Posts Tagged ‘Alfred Hitchcock’

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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*For suggested audio accompaniment for this post, click here.

Even if you’ve never seen Psycho, The Birds, Rope, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window or his myriad of other phenomenal works, you’ve seen Hitchcock.

You’ve seen the silhouette and you’ve heard the theme song with or without the accompanying shuffle from stage right and a cordial “Good Evening.”

As a director, he is one of the most celebrated and revered in cinematic history, with a technique and style that continue to influence and inspire modern storytelling not unlike the way much of conversational English is rooted in Shakespeare’s writings. As a man, his name has become an adjective for a certain je nais se quoi-style of suspense thrillers and also as a delineation of beautiful women that predates the “Bond Girl.”

It is because of this familiarity, and perhaps in spite of it, that “Hitchcock” succeeds. Freeing itself from the bounds of a strict bio-pic, the film tells instead a somewhat exaggerated, semi-fantastical version of the artiste’s and the making of his seminal film, “Psycho.”

With the exception of the indomitable Hellen Mirren (as the woman behind the throne) the majority of the cast simply turn in impersonations of their characters, and rather good ones at that, which in many ways is exactly what the audience wants. James D’Arcy turns in an uncanny Anthony Perkins (or is it Norman Bates? Don’t know, don’t care) and in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene, Ralph Macchio (The Karate Kid!) pops in as screenwriter Joseph Stephano. I have no idea what Joseph Stephano was like in real life, but as far as I’m concerned, he looks and sounds an awful lot like Ralph Macchio.

Which brings us to our titular giant, as Anthony Hopkins dons facial prostheses and a fake gut to waddle around barking direction to his leading ladies and dealing with the emotional stings of a possibly-unfaithful wife. He is unpleasant to watch, speaking like he is perpetually sucking on a chicken bone and surrounded in a strange editorial choice by extra loud mouth noise, but again, would we expect anything less from a man larger than life?

Ultimately, “Hitchcock” is a delightful look at one of cinema’s giants, as well as a nostalgia piece on the old Hollywood machine. It lags in a few points, but the tete-a-tete between Hopkins and Mirren is splendid and the coy bits of behind-the-scenes Psycho trivia alone is worth the price of admission. B

Hitchcock opens in Utah theaters on Dec. 14

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