With this week's 'Wolverine' and 'Iron Man 3' trailers, has our spoiler culture reached an event horizon?
I think I've reached my saturation point.
I know that sounds weird considering who I am and what I've published over the years, but it's true. And if I'm reaching my breaking point, I can't imagine what it feels like for people who just want to go see movies, have a reasonably unspoiled experience, and enjoy the things they see.
I published something earlier this week about the spoiler that was not so subtly hidden in the six-second sneak that James Mangold released for the trailer for "The Wolverine," and frankly everything about this sentence makes my nose bleed. I think this whole trailer for the trailer thing is gross, and it speaks to this artificial sense of frenzy that studios try to create. While I know plenty of people who want to see "The Wolverine," I don't know a single fan who felt so crazed about it that they needed to see six seconds of footage one day, twenty seconds the day after that, and then two different trailers today. In the span of three days, I've gone from having seen nothing from the film to being totally sick of the film, and it's got nothing to do with the film. It's all about suddenly feeling like it's everywhere, and I'm seeing things I'd rather not see out of context. As my friend Damon said on Twitter…
@houx If it's 6 seconds, then twenty, then two minutes, mathematically we should see the film Thursday and all of the footage shot by Friday.
Obviously, the rest of this article is going to deal in things that you might not want to know about movies that are not in theaters yet. Maybe. I'm giving you the general warning now to cover anything I might discuss below, because I am hyper-aware these days of how much it means to people to have the choice about what they do or don't learn before they sit down in a theater.
I used to have a simple rule: if something is in the marketing materials for the movie, like the poster or the trailers, then it's not a spoiler. It's something the filmmakers consider fair game.
The problem is that the line has moved on what studios and filmmakers will give away ahead of time, and I think it's moved to a place where I'm actually uncomfortable with how much is shown before the ticket is bought. The case in point this week for me is "Iron Man 3." I went to a special presentation of "Iron Man 3" footage a while back, and I was put under an embargo about that material. By the time our embargo had lifted, some of that footage had already been revealed to the public.
I find it fascinating that in my piece, I detailed the extended version of the Mandarin's attack on Tony's house that they showed us, and one of the things I very carefully explained was the way Pepper ends up in Tony's suit during the attack. I didn't hint at it; I spelled it out. In detail. And yet this week, thanks to the visual inclusion of a quick shot of Pepper in that scene in the suit, suddenly it's headline news everywhere.
To me, that suggests that no matter what information I print as text, the reach is still fairly limited, but the moment there's an image that spoils the same information, it's everywhere and it's pretty much unavoidable. If I didn't want to know that Pepper ends up wearing one of the Iron Man suits in the new film, I would be completely out of luck this week because I've seen it in headlines, I've seen the screen capture on the front page of sites, and it's been impossible to miss. And because Marvel included it in a TV commercial, it feels like all bets are off. No one considers that a spoiler anymore.
I can tell you that in my own house, if I were to tell my wife any story element of "Iron Man 3," I would be severely punished for my transgression. She would not be pleased. Despite living with me, she pretty much walks into any movie completely cold at this point. She doesn't do spoilers. And over the last few years, she finally decided that she really doesn't even want to see trailers. If I can't describe a movie to her in two sentences that she seems interested by, she's not going to see it.
I've heard the arguments by people like Robert Zemeckis that you have to do that now or audiences won't go, but that runs so counter to everything I've heard from people in real life that I'm wondering if there's any intersect between the conventional industry thinking and what audiences actually want. I have to include myself in the "part of the problem" column, and I have been thinking about it recently. Like everyone publishing online, I live and die based on traffic, and traffic is generated in a number of ways. It would be disingenuous to pretend that we do not depend on a certain amount of traffic generated by content that other people source and link to. Publishing something unique, something that people are curious about, is a part of this business, and I think there is a balance that I continue to try to define between feeding the curiosity of the audience and respecting the process by the filmmakers.