Jul 2, 2012

Where's the Mystery

I threatened numerous people that my next post after the award winning Reunion Files would be a list of my favorite superheroes.  BUT, I lied.  Sure, this probably will reference superheroes, but the actual list will have to wait for another day.  Instead, I am wanted to address something that has been bugging me for a while now.  It started as a Facebook status update.  But, when I realized that it was going to take a paragraph to explain, I knew it had to go somewhere else.


[Side Note: Facebook friends, if you feel it necessary to write a full column for your status update, can I suggest you perhaps turn that into a note?  Then I will at least know what I am getting into.  I don't mind a short paragraph.  Everyone knows that I have written my share of long statii.  If the status ventures into needing its own ISBN number, go the Note route.]

I have reached the end of my tolerance of movie and tv spoilers.  There was a time, not too long ago, where I enjoyed the random spoiler.  I liked to know some information about where a show was heading, or what treats may pop up in a movie.  When Lost was on air, I would visit many sites to figure out what just happened, what it meant, what was coming.  I like to know the random detail about a television series.  We watch Burn Notice every summer and winter.  It left us last year with some big cliffhangers last season, so I was naturally curious about what was going to happen.  I did at some point go onto ew.com and see how long a character would remain in jail.  But that is a big difference from the spoiler madness out there.

The reason I even thought about this was that one of my regular entertainment sites - not even a normal spoiler site - had a post up about who Joseph Gordon Levitt was playing in The Dark Knight Rises.  This is the thing.  Christopher Nolan is notoriously secretive about his movies.  And he is even more paranoid than he usually would be because of the way people now desperately want to ruin films.  I love Nolan's films.  I like the intrigue and surprise of them.  If you allow yourself to, you will be kept off guard the entire time.  This has been his hallmark from the early films on through the Batman movies.  Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, Inception.  All of those are complex stories that require the viewer to remain in the dark.  I loved those films BECAUSE I didn't know what was going on.  The experience would have been ruined if I had known spoilers.  Nolan's ability to make intriguing movie trailers without giving away plot points is almost as breathtaking as his ability to make the movies themselves.  I remember seeing the Inception trailer and thinking it was incredible.  I started to wonder what was going on in certain scenes.  And then when I saw the movie, I was completely wrong about everything I had guessed.

Now, I know that massive movies like Dark Knight Rises do not allow for complete secrecy.  You can't hide filming a giant vehicle racing through downtown Chicago or a bomb exploding on a football field.  So there is going to be paparazzi shots of those things online.  But if the filmmaker is going out of his way to keep SOMETHING secret, let him do that.  There is probably a good reason.

J.J. Abrams is another director that gets labelled "notoriously secretive."  But he has to his credit some really twisty surprising stuff that would not have worked if everything was out in the open.  When a director fights the intrusive nature of modern media, it is almost they get a target on their back.  Now it becomes an accomplishment to get set photos, script peeks, or character bios.  This is happening to Abrams now on Star Trek 2.  He went so far as to rent giant cargo carriers to surround the shooting area because he got tired of seeing every little thing plastered on the web.

I guess I don't see the point of all of this.  I suppose for the photographers there is some kind of thrill in breaching security.  Maybe it is the modern equivalent of a photo safari in Africa.  But for the moviegoing fan, does this actually help the moviegoing experience?  Do you enjoy a film more because you know everything about it?  I know that I don't.  I want to be surprised.  It may not ruin the entire movie, but it isn't as good as it could be.  Heather and I were watching the series premiere of a show the other day on television.  There was a big twist at the end where a character dies - someone you never would have imagined was going to bite it.  The only problem was that I already knew that.  I wasn't looking for information on the series.  I was just reading an entertainment story about the premier (which we were watching on DVR the next day).  There wasn't any warning or anything.  And this wasn't like I flipped out because someone told me the secret in Psycho fifty years after it came out.  This was the next day.  So what did I think about the whole episode?  "So when does this dude die?  How does that happen?"

The thirst for secret information combines with some of the worst journalism since newspapers were called newsrocks and the fact that you can get information anywhere, any time.  This is a perfect recipe for disaster.  The writers are so desperate for scoop to drive traffic to their site that they don't care if their information is damaging to anyone.  Here are some recent examples that I will put SPOILER WARNING in front of, just in case you have missed stuff.

