News Column

When is a spoiler OK?

June 7, 2013


I am going to let you in on a movie moment. At the end of Kevin Costner's "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," Sean Connery makes a brief appearance as King Richard. It's a cute little bit, since Connery had played Robin Hood in an earlier movie, "Robin & Marian," and his arrival is supposed to be a complete surprise.

Which, of course, I have now ruined for you.

But here's the thing: "Prince of Thieves" premiered in June 1991. Twenty-two years ago. So should I be allowed to mention the Connery scene _ or is protection from spoilers an eternal, inalienable right?

Say it isn't. Say there is a decent interval between when you talk about twists and when you do not. How long is that interval?

The movie "Safe Haven" has a twist at the end. It opened in theaters on Feb. 16 and is now on DVD and Blu-ray. Too soon to talk about?

"Star Trek Into Darkness" premiered on May 16. Is it OK now to reveal the identity of the villain played by Benedict Cumberbatch? Or do we have to wait until sometime later _ say, after the Blu-ray release?

"Game of Thrones" had a wowser of a plot turn on June 2. Too soon to tell you what it was?

This is not just a problem for those of us who write about entertainment and worry about how much to give away when reviewing shows, although it arises pretty often. One of my editors is still irked that I gave away something in the first season of "Game of Thrones" while writing about the second-season premiere. I know of at least one case in which a producer banned previews for a TV critic who, in the producer's view, had given away too much. And Matthew Weiner, the driving force on "Mad Men," has not only curtailed press previews of episodes to stop spoilers, but he also makes sure that the on-air promos for telecasts are so spectacularly ambiguous that little or nothing can be parsed from them.

Because, after all, it's not just the people who write about media who can spoil things. It can come from our friends. (It was a movie-loving buddy who told me about that Connery cameo _ when I had not yet seen the film.) Or from avid readers; the surprises in "Game of Thrones" and "Safe Haven" were known to fans of the books on which they are based.

And those are old-school means of being spoiled. The opportunities now are even bigger. Go onto Twitter and Facebook before, during and after any big movie or TV show arrives. Imagine being on the West Coast on a big TV night, when the East Coast has learned everything before you have. Look at how many movies are now being premiered overseas, unleashing reviews well before the movies have hit theaters on these shores. Look at how much is given away in ads for some productions.

So what do we do? You can try to put on blinders until you see the things you care about. At my workplace, you have to let people know you're in a cone of silence about something you have recorded but have not watched yet _ so the people who have watched it will huddle outside your hearing.

Or you can just shrug, accept that a spoiler is going to drop in your lap and try to enjoy watching with the extra knowledge even if you did not want it. You can see if the surprise is fairly set up in the rest of the production. And a work of art or entertainment should be able to stand up even after you know what's coming. I've seen "Casablanca" many times and still love it knowing that ...

Well, maybe you should see it for yourself.


Rich Heldenfels:


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