Archive for the ‘internet’ Category

Terminator Genisys poster

Bruce Willis is dead the whole time.

If you don’t understand that reference: good. If you do, then you’re also aware that it is one of the most famous plot twists in recent movie memory. Or to use cinematic vernacular: it’s a huge spoiler.

Spoilers occupy an interesting corner of pop culture. Technically, they’ve always existed. I have no doubt that for as long as stories have been told, impolite individuals have ruined the myriad twists and turns for their friends.

But the spoiler as we know it is largely a byproduct of the internet age. Once upon a time, you had to go to the loudmouth at the water cooler to find out the identity of Keyser Soze. But then came the world wide web, where plot details are just a google search away, intentional or otherwise.

Now, take a look at the above poster for Terminator Genisys, which made its internet debut this week. The film is the latest nostalgia property to be retconned into modernity and its promotional materials contain a glaring, willful embrace of spoiler culture that is almost frightening in its audacity. If the strategy works and the film is a success (which is no sure thing) it may very well usher in a Post-Spoiler World, for better or worse.

But before we get to the future, let’s send a soldier back to the past.

Not too long ago, audience members would regularly arrive at a theater partway through a film and watch until the end. Then the next showing would begin, and they would exit once they caught up to themselves. The trailer for Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window famously references this practice.

Did you catch that? Here’s the important part.

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 5.03.09 PM

Hitchcock, cinema’s Master of Suspense, obviously had a distaste for his films being viewed out of sequential order. He made his living off of surprises, startles and scares, which are hardly effective when you watch Marion Crane arrive at the Bates Motel *after* seeing Norman bates in his mother’s dress.

History tells us that Hitchcock, and others like him, won that battle.

And that was fine for years. A code of conduct was established with unwritten rules dictating the time that the happenings on a new episode of your favorite show or the latest blockbuster would remain privileged. There were stumbles here and there, hurt feelings and minor scuffles, but for the most part a peaceful plot ignorance was preserved.

The first signs of trouble were DVRs and online streaming services, making it easier and easier to watch television on your own timetable. But the dam truly broke with the arrival of scripted programming on Netflix, unloaded as if from a digital dump truck to be devoured, or rationed, at your leisure.

A few stalwarts continued to fight the good fight. J.J. Abrams, a renowned secreteur, fought tooth and nail to preserve the secrecy of what every Trekkie had already concluded: that Benedict Cumberbatch was Khan Noonien Singh.

And entertainment writers had to forge new rules, debating whether to analyze all of House of Cards at once, to satisfy the hunger of binge-watchers, or dole their ruminations out piecemeal in some semblance of the bygone weekly format.

Which brings us back to Terminator Genysis. If you don’t want the spoiler stop reading, but it’s out and it’s proud. As part of its rejiggering of the Terminator timeline and canon, the latest film will feature John Conner, the mythological hero of the human resistance, succumbing to Skynet and transforming into some form of man/machine hybrid.

It’s right there in the trailer. And it’s right there in the poster.

Most reports agree that the filmmakers sensed the film wasn’t meeting expectations. Fan loyalty, it seemed, had not been renewed after two catastrophic failures in the franchise. So rather than preserve their prize pony until opening weekend, the marketing team, like Lawrence Gordon, elected to Saw off their own foot in order to escape. Instead of “Come see the movie to find out what happens,” the campaign says “Here’s what happens, now come see our movie.”

It’s a bold, if not frightening, choice. Should the film bomb at the box office like its predecessor, I suspect nervous studio executives to retreat back into the safety of a spoiler-free cave. But if Genisys suceeds, and the audience shows they’re not deterred by the lure of pre-release meat, then the copycats in Hollywood will no doubt take a second thought at that big reveal they’re protecting so dearly.

For what it’s worth, I think that’s a mistake. A rumor here and a tease there are fine but an outright Spoil does exactly as its name suggests.

Maybe I’m wrong, and the John Conner reveal is a red herring, meant to distract us from the *real* shocker. I hope so, because if I’m right then the Judgement Day may be upon us, the Spoilers are self-aware, and they view mankind as a threat.

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"Weird Al" Yankovich

I never saw the video for “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Eat It” on MTV. Or “Amish Paradise.” Or “Like a Surgeon.” Or “Fat” for that matter.

That’s because when I was a kid, enjoying a picturesque childhood in rural Utah in the late 80s/early 90s, my family didn’t have cable. And we weren’t alone.

Back then subscriber television hadn’t reached levels of omnipresent ubiquity. My neighbors had it, and it was always a thrill to scroll through the endless list of channels at hotels during family vacations, but once we were home I was limited to the Big 4 and PBS, assuming I could hold the antennas in the exactly right position.

I was still a passionate “Weird Al” fan, resulting from my love of all things Star Wars in 2009 that led me to obtaining my own copy of the album “Running With Scissors” — which included a Star Wars-themed parody of “American Pie” along with such hits as “Pretty Fly for a Rabbi” and an 11-minute spoken word tribute to Albuquerque, New Mexico, which I memorized and would perform at family functions.

But MTV is where Yanky made his bread and butter, and the reason why is obvious.

You don’t listen to “Weird Al” for the music. Nobody puts “Living with a Hernia” on the playlist for their wedding video. You listen to “Weird Al” because he has a gift for pairing clever wordplay with satirical videos shot with surprisingly impressive production quality.

His appeal — and his biggest hits — have always stemmed from a knack for multi-media showmanship, which is exactly what makes his current internet domination so interesting.

As of the writing of this post, Al was on day 5 of an ambitious strategy of 8 daily music video releases ahead of the release of his 14th album. The “project,” for lack of a better word, has done gangbusters online, flooding my twitter feed and Facebook as friends and acquaintances discover “Word Crimes,” “Tacky” and “Foil.” ( 6 million, 2 million, and 6 million YouTube views, respectively).

He has stated in interviews that part of his digital release strategy is due to the decline of MTV and cable, and he’s right. MTV’s much-discussed failure as “Music” television aside, research group TDG found that cable subscriptions in the U.S. peaked in 2011 with 100.9 million households and has declined ever since (and is projected to continue keep falling).

tdgchart

But where most articles have suggested that Yankovich is “adapting” to the internet age, I would posit that the internet is precisely what his career has been building to. Yankovich has been here all along, he was just waiting for the rest of us to catch up.

Social media, and the “viral” sensations it creates, has fully supplanted primetime television programming as the most effective way to reach a mass audience. But consider this, A Yankovich video like “Word Crimes” is the perfect Facebook post: a funny, inoffensive video that pleases both political ranters and baby-picture-sharers with its blend of winking high-brow and low-brow comedy. Take, for example, the blink-and-you-miss-it innuendo of “a cunning linguist” tucked into a debate over the Oxford Comma in “Word Crimes” (hey-hey-hey!).

The songs are familiar, prompting us to turn up the volume to hear the differences that derive from similarity, and the videos are packed with gags that blend both sight and sound (the backup singers who materialize to croon the word “Fooooooooooil” will never not be funny).

All week long we’ve been stumbling upon these videos, we’ve had a good laugh, we’ve maybe re-watched to see if we missed something on our first run, and then we clicked the share button to let our friends in on the joke. From there, we went about our lives never to really think about or listen to it again.

That type of catch-and-release audience engagement has always been central to “Weird Al’s” creations, but until now we’ve never had the appropriate mechanism to make full use of its potential. Fourteen albums later, Yankovich has seized upon the perfect storm of technology and clickbait attention spans to produce the best work of his career. Bravo.

And in case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the video for “Word Crimes.”

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