  • After The Avengers, entertainment sites were flooded with people discussing the details of the monster film.  Ordinarily, I would have been right there opening weekend and been in the discussion.  But I couldn't make it until the second weekend.  I actually had to completely avoid any story with Avengers in the title because so many of them had spoilers in them.  One of the most grievous was on blastr.com (a major offender).  They ran a photo gallery of the most shocking deaths in Joss Whedon's film career.  The picture to promote the gallery was of the character who shockingly died in The Avengers.  
  • The massive response to Avengers led to people searching for information on the next Marvel film - Iron Man 3.  Sure enough, out comes a picture of a red, white, and blue Iron Man suit.  It gets plastered all over the place: blastr, yahoo, ew.  Who is this?  Is it Iron Patriot (from the Dark Avengers storyline)? Is it War Machine?  The very fact that this discussion was happening may have ruined a major story arc in the movie!  
  • Ridley Scott is one of the original secretive directors.  With Prometheus, he tried to keep as much information under wraps (until it was time to super-promote the film by apparently telling everything that happened).  The movie had barely hit theaters before multiple sites were talking about what was said in a conversation at the end of the movie.  Of course, the conversation gives away massive information.  
It used to be that you had to hunt for information about a movie or a show.  Now you have to actively and intentionally avoid it.  And it is getting worse and worse.  If you don't see a movie opening night, be prepared to have all the secrets ruined the next day.  I have gotten into the habit of just avoiding sites altogether until I can see a movie.  More than that, though, I go into total media blackout.  I remember back when Independence Day came out, I didn't want to know anything more than I had to.  I wouldn't even look at the toys until I saw the movie because I didn't want to accidentally see the aliens.  Back then it was a different story.  To not get information, you didn't go to the toy section and didn't read insider magazines.  There was no Internet.  

Today, it is a real challenge to not see a movie spoiled.  Take Dark Knight Rises.  I am so excited for this film.  First of all, I am a major Batman fan.  Second, I love Christopher Nolan.  Third, I have thoroughly enjoyed Nolan's Batman series.  Fourth, it looks like it may be harkening to the Knighfall comics arc, which was one of my favorite.  It is an excitement on par with Avengers.  The original trailer came out and didn't show much - just enough to excite fans everywhere.  Then a second trailer came out and gave more information.  Then multiple viral campaigns got started.  Then there were the onslaught of television commercials.  At this point I already have seen more than I wanted because I know there are two different Batmobiles and there is a Batplane.  I have tried to avoid a lot of the spoilers out there, but there have been intense online discussions about what the Selina Kyle character is all about, if Joseph Gordon Levitt is playing a good guy or bad guy, if Talia Al Ghul makes an appearance.  Not just that, but when you go to the toy store, there is a whole line of toys with characters and vehicles that I wouldn't know existed without watching the movie.  [Similar problem with The Avengers, when Lego brought out sets that showed the aliens that Whedon had worked so hard to never show.]  It becomes tons of work to NOT see anything that will spoil the movie.

I really miss the older days when you knew a movie was coming out, you saw the trailer, there may be a magazine article and that was it.  Now we are so saturated with a film and its coverage and its tie-ins that the film itself almost becomes a second thought.  It makes me wonder if the marketers behind all of this thinks it is successful.  Was The Avengers successful because it was marketed to high heaven and had relentless coverage?  Or was it because it was a very good movie that tied together several other really good movies?  Is Dark Knight Rises going to break records because it has been promoted non-stop for the last month?  Or is it because it probably is going to be beyond amazing?  The thing is, even with all of this promotion and marketing and coverage and "leaked info" and snoop pictures, the moviegoing audience can still identify junk and avoid it.  John Carter, Battleship, Dark Shadows were all promoted to a ridiculous level.  They all had the same level of pubic recognition.  And they all bombed because they were awful.  

The is a fine line between spoilery information that will attract and info that will ruin.  I want to know what JJ Abrams' show Revolution is about.  I think it looks very cool and I plan on watching it.  I don't think that it hurts to know Elizabeth Mitchell has been cast as the main kids' estranged mom - even though I didn't know those kids had an estranged mom.  Knowing Mitchell is on board is another draw.  But if they start telling me a bunch of information about everything, that is going to turn me off.  Of course, marketers would probably label me an "educated viewer."  That doesn't mean schooling, it means that I know a lot about entertainment and the like.  With a show like Revolution - like with Avengers and Dark Knight Rises - there are three groups of viewers.  There are people who are on board no matter what.  There are people that won't go no matter what.  And there are those who need swayed.  Just about all of these efforts I've talked about are aimed at that last group.  With the new Batman movie, the first group was won over when the movie was announced.  But the blockbuster status of the film will be determined by just how many of the last group can be swayed.  The problem is when the powers that be, the media, those who are obsessed with information actually damage the interest of the fans to gain fringe viewers.  [You could actually argue that Apple has been walking this line for a while, and failing from time to time.  Their desperation to pull in new users with things like the new MacBook Pro and Final Cut Pro updates actually alienated long-time Apple devotees.]  That may make business sense, but it stinks for those people who really support projects.   

I know this isn't going to change any time soon.  It actually will get worse.  Everyone has a phone with a camera.  It is so easy to post news.  Real journalism is being run out of town by entertainment media and gossip sites.  And movie and television studios have to have MEGA-hits to justify their costs.  Everything has to be big now.  I have never seen so many $100 million and $200 million grossing movies labeled bombs as I have this year.  We have seen shows that consistently pulled in over ten million viewers weekly cancelled for poor performance (Alcatraz, Terra Nova, Rob!).  It is going to become harder and harder to control how much information we get about entertainment.  I'll guess I will just have to expand my media blackouts even more.  I can only imagine how bad it will be by next year's Man of Steel.  But if you happen to know anything in advance, just keep it to yourself.  

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