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David Poland

By David Poland

Is The Too Much Pre-Show For Movies To Excite Us Anymore?

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“Have you ever wondered if its not you and your age but the world that has moved on? The ubiquitous internet postings, bloggings, spoilers and previews, etc have left all of us way too jaded to really care about one of the few things that we really care about — the movies.
How I long for the halcyon summer days of 1982 when I knew nothing of ET, POLTERGEIST, STAR TREK II, THE ROAD WARRIOR, BLADE RUNNER, et al. Big budgets and franchises (some), but they arrived with relatively little fanfare (at least to me) because the marketplace hadn’t evolved into what we have nowadays: Batman shilling for Verizon, HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE trailers online for months — and it still doesn’t look funny (cool but not funny), Roger Ebert in my inbox, and enough Lucasfilm product placement to choke a bantha.
And as much as I love you (don’t get any ideas — it’s purely
platonic), your site and the myriad others like it add to the
hype/expectation/disillusion/frustration. We’ve become a society of
attention deficit disorder moviegoers. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want you to go anywhere but your industry feeds our obsession which feeds your industry which feeds our obsession, etc, etc.
It’s not even about the opening weekend anymore — we’re bored by
Sunday morning. Like media junkies, even as we’re shooting up we’re
already looking forward to our next fix. And then we’re disappointed
when it can’t even come close to our expectations. We’ve only been
reading about a film for months (or years), watching the on-line video production journal, hearing about sneak previews and work prints at junkets or festivals, judging the script, and analyzing,
frame-by-frame, the multiple platform trailers, and then wonder why
we’re so jaded.
Every day is five minutes after Christmas morning with the crestfallen emptiness of Peggy Lee’s “Is that all there is?” rattling around the celluloidial zeitgeist.
We got exactly what ennui wanted. And now we’re left scratching our
heads and asking, “why did we want it?”
I don’t know what to tell you, Dave. You’ve got an enviable job
(y’think?) but I feel for you. You can’t turn back the clock and the
genie ain’t getting back into the bottle.
Ever since WHAT LIES BENEATH gave away too much in its trailer and Bob Zemeckis defended it by saying most Americans don’t want to be
surprised, I’ve given up seeking out info. I limit my online reading to your column, a selective perusal of MCN, reviews in The Observer and The New Yorker and my EW and Premiere subscriptions (not exactly cold turkey, eh?).
Keep the faith and keep looking for those gems that still knock you
out. Your enthusiasm for GUNNER PALACE has had me looking forward to it for 8 months. So what if those gems only play at festivals and it may take months (if ever) for them to see a theatrical run, smoke ’em if you got ’em and and let God sort ’em out.
But that’s just my opinion. Thanks for listening.”

36 Responses to “Is The Too Much Pre-Show For Movies To Excite Us Anymore?”

  1. Chester says:

    That’s one of the most astute analyses of the current state of moviedom that I’ve seen. The endless avalanche of information we all receive has been irreparably destructive to an art form where subtle revelations and absolute surprise are of the essence.
    For today’s moviegoer, ignorance is more than just bliss. It also requires a great deal of effort.

  2. bicycle bob says:

    i don’t mind hearing about a movie. i mind when a trailer ruins it and i mind crappy movies.

  3. Geoff says:

    I think that first post was great, but I really think it works both ways.
    I mean, the trailer thing HAS gotten out of hand. I mean, DAMN, the first Spiderman was completely ruined for me, with all the best stuff being shown in the trailer. But internet buzz, on the other hand, can be quite useful.
    If not for early internet buzz, I would have probably missed a great many smaller wonderful films like Memento, Blair Witch, and Run Lola Run. 20 years ago, these films would probably have not left New York and might have been gathering dust, tough to find even in most video stores.
    And in addition, internet reviews have saved me from wasting my movie money on a great many crappy films like Pearl Harbor and The Village. Reading these sites has allowed me to be quite selective on what I will pay to see in a theater.
    You know, I am sure that back in the mid ’80’s, there were plenty of people who saw films like Howard the Duck or Best Defense who WISHED they had gotten some early warning.

