Tom Jolliffe ponders whether audiences still care about being surprised…
Some spoilers will follow (featuring Obi-Wan, Doctor Strange 2 and Stranger Things)… if you still care…
Right now the world eagerly awaits the arrival of Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 2 . We’ve also got through the entire run of the much anticipated Obi-Wan series on Disney too. Such highfalutin fare brings with it a whole lot of anticipation. For a couple of years now, we’ve all wondered whether Hopper is alive. That is until it was quickly given away before the new series had even launched that he was alive (and yeah, of course we all knew he would be). You see, the mystery of TV and cinema is slowly ebbing away, replaced by the unavoidable blurt. A mass hysteria and perpetual need to be given an answer immediately, or a sense of importance that says you can just come out and reveal a twist to your followers, because it’s more important that you express your feelings, than they have a chance to watch something with mystery in tact. The never-ending spoiler fest internet, has now reached a key stage; Filmmakers are simply pre-empting their show stopping reveals, having perhaps given up on being able to keep things a secret.
How many trailers will you see from recent years where almost the entire plot is given away? A few years back in a desperate bid to actually attract buzz that just wasn’t there, the studio behind Terminator Genisys thought better of keeping a key reveal for the movie itself. That was the twist which saw John Conner become a villain, a hybrid of man and machine. Okay, it’s a terrible idea, and the film was dire, but why reveal your third act show stopper in the trailers and leave nothing left in the film? Trailers these days generally seem to run for 2-2.5 minutes and don’t leave much to the imagination. Netflix trailers are pretty bad with this on the whole.
That brings me to another topic: Doctor Strange’s terrible looking third eye in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, as unsightly as Henry Cavill’s Justice League lip. Among an array of moments in the Marvel film (part of a cinematic universe which has long rested on twists, flips and surprise cameos), if you have more than a few film publications pop up on your feeds these days, you’ll have seen said third eye. You may have seen screen grabs of a number of the cameos littered through the film. Ordinarily I’d not be too bothered, having grown a little weary of the MCU now, but it’s the principal. I did get around to Strange 2 and his Multiverse of Incoherence. I was there for Sam Raimi. Actually, it’s as scattershot and nonsensical as Raimi’s classic era horror, but like those, it’s good fun (albeit of course, absolutely no Evil Dead 1-3).
Here’s the frustrating thing though, I’d have got a little more out of the film not knowing about the cameos or certain big moments. To make matters worse, it’s not as if I actively looked at Doctor Strange articles myself. I got most of these spoilt through a simple feed scroll on Facebook. Clickbait articles on film publications (well known), with not a spoiler warning in sight, but everything given away in the article header. I’ve subsequently un-followed a couple (that said, I don’t remember following in the first place…Zuck… I’m looking at you!). Joe Public has a right to be a blabbermouth. A prominent photo accompanying an article talking about Liam Neeson returning at the end of Obi-Wan, with no spoiler warning and no care isn’t really what film sites should be doing mere days after the episode’s premiere. Yes, it’s a talking point, but for Christ sake, give people a chance to catch up, and maybe be a bit less direct on the news feed.
Do people still need the surprise factor now though? In the ever interchangeable bilge of disposable entertainment, it need only fill a gap till the next thing and be serviceable. Obi-Wan as a show was a meandering, largely frustrating affair until suddenly shifting into third gear from midway in Episode 4. It’s a short series of six episodes that still felt as if it could have been three, or a one off movie. Still, you wouldn’t have to look hard to find out every key moment, cameo or talking point.
Having just released a film myself (When Darkness Falls) I’ve found myself in something of a frustrating position. On the one hand we’ve had some nice reviews, but over half of them (critic reviews) have unveiled spoilers within the review (with no spoiler warning). In fact the film, a mystery thriller, is a bit of a throwback, with some twists along the way, and through a variety of sites they’ve all managed to blab pretty much each twist along the way. Being a micro budget film we appreciate any review we can get (good or bad) to give the film a little spotlight, so I still appreciate the time of these reviewers (and kind words), but is it merely that the spoiler in and of itself is now dead? I just did an interview last night about the film and the host (an entirely cool dude I should say) blabbed about a key twist too. Increasingly I think this is becoming second nature, or a blasé natural new feeling that twists aren’t that important anymore.
I recall a childhood friend who would see the coolest, most age inappropriate films before anyone else. Inevitably we’d all follow suit and watch said film, like Terminator 2, Aliens, whatever. However, between him watching and us watching, something happened. We’d be recounted every cool moment, twist, standout sequence, topless sequence, one liner or ground-breaking visual effect. We’d have the film laid out for us almost verbatim through some kind of dazzling one man show. I like to call it the (Andrew) Vajna Monologues. This kid would present his monologue de Terminator 2, Total Recall and other films not related to the late Andrew Vajna also. By the time I pressed play on the VHS to see with my own eyes, nothing that transpired would be a surprise. Did I still have life affirming viewing experiences though? Very much so.
As the film industry changes and the way we view things change, it may just be par for a new course that the days of experiencing something mainstream with total surprise, are gone. Edgar Wright made a big promotional push ahead of Last Night in Soho to avoid spoilers and to an extent it worked, but he’s on the cultier end of mainstream, a world away from the in your face-ness of a Disney product. Can the marquee blockbusters and TV shows still deliver the surprise factor? Do we all have to get it watched and out the way on opening day to be in and ahead of the spoiler filled after discussions? I recall an insatiable urge to talk about Squid Game’s Marble episode immediately after, given how exceptional it was, but I’d never have blurted the outcomes. The only films that tend to offer me surprises these days are the ones no one is talking about.
There are still films coming out which are building a very deliberate mystique. Jordan Peele, who has done it this way with every directorial gig, is intentionally remaining vague in all the promotional work for Nope. The trailers give a sense of what may come. It prods us enough to begin our guessing games, and I’ll certainly be avoiding reviews ahead of its release (because a lot of sites have completely foregone the spoiler warning now). Come a few days after the release of Nope, will it still have the same mystique? Will big moments or big reveals have been spoiled, picked apart and dissected before I even dust off my corduroy trousers and leather jacket to visit the local picture house? We shall see.
Do you still care about spoilers? Is it almost impossible to avoid? What was the most recent film or TV show which was spoiled without warning for you? Let us know on our social channels @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.