Spoilers vs. Familiarity

If you’ve ever been excited about a film, only to have major plot elements ruined for you by some jerk, then you know that spoilers are one of the worst things you can possibly experience as a filmgoer. While a film may be worth repeat viewings, you’ll never be able to recreate that first time experience. Lately, however, I’ve been finding that my favorite filmgoing experiences are for films that I already have an intimate familiarity with.

Take for instance Watchmen. I read the entire graphic novel the week of it’s release and the film turned out to be almost a literal shot-for-shot remake. On one level, you might say that I ruined the film for myself, however my experience was quite to the contrary. I loved Watchmen far more having read the source material than I ever could have experiencing it for the first time in the theater. The appearance of a character carries so much more weight when you’re already familiar with him. I mean I mouthed several of the lines during my screenings (yes, there were multiple), I could hit every beat, and I knew the fate of each character. Still it didn’t take away from my experience.

Even with Star Trek (which at this point I’ve now seen twice), It’s a prequel. I know that all the main characters need to survive, no matter how crazy things get. I know that Kirk has to somehow become captain of the Enterprise, and I know that the Enterprise can’t cannot be destroyed in this film. Yet I still experienced all the moments of tension just like the non-Trekkie’s who were just there for Chris Pine or Zachary Quinto. The only difference is that I experienced even more joy as key characters spat out their famous lines of overly quoted dialog (‘Live long and prosper’, ‘Dammit Jim I’m a doctor not a physicist’, ‘I’m givin her all she’s got, Captain!’, hell, even ‘set phasers to stun’, etc.).

Here’s an experiment. Think back on the last several films you’ve seen and ask yourself how many of them are remakes or adaptations. For how many of them do you already have intimate (or at least partial) familiarity. Hollywood knows we love what we already know and they’re pretty much banking on that fact to get them through ‘these troubled economic times’. It seems like every day there’s another reboot or remake announced.

So I guess the point I’m trying to make is that foreknowledge of a film’s plot points really isn’t as terrible as we all make it out to be. What it really comes down to is the context for said foreknowledge. Sure, I wouldn’t have to lose that initial realization of who Keyser Söze is, what happened at the end of Ender’s Game, or the truth about the events of Metal Gear Solid, but truly good storytelling is captivating even with all it’s cards on the table. After all, it’s not the destination that’s important. It’s how we get there.