  4. Mark says:

    Buzz is key on movies nowadays. Movie with little or no buzz or either really bad movies or movies with zero expectations. Studios go out of there to create buzz of any kind so they are not slaughtered opening weekend.

  5. jeffrey boam's doctor says:

    Geoff. I seriously doubt you would have missed those small films like WITCH and MEMENTO.. early buzz alerted some fans.. but massive media exposure would have meant you knew about em.. unless you live in a cave. ummm yeah early internet buzz was why WITCH did $125m+ and not the 35m marketing spend.

  6. jeffrey boam's doctor says:

    remember when the poster used to be the ONLY thing you could talk about with your friends for months… “In A Galaxy….” you also have to remember us non-US folk had to wait 6mths for movie magazines which were 6mths out of date with lead in times. Everything back then was about desire…. now its like being forced fed a second thickshake from McDs. I totally 100% miss that desire.. it’s why I detest sites like AICN.. they have removed the ‘real’ desire and replaced with the nerd like ‘craving’ for that second shake, which those obese fanboys definitely DO NOT NEED.

  7. don says:

    OUSTANDING email..or post…or whatever. I totally and completely agree. BUT…what can we do? I mean…go to Kevin Smiths website right now and he’ll tell you everything that happens in the new STAR WARS. Scripts are “leaked,” Preview screenings are reviewed and it’s downright hard to avoid having things spoiled for you.
    On the other hand, things like Peter Jacksons Kong and Rings sites are amazing. Blogs like Kevin Smiths and Roger Avary’s provide access to filmmakers like never before. Even sites like MCN are amazing one-stop shops for movie fans.
    I guess the answer is to just pace yourself and NOT read too much info on films you’re excited about. BUT…that’s really hard to do. I mean, I got a chill when Bruce wayne pulled out the Bat suit in that new trailer. I’m super excited to see the film…but I also know I’m going to have to resist temptation and avoid spoilers like a mo-fo.

  8. Geoff says:

    There is no way I would have known about Memento, if not for the internet buzz. There was not one network advertisement, no official poster released, just some internet buzz from Sundance. The film never even got a wide release.
    And if you’re going to tell me that Run Lola Run got a lot of coverage from the mainstream press in the summer of ’99, I would love to see some evidence of that. I don’t think the movie even had a review on Ebert’s show.
    As for Blair Witch, yeah, the mainstream press got crazy about, right around release time, but the internet was buzzing for about four months before it, which probably contributed to that.
    You know, the media saturation is crazy, but some of you guys are forgetting that 90% of it is usually focused on about half a dozen celebrities or “flavors of the month.” Sure, you’re gonna hear you’ll even need to know about Lindsay Lohan or Jessica Simpson and their movies coming out, but I doubt you’re going to get sick of hearing about the next upcoming projects from Judy Greer or Peter Skarsgaard, actors who I cannot see enough of.
    Even with too much of it out there, it’s still very selective.

  9. Stella's Boy says:

    Fuck Kevin Smith and his opinion about the new Star Wars. Why should I give a fuck?

  10. Josh Massey says:

    Off-topic, but who the hell is editing MCN today? First, there was the “60 years after his death” tag for the 25-year-dead Alfred Hitchcock, and now there’s a link to an obviously-April-Fool’s-joke zombie story (check the dateline). Startin’ the weekend drinking a little early?

