Thursday, December 3, 2009

Spoiler Threat Advisory System

I've recently gotten into the "Spoilers in Criticism" argument with more than one person, and I've found that I reside squarely in the minority on the issue. I feel that any movie works better for an audience that has no idea what it is in for, and if I ever get the opportunity to go see a movie that I've never heard of - never seen a trailer, never read a review - I try to jump at it.

Film criticism, however, is something that works as an instigator to discussion. If this is a dead or dying art that will exist in the future only as the rantings of internet-users in their pajamas, I am glad at least for the commenting system that is now ubiquitous on most blogging websites.

An early lesson I received as a high school student operating as an intern at my local paper was that for most people, all that you want out of a movie review is a plot summary and a description of tone and genre so that you can decide whether or not you want to go see it. Similarly, any professional film critic with an internet presence can be found somewhere, on blog or message board, bemoaning the necessity of applying star ratings or letter grades to films, because it merely encourages people to disregard the conversation about the movie once it's already been labeled as "good" or "bad".

I say people are confusing the word "review" with another word, "preview," and that if I have something to say about any given story's ridiculous ending or shocking plot twist, it sucks to be stifled by a courtesy to anyone who just wants a summary of the first act and whether or not it's Good. Go watch the trailer: they usually sum up the whole thing for you, anyway.

All this, of course, has lead to the popularity of the "Spoiler Warning" on film websites. Rather than find a new way to work this into my writing every time I feel like discussing the fact that Bruce Willis being dead doesn't make the movie good, I have previously left that epithet in the banner of this site as a blanket warning that this project will work best for everyone if they're here to discuss. Mine is just one person's opinion. I want you to go make one up yourself, come back here and argue me into a reversal.

However, according to the aforementioned arguments, this isn't good enough and may simply result in nobody bothering to read my blog. So, as of December 3rd, 2009, I am instituting the Spoiler Threat Advisory System.

All forthcoming reviews will be assigned a color according to my arbitrary feelings on 1) the extent to which I give away the plot and 2) the extent to which I feel that plot was predictable and/or already given away by the damn trailer.


  1. Do you feel like this problem is unique to film criticism? Can someone write an effective, say, book review without revealing essential plot points? Just curious.

    Actually, I'm going to go ahead and suggest that "film review" and "film criticism" (or substitute other art form for "film") are the two different things you're talking about. Criticism invites dialogue, the review does not.

  2. Well, what label do you apply, generally, to the product generated by "film critics"?

    And no, I don't think the problem is unique to film criticism. Any dramatic art, anything that involves the telling of a story, must inherently either avoid or discuss the ending, which is so often the key to the whole piece. I will be applying the STAS to all media.

  3. I think both audience and timing are part of how this is defined. If you write for a newspaper and/or your review is published on or before the day the film opens, then your responsibilities (and, I would suggest, your motivations?) are very different than if you're reviewing/critiquing after the fact and/or in the form of someone like Chuck Klosterman. I don't think Klosterman has ever written something I would consider a "movie review" but he certainly writes about movies, etc. I don't have a good definition, though.

  4. Probably worth pointing out that the comments for any post, unless otherwise noted, should be considered a potential minefield of spoilers.