Spoilers… no matter where you look these days, it’s hard to avoid them. It’s getting increasingly difficult as a genre fan to enjoy the latest movies and television shows without finding out something about the plot, characters or some crucial point about what’s upcoming in the storyline. There seems to be an unquenchable thirst for knowledge amongst fans to the point that our enjoyment of new media is being drained away. Certainly whenever new films are released, being armed with too much information in advance is leaving many of us with high expecations and subsequently leaving fans disappointed or extremely critical when otherwise we may have been far more lenient.
How has fandom got into this state of affairs though and do we really need to be so obsessed with knowing everything so far in advance about all our favourite shows?
I’ve been a part of sci-fi fandom for a long time. A very long time in fact. I started attending comic fairs in the late 1980s, launched Infinite Frontiers in 1989 and went to my first convention in 1990. It was the same with clubs, being a member of various Doctor Who and Star Trek clubs both postally (hard to believe but clubs did that back then) and attending regular meetings. There were a few things that they all had in common though. While those of us involved as members or attendees wanted knowledge or to “consume” media, it was usually drip-fed to us. We didn’t have the luxury of being online at home, sci-fi news was often reported in pages in a club newsletter and as for new episodes of TV shows… it was a highlight of a convention to watch new episodes imported from the US and watching them in a hall full of fans on VHS – no downloading of episodes hours after they’ve been broadcast. We were grateful for everything we could receive.
It was an exciting time to be a fan. Everything we saw and heard was new. New films and TV episodes were often shrouded in mystery with just enough information revealed about upcoming media to whet our apetites and makes us eager to see what was on the way. Films weren’t previewed with dozens of trailers, TV spots, teasers trailers – we saw a trailer and decided then if we wanted to see it or not and then just waited for it to be released. Was it a golden age? I wouldn’t necessarily say that it was but there was a certain magic when it came to sitting down and enjoying something and knowing nothing about it in advance.
Then everything changed – the internet took over. While things didn’t change overnight, it was clear that times were changing. It became easier to find information out about upcoming TV episodes and movies and fandom grew in ways that people had never thought possible before. It was relatively easy to not only find out the basic plot points about new stories coming up, but if you really wanted to you could find out every last intricate detail. Fans quickly lapped up this new and rich wealth of knowledge presented to them but I’d say that marked the start of a downward spiral for fandom as a whole and the world of the spoiler…
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At the time, one of the most infamous incidents was the one that shrouded the release of Star Trek: Generations. Months before the movie was released, the complete script was leaked onto the internet. While the studio tried to deny the authenticity of the script, it soon proved to be the genuine article and tens of thousands of fans not only managed to procure a copy but in reading it found out every single detail of the movie from start to finish – the ultimate spoiler. Having given in to temptation myself and read the script prior to seeing the movie, understandably I went in expecting the worst (having been sorely disappointed with the script itself) and not only did the script match the on-screen experience, there were scenes edited out from the movie that in fact made the cinematic experience even worse. There were scenes in the script that were referred to in the movie that were edited out (for reasons of timing according to the studio) which left some scenes making no sense whatsoever and sitting there knowing what should have happened left me frustrated with what ended up being a bad, no, very bad movie.
It was clear from reading the script that it had been intended as being the final swansong for the original Star Trek cast and being a “handover” movie to the crew of The Next Generation but instead when most of the original cast declined to appear it was rewritten to focus just on Kirk, Scotty and Chekov with the latter two replacing Spock and McCoy respectively. The scenes deleted from the final cut of the movie only served to highlight this further and it left a bitter taste in the mouth. To add insult to injury, Paramount continued to deny that many of the “missing” scenes had even been filmed for the movie despite footage of several of them being leaked to fans. The entire movie was a shambles but was one that very few fans were truly looking forward to.