  11. Dan R% says:

    Another Zemeckis film that had a trailer that ruined the movie was CASTAWAY. Not that it stopped anyone from going to that. Still the level of surprise as to if the Hanks character made it off the island was greatly deminished.
    I don’t think this trend is limited to just movies though. Many TV shows have a stay tuned for next week to see more scenes from…And those scenes shown usually save the average viewer an hour of their life. I purposely avoid them on shows like 24 or LOST, because at least I have the remote. Can’t really close my eyes in a movie theater during previews (then again I watch pretty much every trailer online first).
    Of course in the end it means nothing really to me because I’ve pretty much spoiled Star Wars for myself already. I was a teenager in the nineties being fed by AICN, darkhorizons etc while I should have been working on my school projects…so spoiling stuff has become the norm. In some cases it makes me really excited for a new movie (Star Wars) and in other cases it makes me feel meh towards a movie I wanted to be excited for (HG2G) and sometimes I still can’t avoid the Villages.
    In the past couple of years I’ve really cut down on how much I spoil for films. Star Wars has been the only one that I’ve paid any attention to. I have no idea what to expect from Batman or Narnia or The Island beyond the trailers and occasional magazine pics..
    I should point out that looking at some of the trailers from old Bogart flicks etc they were sometimes 3 or 4 minutes long…they gave away a lot more of the story at times than I’ve seen even in modern trailers.
    You have to take the good with the bad. The net does alert us to the Mementos or Oldboys of the world, but it also cuts out the surprise factor of ‘Oh my God! There’s a new Star Wars!’ I’m guessing in ’79 when the first Empire Strikes Back trailer came out the surprise was monumental…I wish I could have been there to experience that.

  12. don says:

    I didn’t say you needed to “give a fuck,” I’m just saying it’s out there…mere clicks away if you wanted to read it. Back in the late 80’s (when you were probably 8 or 9 judging by your last post and subsequent posts “Stellas Boy”) you had to actually go find someone who had seen a film ahead of time and ask them to tell you or not tell you. That was tough to do. Now it’s like having a great big chocolate sundae sitting there and you aren’t supposed to eat it.
    The internet has helped smaller films generate buzz, no doubt. But it’s also taken the wind out of the sails of alot of films. We know too much ahead of time and if we don’t know, we can easily find out.

  13. Stella's Boy says:

    Don that wasn’t addressed to you. Sorry if I offended you. It was just a general, “Why should I care?”

  14. RDP says:

    I don’t think its the hype that has made movies disappointing. I don’t read spoilers (and with Tivo, I don’t really see that many television commercials, either) and still find myself disappointed quite a bit when I go to the movies.

  15. KamikazeCamel says:

    “Fuck Kevin Smith and his opinion about the new Star Wars. Why should I give a fuck?”
    …you don’t have to.
    If you (not just Stella, but anyone) does not wanna find out stuff then don’t go to links marked “SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS III” or whatever.
    But I personally am glad for what the internet has done. Certain sites (Nathaniel’s Film Experience as well as sites such as this) have lead me to fantastic movies. Hell, I wouldn’t have even seen stuff by people like Pedro Almodovar, Lars Von Trier, Mike Leigh etc if people whose opinions I take note of hadn’t recommended them.
    But I also now know not to see shit like The Extra, Catwoman and everything starring Martin Lawrence.

    lastly, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was shit. Nice to look at but dull and neverending and just plain old boring.

  16. L&DB says:

    Emailers such as this guy are the PROBLEM I have
    with film geeks. They are WAY TOO NOSTALGIC! This
    guys entire rant seems based more off of his feelings
    as a teenager or kid in 1982 then about the movies
    he saw that year. As if the movies are just an off
    shoot of some deeper emotional glee he had that
    year. Which, while all fine and good, has nothing
    to do with today.
    I have no problem with people bitching about trailers,
    but that has always been a problem. Watch the
    trailer for It’s A Wonderful Life. That damm thing
    last more than three minutes, and gives the entire
    film way. Yet, it seems when the trailers and ads,
    do not give enough away. There are complaints. So
    what do some of you want? Rather oblique trailers
    or trailers that lay out in under 3 minutes the
    plot of a movie you might want to see?
    Pine for the past all you want, but this ROTD seems
    to let it hinder his fucking present. Why people
    like him cannot just accept how things are. Will
    always baffle me, because this is it. There are
    going to be spoilers. There are going to be Summer
    , Fall, Winter, and Spring preview issues. And there
    will be one trailer that gives it all away. Get off
    of 1982s jock, and embrace the present.

