Posts Tagged ‘spoilers’

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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There’s a lot of concepts swirling through my head right now, so forgive me if this post comes off as a little disjointed. This post is mainly predicated by Netflix’s House of Cards, the first season of which I just finished viewing. But before we get into all of that, let’s talk a little bit about television.

As you may have heard, NBC recently came in fifth place for the month of February among the Big-Four networks. Yes, you read that right. There are four major American TV networks – NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox – and NBC managed to rank in fifth place behind the Spanish-language channel Univision.

Just how bad were NBC’s ratings? To paint another picture, TV prognosticators were all but besides themselves with glee reporting that the Feb 10 episode of AMC’s Talking Dead – an after-hours talk show dedicated to vivisecting AMC’s The Walking Dead, which immediately precedes it – had posted a higher rating in the coveted 18-49 demographic than ANYTHING aired by NBC during the ENTIRE month of February. I apologize for using all-caps like some twitterpated teenager but I just want to emphasize, a cable-network by-product bested everything aired on America’s oldest broadcast network for an entire month.

Strange times indeed.

So, you may ask, what does this have to do with House of Cards? For several years, Netflix has been toying with the idea of original programming and on February 1 it unleashed the first of its planned army to the world. But not content to merely challenge mainstream television on a creative level, Netflix decided to throw a wrench into the entire way that we view serial programming by releasing all 13 episodes of the first season at once, allowing intrigued viewers to feast upon its creation to their heart’s content.

Many people “binge-viewed” House of Cards in a single sitting. Others, like myself, attempted to ration out the series over a period of time only to become hooked and wrap the whole affair up in a week or so. Others still have yet to see it, the series bobbing somewhere in their instant queue between season 3 of The Wire and old episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba.

The problem, if it can be called that, is that once you’ve watched House of Cards you can’t really talk about it simply because you don’t know who has seen it and if so, how much. I’m not the first person to make this observation. Smarter writers than me at considerably more reputable websites like Vulture or The New York Times have already weighed in on the frustration you can feel by holding an opinion of House of Cards in your hand but not being able to share it with anyone.

Compare that to mainstream television that unfolds in real time week-by-week over twitter and Facebook, as viewers across the nation weigh in and pick apart every aspect of what they’ve just seen. Even for the lazy who pick up last week’s ep on DVR or Hulu are still aware that a new episode has dropped into the pop culture landscape and that they had best be careful navigating the internet where spoilers and analysis abound.

Whether you choose to view an episode live or postpone it indefinitely, you – and national conversation – are still subject to the scheduling structure of the weekly broadcast format.

An example? Pick a number between one and thirteen and google “Girls episode X” and you will find a veritable host of results where layman and critic alike argue, mere minutes after airtime, whether that particular hour of television was the worst or greatest thing ever produced for the small screen. In comparison, if you try to find an analysis of House of Cards’ Chapter 12 you’ll likely get little more than the episode’s IMDB listing and a few posts like this about how annoying it is to not find anything online about House of Cards and critics wondering what they can and can not spoil. I know, I tried.

This is neither a good or bad thing, but it represents a momentous shift in the way a TV show interacts with and delivers itself to an audience. There are a score of examples where show-runners have switched plot course midstream in response to viewer reaction – think Nicki and Paulo from Lost, in which a due were so despised by fans that their characters were mercilessly buried alive to appease the angry gods of viewer contempt.

Had we been watching House of Cards along the course of production, chiming in with our bits and bobs for any given week, is it possible that [Spoiler Alert] one of the most enjoyable characters in the show would have been spared his fate in episode 11? I don’t know. I’d like to think so, because I really wish he was still around. [/End Spoiler Alert]

On the other hand, you could argue that insulating yourself from viewer opinion is a boon to the show-runner’s creative intent. Instead of cow-towing to the demands of an admittedly unreliable marketplace, a creative team under the Netflix model can tell the story they want to tell and make it available as-is, viewer’s opinions be damned! It’s a refreshing notion that I would argue lends itself to a higher caliber of creative quality. America, after all, loves crap, which is why the cookie-cutter crime procedurals on CBS live forever while Community will likely never reach the syndication-friendly threshold of 100 episodes.

So what does all of this mean for the future of TV? It’s hard to say. Netflix, so far, has played coy about releasing concrete viewership numbers for House of Cards and even if they did, the viewing format is not based on advertising like other delivery models. You can’t point to the show and say “House of Cards resulted in X number of new Netlix subscriptions” so how can we measure if the model was truly a success? Or a failure?

But we can observe the national discussion. As internet-based services like Hulu, digital-recording programs like DVR, at-home DVD viewing, and the repeat scheduling of cable pay-chanells erode the notion of “appointment television” and make traditional Nielsen ratings near-obsolete in gauging what people are actually watching, it is not hard to imagine a world where TV shows skip the TV altogether,  and are instead made available in one form or another to be devoured and enjoyed at an individual’s leisure. If that is the future, then Netflix and House of Cards may be patient zero in the epidemic that consumes broadcast television once and for all.

As for the actual quality of House of Cards, it’s undeniably superior to the majority of option currently on television. I personally found the at-camera exposition engaging, adding valuable insight of character while also snapping you back into attention without becoming cloying or contrite. The performances are electric, all of them really, but particularly Spacey, Wright and the under-rated rising star Corey Stoll.

I honestly can’t say enough about Stoll, if you’re not familiar with him yet watch this clip immediately, but forgive the poor audio quality. Better yet would be to simply go out right now and get a copy of Midnight in Paris.

But I digress. House of Cards starts splendidly, peaks in the middle and then diminishes somewhat toward the end. After 13 hours of crisp, biting political intrigue and machinations, the cliffhanger ending feels somewhat anti-climactic and almost deceptive of your patience. That said, I remain as hooked as I ever was and look forward to picking right back up where it left of when the next 13 chapters drop out of the Netflix sky.

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