Friday, May 17, 2013

ARE SPOILERS RUINING MOVIES?


Benedict Cumberbatch in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS
I posted a comment about the new STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS movie on my Facebook status last week and it drew umbrage from some who thought I was exposing a story secret that Paramount Studios was working very hard to keep under wraps. However, the scoop that I revealed had been in the public discourse for months. It’s been covered extensively online, in magazines, and all over TV. The revelation concerned the true identity of the character that Benedict Cumberbatch plays in the new movie and any true STAR TREK fan knew the truth of it eons ago.

(NOTE: This blog entry is now going to expose all kinds of spoilers, including the role, so stop here if that sort of thing offends you.)

Practically every Trekkie and their brother knew the big ‘secret’ for months – Cumberbatch was playing Khan, or at least a new version of the titular villain from the original series’ “Space Seed” episode and the 2nd Trek movie THE WRATH OF KHAN. So what’s the big deal? Why did Paramount send out Cumberbatch on his press junket so sworn to secrecy? If everyone knows it, at least the core audience, then isn’t it more insulting to make all those involved continue to play along with the charade?
Ricardo Montalban in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)
And what’s the big deal anyway? Director J.J.Abrams is reinventing all sorts of characters as he redoes STAR TREK. (Guess what? He’ll probably do the same as he reboots STAR WARS!)  And the Khan role isn’t really all that close to Ricardo Montalban’s classic portrayal of the super human with an equally oversized ego. And, having just seen the movie, I can tell you that knowing Cumberbatch was playing a new version of Khan didn’t ruin a damn thing. The movie is still incredibly entertaining. And Cumberbatch makes a wonderful and wholly different Khan than his predecessor. So let’s stop pretending that it was ever a secret to begin with.

That’s the problem with spoilers. When the Internet has spoiled the ‘surprise’ for six months in every corner of the globe, there is no reason to act so precious about keeping the lid on such things. And truly, can any movie studio honestly expect such secrets to remain so in this day and age? Anywhere? Everything goes global the second it hits the Internet. Heck, maybe that’s it. Maybe Paramount knew we all knew and just kept the conversation with the fans and the blogosphere going on and on by pretending it was a secret at all. If that’s the case, bravo Paramount!
Jaye Davidson as Dil in THE CRYING GAME (1992)
There was a time, say 20 years ago, when movie spoilers and big plot twists in movies could be contained. But that’s a long time ago. Since then it’s hard to keep anything under wraps. The revelation of the character of Dil having a pickle in the thriller THE CRYING GAME (1992) would not have been able to remain secret today. The revelation that Bruce Willis’ psychiatrist character was dead throughout the whole of THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) would have been blabbed online after the first preview screening. It’s that type of atmosphere today. Just ask Harry Knowles. He’s become a wealthy man by getting the first look at test screenings and writing about them on his movie site AintItCool.com.

Surprisingly, most movie critics, at least those with a true journalistic background, maintain the ethics of not giving away too much of a movie in their reviews. It’s rare that any legitimate evaluation goes past the 60-minute mark of any given movie. And that’s great. In fact, the only time critics really give a film away is if it’s god-awful and they want to prevent people from going to see it. But that’s rare that a film is so pathetic that it pushes critics to divulge so.

You know who has really turned spoilers into an epidemic, and a ruinous one at that? It’s not bloggers or critics or fan boys. It’s the studio guys responsible for creating the movie trailers! They’re the real culprits. For decades now, movie trailers have revealed more and more of the movies they’re selling. They’re supposed to be mere appetizers, whetting our appetite for the main course. Yet how many movie trailers have you seen where all the best scenes, lines and moments are crammed into a two-minute exercise that leaves you with the feeling you’ve already seen the whole damn thing?
Ben Kingsley in IRON MAN 3 
I myself always worry when trailers start for fear that they’re going to give away as much as they too often do. And that’s by far the norm, rather than the exception. I really enjoyed IRON MAN 3 but the trailer gave away far too many of its best shots and action bits. At least the trailer kept the revelation about the truth of Ben Kingsley’s character to itself. (I may have gone too far even saying that here. My apologies.)

Trailers for movie comedies are by far the most egregious as they showcase most of the best lines and gags so that by the time you see the actual film, you know the set-up and punchline and it ruins the joke. No wonder most comedies feel stale by the time they open. I can’t help but wonder if one of the reasons that THE HANGOVER movies have been so successful is due to the fact that so many of their R-rated gags and lines cannot be showcased in a trailer for general audiences. The movie holds surprises because we aren’t exposed to some of the raunch and blue language prematurely.
Zack Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms in THE HANGOVER (2009)
Nonetheless, more and more R-rated comedies get special redband trailers too. Those are the previews that you can only see online or with an R-rated movie. They show the dirtier parts, the cruder language, and end up giving away even more of the best stuff. Trailers are supposed to lure us in, but far too often they spoil a good movie by giving away the goods before we’ve even bought a ticket.

I remember talking to a guy who cuts trailers years ago when I was doing some advertising work for a major studio. He told me that his only responsibility was to get the opening weekend audience in the theater. After that, the movie lives or dies on its own merits and/or word-of-mouth. That’s why he put all the best bits in the trailer, to ensure that audience. He felt no responsibility after that, no sense of obligation to leave some of the best for the actual movie going experience.
Bryan Cranston in the TV series BREAKING BAD
It’s funny, but one place that seems quite capable of keeping secrets is the world of television. Perhaps it’s because there’s so much of it but seldom are cliffhangers ruined or revelations given up prematurely. I mean did anyone expect the final episode of THE SOPRANOS to be what it was? Did anyone know for sure if Brody was good or bad on HOMELAND? And who out there in the blogosphere can tell us what’s going to happen within the final episodes of BREAKING BAD due this summer? I’ve looked. Believe me. I love the new series HANNIBAL and for all of NBC’s misfortunes and mistakes, they certainly have kept the week-to-week developments on that eerie show hidden. Maybe the movie marketers should talk to the TV marketers and steal a page or two from their playbook. Then we’d all be a little more surprised and delighted when the lights go down and the movie starts.
William Shatner in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)
So if you’re a movie fan who doesn’t want to be exposed to any of the twists and turns of a movie before you see it in the theaters I’d suggest you do the following: stop reading, stop surfing the net, stop watching TV or listening to the radio. In fact you should probably go find yourself a cave, hide out there for a while, and make sure you're blindfolded. Oh, and stick your fingers in your ears. And hum. 

The spoilers are out there, friends. And they’re easily accessed any darn day of the week. Everything is a spoiler these days. Not just my Facebook page. Why, there are so few surprises left in the entertainment world it’s enough to make Captain Kirk howl in utter anger and frustration, “Khaaaaaaaannnn!” Or, as it’s done in the new STAR TREK movie, by Mr. Spock instead.

Oops! I did it again. Sorry. I’m a spoiler.

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