  17. Stella's Boy says:

    I’m not even going to see Episode III, and I don’t know why I should care what Smith thinks about it.

  18. Joe Leydon says:

    I can sympathize with the poster’s sense of receiving Too Much Information about upcoming releases. And, yes, trailers DO give away too much. I still remember doing a location story on “Arlington Road” for the LA Times, and being told by everyone — producer, director, stars, etc. — to please not give too much plot info away. (I even was asked not to reveal it was a movie about urban terrorism.) Flash forward several months, and here comes the trailer, which not only gives away key plot elements, it even reveals the “surprise” villain of the piece. (The L.A. Times piece wound up being about the ad campaign as much as about the movie itself.)
    But I must add: It’s more than a little bizarre for me to see a posting like that in a venue like this. I mean, to me, coming in here to complain about TMI regarding films is a bit like going into the bar whre you got drunk last night and complaining about your hangover. Hey, you don’t want a hangover? Don’t get drunk. You don’t want TMI? Don’t go to certain websites. And while we’re on this subject: A few days ago, Dave writes: “Is it possible that we’re all sick of the summer already, before it’s even begun?” If we are, dear Davey, it’s partly (if not largely) because of people like you writing about summer movies since, gee, I dunno, last December. And when you write the week before an Oscarcast that you’re bored with writing about Oscars AFTER THE 26 WEEKS OF PRE-OSCAR COVERAGE… Well, you get my point. My favorite line from my favorite Arthur Miller play (“The Price”): “We invent ourselves.” We invent our own boredom, too.

  19. Stella's Boy says:

    Good points Joe. As much as I hate seeing that Hanks gets off the island in the trailer, and as angry as I get at the comments Zemeckis makes about it later, I have no right to complain. I visit certain Web sites. I watch a new trailer as soon as its available. Can’t have it both ways.

  20. don says:

    Sorry for snapping at you, StellasBoy…I was at work at the time and I get cranky.
    I agree with your post Joe…but to use the drunk at a bar analogy again….Just as it’s hard for a drunk to turn down a drink, it’s hard to resist the information when it’s right there in front of you…clicks away.
    Can I do it, sure (refuse a drink, no…refuse movie info…well, sometimes) but many, many “geeks” or those anxiously awaiting a movie can’t. As a result it’s like peeking at your Christmas presents a week before. Sure, it’s still great to get them but you already know what you’re getting.
    Jesus…I’m on cup o’ coffee #2 and the analogies are flying. I’ll stop now….like a student driver in the fast lane.

  21. Stella's Boy says:

    No problem don. I understand, and it’s often difficult to detect a person’s tone/meaning on the internet.

  22. Joe Leydon says:

    Actually, there is a special place in hell (I think) for people who concoct TMI trailers. Because, unlike websites and magazines, they can’t easily be avoided.

  23. KamikazeCamel says:

    “I’m not even going to see Episode III, and I don’t know why I should care what Smith thinks about it.”
    …sorry to repeat myself, but, don’t read it.
    And, if you watch every single trailer that gets put onto the internet of course you’re going to see some spoiler action.
    But, hell, half the business of movies this day is based on spoilers. See any horror movie with a relatively well-known cast and you’ll see everyone talking about who dies and who doesn’t. See Paris Hilton in House of Wax as a prime example. They’re using her death in the movie as a prime piece of advertising!

  24. L&DB says:

    Not seeing Hitcherhiker’s Guide or Revenge. Excuse
    me while I declare formal declarations on Stella’s
    Boy. Oy to the vey. Indeed.

  25. Stella's Boy says:

    Do we need to take it outside and settle this like men L&DB? And Mr. Camel, I didn’t read Smith’s take. I could not possibly care less about what he thinks of Episode III, and I really don’t understand why anyone would care.

