Saturday, March 26, 2011

Swimming With Spoilers

It's been a couple of days since the blow-up over Hollywood's latest misadventures in casting, so I think it's safe to pick up where I left off at the end of the Katniss post. Why is all the additional media back-and-forth between creative minds and their audience a bad thing? One of the unintended consequences is that those potential audience members who may not be familiar with a property are getting way too much information about the upcoming film projects. As I was reading up on the arguments for why Jennifer Lawrence was or wasn't appropriate for the part of Katniss, many commentators, some professional, some not, launched into long, detailed descriptions of the character and revealed a lot about the particulars of "The Hunger Games" and its sequels that curious viewers shouldn't be privy to the this stage. The filmmakers inevitably got in on the act too. Even "Hunger Games" author Suzanne Collins, in a letter defending Jennifer Lawrence, included a reference to a particularly crucial character moment for Katniss that also happens to spoil a major plot point.

Sometimes the casting notices themselves are spoilers, and the discussion and conjecture surrounding them can be inescapable. I spent days trying to avoid the news of precisely who Joseph Gordon Levitt had signed on to play in the new "Batman" film, "The Dark Knight Rises." Don't worry, I won't give anything away here, but just making my usual rounds on entertainment news sites was like a game of cat-and-mouse. Headlines ranged from the straightforward (JGL Cast as Character X) to coy (Guess who JGL is Playing?) to teasing (JGL is Not Playing Rumored Characters Y or Z!) to the infuriating (JGL Playing Secret Alter Ego of Character X, Which is a Massive Spoiler to Anyone Who Doesn't Read DC Comics). To top it all off, a few days later word came down that maybe the initial reports had gotten it wrong and Gordon-Levitt was not playing Character X after all. Character X, by the way, is a very minor personage in the "Batman" universe, whose entire life history was nonetheless laid bare for us out by every commentator trying to find something new to say about the matter. It's enough to drive a fangirl around the bend.

I spent much of last summer trying to learn as little as possible about "Inception," and now over a year in advance of "The Dark Knight Rises," I find myself already dodging spoilers left and right. I feel for anyone unfamiliar with "Akira" trying to weigh in on the casting controversy, who has to brave constant references to the famous climax of the 1988 "Akira" anime, that really works much better if you don't know it's coming. Fortunately this kind of thing only tends to happen with the most massively popular genre titles that already have established fanbases behind them. To my knowledge nobody has spoiled anything about Tomas Alfredson's new film version of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," due out in theaters in September, which happens to share some key cast members with "The Dark Knight Rises." "Tinker" being aimed at somewhat less excitable grown-ups, there hasn't been the glut of coverage that a "Batman" film garners for simply being a "Batman" film.

We'd all be better off with less information flying around, but at this point, I don't think there's anything that can stop the fans from speculating about who's getting cast as what, or the media from trying to capitalize on the speculation. But to their credit, Christopher Nolan and the others working on "The Dark Knight Rises" haven't been actively encouraging the guessing games, and the film's production doesn't appear to be affected by it. It's different with "The Hunger Games," which is in a much more vulnerable stage and risks more my engaging so directly with the fandom here. Though there are obvious benefits to getting feedback and opinions, ultimately the kind of back-and-forth we've been seeing lately is a distraction. Sometimes the fans are wrong and need to be ignored, not pandered to. I think there's some merit to the complaints about the "Hunger Games" casting process, and I'm as suspicious about whitewashing as anyone, but there's been nothing to warrant this kind of intense response. The studio's tactics to justify their decision leave me worried that they're already spending too much time trying to sell the picture instead of making it something worth watching.

Finally, by using the casting process to garner publicity in the first place in various news articles and interviews, I think the "Hunger Games" brought a lot of the controversy down upon itself. The studios don't do themselves any favors by encouraging the endless voracity of the entertainment news cycle like this. The spoiler gauntlet gets worse, potential flaws are magnified, and you only end up encouraging the naysayers if you give them too much attention and acknowledgment. Controversies could easily crop up over other creative decisions beyond casting. For instance, why was Gary Ross, a director best known for life-affirming feel-good movies like "Pleasantville" and "Seabiscuit" chosen to helm an action film about teenagers killing each other in a dystopian Battle Royale? Why was Steve Kloves, who scripted the "Harry Potter" movies, given the job of adapting the famously nihilistic "Akira"? Moreover, there is such a thing as over-exposure, and it happens a lot faster than it used to. "Hunger Games" is supposed to be a trilogy, and should be wary of wearing out its welcome too quickly.

As for me, of all the projects discussed, I find myself looking forward to is the one I know least about - "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy." Apparently Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, and John Hurt are in it. That's all I need to know - and care to know.

No comments:

Post a Comment