The Art of the Spoil: My Experiment for 2010

You know you want to go into a movie blind. You really do. But at the same time, it’s almost impossible to succeed in said endeavor. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself and you’ll see. Sure, you can avoid spending too much time on movie websites, and you can always change the channel. You can forsake downloading the trailer to the latest blockbuster. Hell, you can even tuck your head in between your knees during previews or just bolt out of the theater. And even if you do all of that, you could still end up getting spoiled when you least expect it. Temptation can be a powerful force, too; for all of your efforts to dodge spoilery details, you still could find yourself drawn to the latest clip of sneak-peak footage for that big-name popcorn flick (which inevitably contains many choice moments said film). This is, of course, natural– studios want to include the coolest possible bits in the trailers for the products to help sell them and get people motivated to buy tickets. At the same time it’s hard to watch modern trailers and not feel like you’ve been bushwhacked into forfeiting the joy of watching those moments fresh, for yourself, in the theater.

So the other day, I got to thinking about whether or not the act of being spoiled really mattered that much in the long run. By “the other day” I mean, “around the time I caught Avatar“. A few days after I posted my review, I began asking myself if I might have enjoyed the bravura action sequences more had I not been privy to the details ahead of time. I wondered if consuming footage of the film ahead of time, in the form of trailers and sneak-peak clips, actually deprived me of the joy that friends of mine felt when they saw it. In the case of Avatar, I’m fairly certain that no amount of purity would have really altered my reaction to the film that much, but I started questioning my reactions to other big-ticket movies, too. Was I too spoiled before seeing Inglorious Basterds and, say, Moon? Not at all, I watched a lone teaser for the former and read only a bare synopsis (“Sam Rockwell plays an astronaut alone on the moon!”) of the former, and I loved them both immensely. I saw more than my share of promo images and trailers for Terminator Salvation, though, and we all know how well that one went over with me.

Eventually, I decided that enough was enough. No more second-guessing myself! I’m going to try and settle this once and for all– more or less. You see, two very highly-anticipated comic book films, Iron Man 2 and Kick-Ass, are being released withing around one month of each other, and as information about both has been released, I’ve taken the following tact: For Iron Man 2, I am avoiding, like the plague, trailers, preview footage and images, and anything that could give away plot details beyond the basics (Mickey Rourke joins the cast as the villain,Whiplash, who uses the same technology as Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, James Rhodes suddenly looks an awful lot like Don Cheadle, etc.), while with Kick-Ass, I’m absorbing everything and everything promotional for the film. From posters to info-laden synopses to red-band trailers loaded with  eye-catching images and moments, I’m consuming it all. One movie will be experienced blind; one I may know more about going in than the cast, crew, and director intended.

What am I ultimately hoping to learn or trying to prove? In short, that a less-spoiled movie yields a more satisfying and rewarding experience. That knowing less lets you enjoy a film more. The problem is that what I’m trying to prove is somewhat nebulous, so I am performing this faux-experiment fully acknowledging that after all is said and done, I could learn nothing more than bupkis. Maybe Kick-Ass will end up being more up my alley than Iron Man 2 (or vice versa), and no amount of secrecy or forthrightness will change that.

But maybe– just maybe– all of that pre-knowledge that I’ve gathered about Kick-Ass will completely deflate the thrill of watching it when it opens in April. And maybe keeping myself in the dark about Iron Man 2 will make it a superior theater-going experience.

Kick-Ass opens on April 16th. Iron Man 2 opens May 7th. Hope you’ll all be here in three months to read of my success– or to see me eat some serious crow.

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7 thoughts on “The Art of the Spoil: My Experiment for 2010

  1. Certainly an interesting idea, as I think the internet has oversaturated us with information. Part of me wonders if trailers and interviews and synopsi (that’s the plural, right?) would have affected how people view classics like The Godfather, for example. Might give it a go myself…

    • I occasionally wonder the same thing. The thing about The Godfather (and movies like it) is that they’re so ubiquitous in certain spheres of pop culture that younger generations probably have been spoiled more than they realize before they get to their first viewing, and yet The Godfather still endures and inspires and moves almost four decades after its release. In short, it’s hard to tell, but I probably would agree that the classics wouldn’t quite be the same today if the audiences of yesteryear were so bombarded with information prior to seeing the films that we now know as masterpieces.

  2. I actually often see movies blind (well, if you count knowing its Rotten Tomatos rating as “blind”), and quite enjoy it. I don’t think I’d ever go to a movie theater blind though – shit costs a lot of money imo!

    • I tend to watch movies on Netflix totally blind for the same reasons, beyond checking out how well-reviewed it is (which I don’t consider that spoilery). I also read reviews before I go to see movies in theaters. A review– a good one, at least– doesn’t give away intricate plot details that are best left to the viewer to discover. I don’t mind know the general synopsis of a film, I mind knowing plot elements. And yeah, I can’t afford NOT to at least have an idea of what I’m buying before venturing into a theater– not doing so just seems like a recipe for disaster and/or disappointment.

  3. cool experiment. but if we can assume that iron man 2 will be like the first one, and kick-ass being similar to wanted (millar’s previous written film), and if we can agree that the first iron man was waaaay better than wanted, then iron man 2 will be better than kick-ass based on the notion that it was simply a higher quality movie, and not on your spoiler-overload experiment. i still think it will work if you extend the experiment to two more films but overload on the better one next time.

    and you can tell they’re pretty much explaining the plot in the kick-ass trailers while they’re actually not showing you much for iron-man 2 since its a sequel and the audience already knows the concept. i feel they need to really sell kick-ass on the trailers which is why they’re so different than the iron-man trailers. all we know about iron man is that there’s some disgruntled russian guy who hates nascar and is therefore a bad guy.

    • If I were to state an objective reason as to why Iron Man 2 might be better than Kick-Ass, it’s because in superhero film tradition, the sequel almost always outshines the original. Spider-Man 2, X-Men 2, Hellboy 2, and Blade 2, as starters, are all superior to the films that precede them. Sequels lack the need to spend time explaining origins, and therefore give more time to the superheroing that get us to buy tickets in the first place. At the same time, Kick-Ass absolutely dominated Ain’t It Cool News’ annual Butt-Numb-A-Thon, and proved to be the audience favorite even over Avatar. So far, it’s gotten almost nothing but huge praise from people who have managed to see it. And as much as I love Iron Man, Vaughn is a superior director to Favreau.

      You are absolutely right about how Kick-Ass must be sold on the trailers, which is why they’re so action-packed. And Iron Man 2 doesn’t strictly need to sell itself on the trailers because of the success of the first movie (though a) arguably neither did The Two Towers or Return of the King, and the trailers for those were incredibly overstuffed, and b) the current trailer that’s out isn’t the only trailer we’re going to get, though given that I’ve seen 0 trailers for Iron Man 2, I’m not the man to ask). But the fact that Iron Man 2 is so much more under wraps, so to speak and the fact that Kick-Ass is being so overloaded in each trailer released make them the perfect pair of movies to use for the experiment. Really, we can conjecture all we want about how one COULD be better than the other based on X, Y, and Z criteria, but we won’t know until we see them.

      That said, I am currently on lockdown for Tron 2, and I was actually thinking of overloading myself on one other movie to compare them both. Nothing’s come to mind at present to fill out that second film, but I’ll see what I come up with.

  4. Pingback: The Art of the Spoil: Follow-up « Andrew At The Cinema

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