  26. KamikazeCamel says:

    I have no problem with you not caring about Revenge of the Sith or Kevin Smith but why do you continue to make a big issue about not caring what Kevin Smith thought of Revenge?
    It just sounds like you’re trying to make a point to everyone that you’re not interesting in Revenge of the Sith and trying to look all cool.
    I don’t care what Smith thinks either but I’m not making some random revolt against the fact that Smith is a fan and wrote a review…

  27. Stella's Boy says:

    Trying to look cool here, on a blog’s message board? Um, no. Just sharing my opinion like everyone else.

  28. bicycle bob says:

    don’t worry stella. u can never be cool

  29. Joe Leydon says:

    Stella obviously can defend himself, so there’s no need for me to watch his back here. But the exchange he has sparked raises an interesting point. If you’re a book critic, or a music critic, you tend to specialize. Like, if you’re always reviewing nonfiction history, you won’t be expected to review (or even to have read) the latest Robert B. Parker novel. And if you cover opera, it’s highly unlikely you’ll also be assigned the next Nelly concert. But film critics are expected to cover, and be conversant in, EVERYTHING. Seriously. Everything from Michael Bay to Eric Rohmer, from experimental shorts to sitcom spin-offs, from summer blockbusters to subtitled documentaries. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, because my tastes are pretty eclectic. (My ten best list for last year ran the gamut from

  30. Stella's Boy says:

    Well-said Joe. I have eclectic taste as well. It’s not just that I don’t care about seeing the last Star Wars prequel; I hated Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones and have less than no desire to sit through another prequel. To each their own right? bi-bob, you think you’re telling me anything I don’t already know? And I’d be willing to bet everything I own that you, sir, are the opposite of cool.

  31. TheBrotherhoodOfTheLostSkeletonOfCadavra says:

    I hate to sound like a grumpy old guy, but just what is the deal with this spoiler mentality? Why does everyone have to know everything before it actually happens? It’s like standing over Agatha Chrstie’s shoulder as she types, waiting to find out who the murderer is. Have people become so brain-dead (that’s the polite term) that they can’t bear to watch something if they don’t know it all ahead of time? Whatever happened to being surprised? If PSYCHO opened today, everyone would know who Mrs. Bates was long before it ever opened…

  32. Lota says:

    Spoilers really stink.
    i avoid spoilers and as a result I avoid places that freely post them like loud mouth crew & market testers on individual movie Imdb boards etc.
    in one sense ‘spoilers’ via friends who have seen a bad film save your eyeballs the trouble, but any movie I want to see, even if the ‘press’ is bad, I try to close my ears when it is discussed/gossiped about.
    I think the one exception where I couldn’t avoid it was Envy which had years of problems talked all around the place.

  33. Joe Leydon says:

    Brotherhood: Never mind Mrs. Bates. Everyone would know that Janet Leigh, supposedly the star of the piece, would die in the first 40 minutes. Think about it: Can you possibly imagine people keeping it a secert today if, say, Julia Roberts would die 40 minutes into a thriller?

  34. KamikazeCamel says:

    If I remember correctly, I remember there being an uproar in some places about the marketing of Scream. They had Drew Barrymore right there on the poster and such and then they found out she died 10 minutes in they were extremely pissed off.
    And Stella, I am NOT saying you have no right to not be excited by Sith or by Kevin Smith’s take on it – I just found it odd that you were being SO defensive about not wanting to see it.
    It just reminded me of when people see movies that everybody else either really likes or finds remotely decent and then continues to just say it was the worst movie of all time and that it was an insult to their intelligence, dignity, pride and moral well-being.

  35. Stella's Boy says:

    I don’t think I was being defensive about not wanting to see it. Not at all. That wasn’t even the issue. The issue was why I should care what Smith thinks about it.

  36. bicycle bob says:

    spoilers are the pitts

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin