4 April 2012

Where has the surprise gone?

And why must everything be spoiled?


If you can, cast your mind back to a time before the internet was all pervasive and controlled our lives. Was there more mystique around films then? Were there fewer preconceived notions about a film and less chance of spoilers ruining it? Whether that was so or not, access to fewer film related resources than we have now must surely have meant that the contents of most films were a greater surprise to the viewer. Today however we seem to be in a position where the surprise has mostly gone, or at least the desire to be surprised has gone, which I find bewildering.

Lately I've become increasingly aware of peoples "need" to determine every detail about a film prior to its release, which seems unnecessarily excessive. I really can't grasp this. The histrionic internet reactions to some upcoming films, Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises in particular, have really been quite eye-opening. To say that these are two of the most anticipated films of recent years (not just 2012) would be something of an understatement, and as a genre loving film geek I’m as excited as everyone else to see what Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe will herald, and how Chris Nolan will conclude his Batman trilogy. Except I want to experience these films with as much unknown beforehand as possible.

Since when did the over-scrutinisation of trailers for details and ideas of what to expect from the finished product become so actively promoted by the media? In some sense it’s the logical step from the post-film deconstruction, but what can it do other than give away too much information that will ruin the purity of that first time viewing experience? Recently seeing a few websites tout articles offering thorough breakdowns and analyses of the latest Prometheus trailer, examining every minute detail for clues as to how it fits with the mythology of the previous Alien films, felt quite disheartening and unnecessary. Why do people need to know everything about the film before seeing it? What about the surprise and mystery of letting it reveal it’s secrets as the story unfolds before you on screen, and then using repeat viewings to slowly reveal more?

There is too much trailer obsession at present. Don't get me wrong I love watching trailers, but they’re the necessary evil of film, which is a frustrating dichotomy. It’s difficult to not get excited when the first trailer for some big film like The Avengers appears online (wait a minute, I live in the UK so I’m supposed to sound culturally unaware and call it Marvel Avengers Assemble), or when you see the trailer for that rare film that you weren’t previously aware of. There’s something about the anticipation of not knowing what is going to appear before you on the cinema screen that is quite thrilling. But on the other hand, due to the oft complained about point that trailers just give too much away, it can be a game of Russian roulette because you don’t know how much of the film may be ruined by this little two minute taster. Usually as much as I want to watch a trailer, in the back of my mind is the concern that I’d be better off not watching it. It's really annoying when watching a film and you start trying to second guess where all the scenes you saw in the trailer will fit in. That's really distracting.

The ideal scenario has to be watching a trailer once only, but for any regular cinema goer this is completely unfeasible and over-exposure to certain trailers comes with the territory. For films like The Cabin In the Woods, where anyone who has seen it actively recommends avoiding any information about the film in advance, particularly the trailer as it gives too much away, what are you supposed to do? I was doing a great avoidance job and then the trailer goes ahead and appears on screen and of course I didn’t know what it was until halfway through, by which point it was too late not to watch. At least I’m now able to quickly implement the eyes closed / hands over ears technique. But that kind of ruins the fun of sitting in the cinema. As does seeing the same trailer over and over again though. Maybe this need to trawl through trailers for as much info as can be dragged out is just because it’s so easy to do so these days, what with multiple trailers, shooting scripts, revealing on-set photos and a plethora of other over analysed spoilers just a couple of clicks away. It really seems like it ruins the magic. Now just don’t get me started on the concept of a trailer for a trailer, which has started happening!

On the excess information side, The Dark Knight Rises has been the catalyst for some of the worst spoilerish rumour mongering I’ve seen. Some websites have been collating regular reports rounding up all the latest rumours about the film, analysing what’s potentially true or not. I know there’s feverish demand for this film but what happened to patience? Oh that's right, patience is not a concept that exists on the internet, what with people’s entitled attitude that they should have free access to everything immediately, and if the film isn’t available yet then this demand must be satiated with as much information about it as possible.

I don’t mean this whole rant to come across as “oh, wasn’t it better before the internet?”. That’s not my point, because even though the trailers and all these spoilers are there online, it’s usually pretty easy to avoid them. Although unfortunately it's not always that simple, as sometimes people on Twitter are just not cautious enough with what they’re tweeting and I have unwittingly read spoilers I would have actively chosen to avoid. People forget that just because you also inhabit this digital space it doesn't mean you have the same need to have things spoiled.

It seems the best solution for avoiding having a film ruined in advance these days is to bury your head in the sand, particularly from a web based perspective. But of course that isn’t really practical, nor is avoiding the trailers in the cinema. I begrudgingly learned to live with that years ago – at least it's their home environment and they look and sound big as they should, particularly compared to watching on a computer at home. Watching a film is still certainly all about the experience for me, and a major part of that is going in with as little knowledge as possible and letting the film surprise me as it progresses. Perhaps I have to accept I’ll never understand why people are becoming so obsessed with over-analysing and collecting information on a film before watching it – can this really be an enhancement of the experience? Clearly it is for some. I’ve now decided that I won’t succumb to the temptation of watching new trailers online anymore. I can wait until the cinema where no doubt I’ll catch most of them, but even if I miss some, chances are high I’ll be planning on watching those films anyway so it won’t make a difference to my decision-making. Just don't spoil the film for me!

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