As a sci-fi fan generally, things moved on for me and I tried to put that sorry experience behind me but when running our Star Trek fan club Alpha Quadrant, the ever-hungry fandom was still present. Fans seemed more eager than ever to know more and more about what was coming up and I don’t think any of our members would have been disappointed had we revealed major plot points months in advance. There was an insatiable thirst for knowledge surrounding all aspects of the show itself ranging from upcoming episodes, the cast and their other projects, merchandise and it was astonishing to see how eager people were to know details so far in advance. For me, the magic was already beginning to fade but having a responsibility to our club members meant that I needed to source news and updates so I ended up spoiling shows and movies for myself!
Hollywood didn’t help itself either being honest and it’s only worsened over time. The industry has become increasingly competitive and has been more aggressive when it has come to marketing, whether it has been for television shows or movies. You can’t avoid television appearances by actors promoting their new movies or shows, behind-the-scenes TV specials, online shorts… everywhere you look there is something new trying to force-feed information to you about every new form of media heading our way and by the time a new movie hits the big screen it’s hard to believe sometimes that we don’t walk into the cinema knowing the movie inside out including every plot twist, character, story element, right down to the minute detail. We tend to hear about shows and films a year or more in advance and are then fed information ad infinitum until we finally get to see the finished product.
In recent years I’ve made a conscious effort to avoid spoilers and advance information on all films and television shows.We rarely get to go to the cinema so seeing the latest movies is a luxury that usually has to wait for the blu ray release several months down the line. We don’t have any form of satellite or cable television and our regular viewing is restricted to limited catch-up services so most of our viewing comes from these and shows available on Netflix and Amazon Video. This hasn’t bothered us in the slightest but it does mean that we don’t get to see shows as they are broadcast in the US and in some cases it’s months or even a year behind the original transmission date depending on which streaming service shows them unless we opt to buy them on DVD. Regardless, we seldom see shows as they are released so trying to steer clear of information about them before we see them is often nigh-on-impossible.
For many that might feel like their worst nightmare has come true – being so isolated from so much new media and missing out on all of the latest movies as they are released but for us it’s the total opposite. As we don’t get to see shows or films as they’re released we look forward to them even more when we do get to see them as it makes the wait worth it. Avoiding spoilers isn’t easy – especially when you’re in the business of running a geek website – but it is possible and I have found that it has enhanced my enjoyment of everything I have watched over the last few years tenfold. Being able to sit down and watch something – whether it has been at home or in the cinema – blissfully unaware of the events that are about to unfold before me – has been incredibly refreshing and has made each television show and movie feel new and exciting again and has made sci-fi and fantasy exciting once more. I may not be as clued up as I used to be about upcoming shows or films, but I certainly enjoy them far more because of it and that’s what is far more important to me as a fan.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi was a real challenge for me recently keeping in line with this philosophy. I’ve managed to see every Star Wars movie in the cinema going right back to 1977 and this was going to be no exception but one thing after another seemed to get in our way. We had hoped to go to see it in December as it coincided with our wedding anniversary but we ended up facing countless setbacks. As time progressed we noticed the film having fewer and fewer screenings at our local cinema, and more and more people talking about it and posting their thoughts online along with more cast interviews appearing. December passed, as did January… February started and we still hadn’t seen it and our main cinema had stopped showing in. Our two next largest towns only had late night screening so we had no way of seeing it. Were we going to miss a Star Wars film for the first time?
Fortunately not as we managed to see it a few days ago during it’s final week at a smaller local cinema but amazingly we did so without seeing anything other than the first cinematic trailer. No interviews, multiple theatrical trailers, TV spots, interviews, reviews or anything else! Did it help? Absolutely. I went into the movie with no expectations other than to see over two hours of Star Wars on the big screen. There were moments that truly surprised me, made me laugh, brought a lump to my throat, shocked me, and left me thoroughly entertained throughout from start to finish but I’m sure that a lot of those moments would have been ruined had I been following what was said and promoted online and in the media.
I honestly don’t know how much longer I can keep this new approach to fandom going, taking a spoiler-free stance on everything that I want to enjoy, but I do know that I have a renewed love of the genre and have regained a passion for franchises that I thought I had lost years ago. For those of you who have been feeling jaded by some of your favourite shows or movies in recent years it may be something worth trying for yourselves… you may find yourself being pleasantly surprised.