Private Viewing: Does a hatred of sneak peaks mean that I have lost the plot?
- Credit: PA
We live in a world that hates surprises even in fiction. Arts editor Andrew Clarke regrets this
Let me preface this week’s column with the fact that I love Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, James Bond, these major cornerstones of popular culture. I watch the films, buy the DVDs, read the interviews, watch the making of documentaries... but what I don’t like is the endless speculation, the incessant second guessing, the marketing and the hype. It drives me insane.
I hate spoilers. I can’t understand people hacking film companies like Sony and making off with the script. Why? Why would you want to ruin the surprise of seeing something develop on screen?
I am the man who dives for the remote to switch off the television at the end of each week’s episode of Dr Who because I don’t want to see clips from next week. I want it to be surprised, delighted, entertained. This series we are being treated to an unprecedented number of two-parters, so what’s the point of a cliff-hanger if the source of the dramatic tension is dissipated during the end titles?
I have a similar objection to film trailers. The traditional cinema trailer was a thing of beauty. They gave you a flavour of the “forthcoming attraction” without telling you exactly what the plot was. The job of the trailer was to arouse your curiosity, to entice you back to the cinema next week, to create a sense of atmosphere and expectation. What they didn’t do was reveal all the major plot points, twists and turns and deliver a fast-paced compendium of all the best jokes and action-sequences – which, more often than not, is the role of the trailer today.
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I’ve lost count of the number of times I have exited a cinema realising that the trailer I saw a couple of weeks earlier provided me with a perfect summary of the movie I had just seen. As a result I feel cheated. It’s just as if someone had told me the entire plot as I was queuing to go in and see the film.
I now try and avoid trailers both at the cinema and on TV. I want no sneak peaks of forthcoming instalments. I do like going behind the scenes and watching making of documentaries but only after I have seen the film or TV show.
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The reason for my current sensitivity to spoilers and my belligerent attitude to trailers is the madness surrounding the forthcoming release of the latest James Bond film Spectre and the new Star Wars movie: The Force Awakens. The trailers for both these films are surprisingly restrained by modern cinema standards but the speculation online is bordering on the psychotic. Every second of trailer footage is analysed and speculated over. Fans are rapidly hunting down clues about the plot in production drawings and behind-the-scenes photographs. Why? It’ll just ruin it for you and everyone else.
This need to know the story before you see the finished film or television show started in the cut-throat world of soap operas and swiftly spread to other forms of filmed entertainment as ratings and box office returns became ever more important.
Newspapers started reporting dramatic events in soaps as “news” in the late 1980s. Major deaths and tragedies would be reported as news while the scenes were being filmed and, weeks later, the audience would tune in, knowing what was going to happen, but curious to see exactly how their favourite character would meet their end.
It didn’t take long for this leaking of plot information to move from the small screen to the cinema. In the early 1990s, trailers started becoming more than atmospheric teasers and transformed into four minute content capsules. Some film trailers, like the ghostly Harrison Ford thriller What Lies Beneath, became infamous for giving away a final act twist.
Giving away too much information can actually put me off seeing a film or TV show. If you buy a book you don’t flip to the back to find out who did it before you start reading, so why would you want a trailer that effectively does the same thing? Or perhaps people do?
The time has come to once again preserve a sense of mystery. We must allow our modern-day storytellers to catch us off guard, to surprise us and wrong-foot us. We must have faith in their ability to spin a yarn. The older I get, the less frequently I go to the cinema purely for spectacle. Special effects for their own sake don’t impress me much. They do impress me when they are harnessed to serve a story and stories work best when we don’t know the ending. Let’s preserve that element of surprise.