Monday, June 4, 2012

In a film-culture seemingly entitled to spoilers, simple concealed narrative become "PLOT TWISTS!"

Under normal circumstances, this post would require a 'Spoiler Warning(!)'.  But what I'm discussing aren't some shocking plot twists or stunning third-act reveals, which is kind of the point.  This Friday finally brings about the US release of Ridley Scott's Prometheus.  A major part of the marketing campaign has centered around its somewhat cryptic beginnings, the idea that Fox wasn't revealing the whole film in the trailer as is often the case.  This in turn led to speculation that there was some plot twist being held in reserve, be it a specific connection to the Alien franchise or some kind of stunning third act reveal.  We've seen this game before, as Paramount successfully sold the idea last summer that Super 8 had some kind of climactic reveal and/or plot twist.  Without going into spoiler-y details, this is not true for either of the above films.  Prometheus certainly has some narrative threads that haven't been revealed in the marketing, while other pretty major details have been blatantly spoiled because they contained 'money shots'.  But at the end of the day, and this is not a criticism per-se, Prometheus unfolds in a somewhat predictable manner, as did Super 8.  What's interesting is that in this day and age merely not revealing the entire narrative arc and/or every money shot in the film qualifies as 'hiding plot twists'.

This is more an open question that a declaration, but are we now at a stage where it's expected for studios to explicitly detail their major films as a matter of course during the marketing campaign?  Is merely choosing not to reveal the fact that A) the film contains story telling during the third act and/or right up the finale and B) not revealing what those narrative beats are now an act of marketing bravery?  Four years ago, Sony took inexplicable heat for its marketing of Hancock, which refreshingly didn't even hint at a major second act plot twist and/or where the story was going for the last third.  Critics howled as if they had been lied to, and many of the negative reviews were tinged with some kind of feeling of betrayal at the idea that the film was more complicated and somewhat different than the simpler "Will Smith as a grouchy alcoholic superhero" plot that was sold.  The film was a massive hit anyway, since Will Smith is Will Smith, but the DVD/Blu Ray art seemingly 'corrected the mistake', giving away said the big reveal right on the cover.

Is every major plot point that isn't revealed prior to release, be it through trailers, posters, or online clips, now considered a 'plot twist'?  Is Disney/Pixar engaging in a kind of marketing shell game because they are only using mostly act one footage for their Brave campaign, or are they merely choosing not to spoil whatever occurs in the last hour or so of the film?  I don't have an answer here, and it may be I'm making something out nothing (wouldn't be the first time).  But in an era when studios seem to shamelessly spoil whatever intrigue, visual wonder, or unexpected character beats the film has to offer, it seems that any attempt to leave something on the table amounts to 'hiding a secret'.  And in place of blatant reveals, we have feverish bloggers and film writers trying to spoil themselves via endless speculation over the tiniest detail in hopes of guessing and revealing whatever it is the studio chose to hide.  Is Talia Al Ghul in The Dark Knight Rises?  If so, what role does she play? Just what is Bane's ultimate scheme?  Instead of celebrating how little we know about J.J. Abrams's Star Trek sequel, we work ourselves up in a tizzy writing speculative essays about who the villain might possibly be (Khan! Klingons! Tribbles! Q!).  We look for 'clues' in an official image still from Iron Man 3 and expect Disney/Marvel to tell us who everyone is playing *right now* as if it's our right to know everything about the film a year in advance.

And that's the end result, really.  In a film industry where pure unadulterated spoilers are a part of marketing campaigns (The Avengers arrived in theaters with just two story beats unspoiled, one character-related and one visual) and entire websites are built on spoiler speculation and/or illicit spoilers (IE - pirated onset videos or leaked photos), the current geek generation (and the mainstream media that pretends that they represent the mainstream) seemingly has an entitlement complex in regards to knowing everything about a film before they sit down in a theater to watch it.  And as a consequence, merely choosing not to reveal the whole hand becomes a bluff of sorts, predicated on the idea that anything not being revealed must be a massive surprise.  No, not really.  Sometimes studios or filmmakers just want you to discover the movie for yourselves after you've bought your ticket.

Scott Mendelson              


TheDLA said...

I've been working overtime to avoid any and all information about Prometheus. As I won't be able to take the wife to see it until next Wednesday, my internet will be shut off starting tomorrow.

PulpTruth94 said...

I don't think you're making something out of nothing. The sense of entitlement is what bugs me most. I think a lot of the problem originates there.


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