A few thoughts about reviewers spoiling a film before its release date

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Spoilers are one thing – but spoilers before most people can even see a film? It’s just bad manners, argues Simon.

Slowly but surely, the film industry has been broadening access to film preview screenings On the one hand, there are press screenings, which are being offered on the whole to full time journalists through to bloggers. It feels less of a closed shop than it once was, although there are still problems if you can’t get to London. Then there’s also, through the likes of Odeon Screen Unseen and Cineworld Unlimited, the chance for those outside of the reviewing fraternity to get access to movies.

But with the chance to watch films early I believe comes an added responsibility.

We’re already in an era where we’re told to stay off social media when a big new film comes out, because there’s bound to be spoilers out there. And that’s correct: there is bound to be spoilers out there, and sadly, the onus has shifted from the people posting them to those on the receiving end to do something about it. It feels like that’s a battle long lost.

Yet – and I’m not naming names here, because that’s not really the point of the piece – there’s also a less talked-about trend of movies being spoiled a little by people privileged enough to see them early. And I really think that’s not on. At least if a film is out in the world, and people have a chance to see it, then there’s something close to a level playing field.

However, recently, I saw a couple of Twitter conversations between critics I really respect, openly confirming that a moment in a recent film release’s trailer was indeed an outright spoiler. In doing so, they were confirming a plot point from said movie that I’d suggest the majority of us wouldn’t have wanted to know going in. And they were doing so a good week or so before the film in question was release. It’s not the first time it’s happened this year, either.

Now, of course, the fault – and it’s happened a couple of times this year – is in part with trailers themselves, that are back to a point where they feel they’re giving too much away. That’s another article, and it’s one that’s coming.

But still, the confirmation of a major plot – no matter how much it’s been speculated or part-revealed in advance – shouldn’t be something you’re at risk of when reading a film review. Not unless it’s spoiler tagged, and certainly not if the film isn’t yet on wide release. Nor is it, in my humble view, something that those who are allowed to watch a film early should be giving away on social media before the movie in question is out.

The ecosystem around film reviewing isn’t helping there. There’s a trend for a double embargo, for instance. A review embargo, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, is basically a trade off: that you sign a piece of paper saying you won’t publish a review until an agreed time and date, in exchange for watching the film early. But the two-tier embargo tends to be an earlier social media restriction, and then a full review one.

As a consequence, you can share ‘reactions’ on social media generally earlier, and then run full reviews at a later date. Thus, studios are understandably encouraging early online conversation about their films.

But the issue is that some conversations are giving a little more away than perhaps comfortable. Granted, there’s a few – thankfully, just a few – who do the ‘I’ve seen this film early’ brag. Yet the majority abide by courtesies. But again, pushed by film companies to discuss the film, there are hints being dropped. Particularly coming up to something like Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, those are hints that I’d imagine a lot of people don’t want. But I fear they’re coming from people who should, in truth, be protecting others from having films tainted for them in advance.

There are worst extremes. In my previous job, I remember my jaw dropping when loading up a site on the other side of the Atlantic that was openly theorising on the ending of a major comic book movie when it wasn’t even out for others to see.

But still: I don’t think people should be reading advance film criticism, or following their favourite critics, and be rewarded with film reveals being spoiled for them, either directly or through hints that aren’t very subtle. I do think it’s fair that plot points are discussed in film criticism to be clear, and in many cases it’s unavoidable. But that doesn’t by nature also mean giving the game away.

It’s a privileged position getting to watch films early. And with that power comes not just responsibility, but also some manners. At the very least, playing fair with those who don’t get that early ticket.

Good film writing, I truly believe, is to the huge benefit of film, and I love reading the views and perspectives of others. But save the spoilers at the very least for after release date please…

Lead image: BigStock

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