fault for seeking out more information. And it’s the fault of fans for digging up and consuming that information rather than just waiting to see the film.

It is truly a fast food society’s approach to movie-going: we want it and we want it now! Never mind that, like fast food, the approach will ultimately reduce the quality of the final product. It’s the immediacy we crave. But like fast food, I’d be kidding if I said I’m not going to consume it anymore. I’ll still read movie news websites, I’ll still want to know about what’s going on with movies that are years away from release, and I’ll still struggle to keep myself away from spoilers about the films I’m anticipating the most. I know the movie won’t “taste” as good as it could, but my impatience will inevitably beat logic. But I wish it would, because sometimes less is more, particularly when it comes to being told a great story.


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