Film-going isn't an exercise in surprise anymore, but instead about confirming guesses informed by teasers, trailers, etc.
Despite a concerted effort at resisting the apple of temptation, I caved in and took a bite when I read the titles and descriptions of the first three episodes of Game of Thrones Season 7 as officially released by HBO. The first episode is called Dragonstone, and its rather vague description reads, “Jon Snow organises the defence of the North. Cersei tries to even the odds. Daenerys comes home.” The second episode talks of a revolt against Jon Snow, and the third, among other things, is about Daenerys holding court and Cersei returning a gift. Despite being rather generic, they do give away some information. Like, say, that Cersei doesn’t die in the first three episodes. As any Game of Thrones follower will tell you, one of the biggest thrills of watching the show lies in the nervous knowledge that no character is truly safe. And yet, these descriptions give it away.
These days, when you step into theatres to watch films, you do so already armed with a certain knowledge of what they are about. The media has made it its business to try and uncover every little information about an upcoming film, paying little heed to whether it’s a spoiler or otherwise. Take Vijay’s upcoming film with Atlee, for example. You already know he plays three roles: a magician, a doctor, and a Panchayat head. Or how about Ajith’s Vivegam, which you already know has been extensively shot abroad, mainly in Bulgaria? Film journalists have now become investigative journalists in a sense, and are experts at uncovering information from any material released about the film. The moment Akshay Kumar’s photo from the sets of 2.0 got leaked, you had people wondering if he was playing a character who was getting transformed into a crow. And then, the makers had to come out and deny this. Filmmakers are making it all easy too, what with the number of teasers and trailers that are sent out ahead of a film’s release. I’m not making it up when I say that a colleague and I were able to successfully decipher the whole story of Theri before its release, simply based on the promo videos and media coverage of the film. We, moviegoers, remain generally unmindful of this.
And so have I been, till recently, owing to some crazy twist of fate, I was able to walk into the theatre to watch Baby Driver without knowing anything about the film. Somehow, I had not really read up about it, and social media had failed to expose me to information about it, including that Edgar Wright was the director, and that the film was about a young adult called Baby, who’s a getaway driver for a gang of bank robbers. For all I knew, Baby Driver could have been about a baby who drives a car, or perhaps about a man who drives a baby around. I suspect that a significant part of why I went on to enjoy the film had to do with how little I knew about it as it began playing. Every scene was a revelation, every small detail a surprise.
Wasn’t this how it was to watch films a decade or two ago? You walked in, having just seen the poster that gave away very little. If an actor played multiple roles, it was a surprise. You didn’t even know the genre sometimes. Today, however, you know the names of the lead characters, you know what they do for a living, you even know details of the actors and who they will be paired up with in the film, you know where the film is set, and what the genre is. Film-going is generally not an exercise in surprise anymore. In fact, with many films, you’re more or less simply confirming the informed guesses you’ve already made. When you should be saying, “Woah!”, you’re instead saying, “Right. Just as I thought.”
The author is the entertainment editor with The New Indian Express