Calum Marsh has written an interesting piece at Film.com that I largely agree with even though I don’t necessarily abide by its teachings.
In advance of the release of Oblivion last week, critics were asked not to spoil certain plot developments in their reviews. In Marsh’s editorial he contends “being thoroughly averse to spoilers on principle [presents] problems for long-form film criticism, which by its very nature demands full disclosure and the ability to engage seriously with every aspect of a film, including major plot points and, indeed, even the ending”.
QUICK RESPONSE: Eh, I don’t necessarily believe a review demands comment on the plot at all in many cases, especially detailed commentary. I try and do my best to stay clear of too much plot discussion whenever possible.
Marsh does, however, note an important element of movie reviews that’s often forgotten: “film criticism is intended to be read by people who have seen the film under discussion.” He recognizes this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule and certainly one I don’t think the majority of people who read reviews follow. After all, if that were the case why wouldn’t the reviews for the weekend’s movies be saved for printing the Monday following rather than the day of release or, in some cases, weeks in advance. For example, the first reviews of Oblivion were online well in advance of the film’s domestic release date.
Is it expected a reader will bookmark a review with the intention of going back to it after they’ve seen the movie? Expected? No. Likely? Not really. Does it happen? Probably, but only in very limited instances.
Personally I do my absolute best to avoid any and all spoilers in my reviews. Anyone that reads this site knows I do anything I possibly can to avoid any and all information about a film before seeing it whenever possible. Of course, this is my job and I feel I have a responsibility to give a film as much respect as I can, which means no trailer and rarely reading the plotlines I’m often cutting and pasting into the posts I write.
This is the reason I declined an opportunity to screen footage from the new Monsters University movie, preferring to see the film in its entirety rather than out of context clips for the sake of serving as a piece of the film’s marketing rather than a critic my audience can trust. It’s for this reason you’ll never see me at another Comic Con or CinemaCon, though I’ll freely admit to making hypocritical concessions such as when I saw extended trailers for The Master, Django Unchained and Silver Linings Playbook in Cannes last year (and will most likely do again this year for Grace of Monaco).
I also believe the audience that reads my reviews expect to be able to read them without worrying I’ll reveal plot elements that add to the film’s enjoyment. I know I have some readers that won’t read my reviews until after seeing the movie and others that wish I wouldn’t even make the grade I give a film visible on the homepage of the site.
For two weeks in May I will be heading to the Cannes Film Festival where I will probably review 16-18 movies in full. Many of these movies won’t be released until late this year, some perhaps not even until next year — should I feel free to spoil any and all plot details in these films simply because I’m writing long-form reviews? Would people read the reviews if I did?
I understand the idea a critic shouldn’t feel restrictions when exploring their thoughts considering a film, but I also believe they owe it to their readers not to spoil important plot details that may otherwise hurt their viewing experience.
What I’ve done in the past are articles exploring some of the more important plot details in a film, be them good or bad, is to write something separate from a review. This includes my editorials exploring the ending of Argo.
While readers should feel free to comment with spoilers on a movie review, as it would be expected the conversation in the comments would likely only be those that have seen it, I think it’s best to separate one from the other. Where do you stand?
[Image via Gamerfitnation.com]