When The Shit Hits The Fan

The Black Dog Podcast’s Lee Medcalf has one major bugbear when it comes to fandom; all of it. From his chair on GeekPlanetOnline’s front porch he likes to shake his walking stick and yell at the kids to get off his damned lawn; we’ve tried asking him to stop, but he has a nasty bite when riled…

So the Dark Knight Rises hype machine got under way this week with the first reveal of Tom Hardy as Bane, and within seconds the image was picked apart by the fans looking for the smallest morsel of information that could help them divine some plot points. Meanwhile, elsewhere on the interweb the Green Lantern "mythology" trailer broke to a mixed reaction, mainly comprising of moans about the "dodgy CGI" and how weird everything looked.

Now to me these two moments are typical of fandom since time began. However, since the dawn of the internet, what has happened is the creation of a perfect storm of cynicism.

Nothing new, you might say. Yet what it is doing is robbing the cinema (and genre cinema especially) of surprise, and at the risk of sounding corny, magic.

It seems barely a day goes by, without some news titbit leaking out and being devoured by the web community, all with a sense of entitlement and little in the way of understanding of the net result on one's viewing experience.

The entitlement we feel when finding out some secret bit of info or casting news shows itself every day on forums and newsgroups the world over. Phrases like "dammit why did you cast [INSERT ACTOR NAME HERE] I hate that guy!" pollute the web and in turn, little by little, erode even the hardiest film fan's opinion of a new project, sometimes years ahead of its actual release.

Then there are the CGI moaners, those fans who are frustrated that everything isn't animatronic anymore. Bemoaning the fact that CGI is blatantly obvious yet ignoring the fact that animatronics were, with a few notable exceptions, every bit as shit as the CGI they're lambasting.

And the result? A film is spoilt by preconceptions, presumptions and a desire to uphold one's opinion after the event, even if that opinion was formed based on little more than a teaser poster, or a throwaway line in a press junket interview for a totally different film.

Our desire for information and knowing everything instantly has ruined the cinema-going experience. And in turn, it fuels further negativity for future projects. Why do we bother going to see a film these days if, thanks to the Internet, we've collectively made our minds up that actor X, isn't right for the part or the CGI in the trailer ruined a one minute viewing experience and we know every plot twist and revelation from a draft script leaked six months ago?

Why can't we just go to watch a film and make up our minds at the time as we view it?

I'm not saying that films don't deserve criticism, far from it: if a film is bad or good it should be noted. But what I am saying is that at the end of the day, the finished film is the product that should be judged, not prejudged by committee, based on spurious assumptions based on marketing.

Sure, marketing is a means to an end, which is supposed to engage and lure in the potential audience. So a level of assumption and critical response is only fair. However, we, as fans use the marketing as a jump-off point and delve deep into a production, evaluating it through third-hand accounts of on set info and a million other leak sources.

But, as I previously mentioned, this never gives the film or TV show a fair chance; the jaded audience have (consciously or otherwise) already made up their minds, rarely just immersing themselves in what's on the screen and giving it a chance.

A brilliant example of this pre-judgement without trial was the unfortunate fate of the latest Wonder Woman TV show. A few details leaked from a draft script essentially laying out that this Wonder Woman show would be like the old one, with a female lawyer Diana Prince living in New York and occasionally changing into the titular character to fight bad guys. Now, that was prejudged within seconds on various forums as some fans utterly forgot the Linda Carter show followed exactly the same format. But worse was to come, the costume shot appeared and that was that. You would have been forgiven for assuming that the costume designer had killed the family members of some of the commenters. So strong was the reaction, so vehemently and utterly dismissive, the studio panicked and canned the show before the pilot ever made it to air.

Huzzah! Strike one for the good guys you might think. But really, was it a victory or did we shoot ourselves in the collective foot? We will never know if that show was any good or had the potential to bloom into something more than the sum of its parts. Hell, it could have evolved into a classic for all we know. You might disagree, citing other elements indicating awfulness of the project, but the simple truth is it's your opinion, based on a few details given a subjective spin by a website and writer with their own agendas and interpretations of info.

And now as I finish writing this article, IO9 have just leaked a spoiler cameo that features in the rather excellent X-Men: First Class. It's not a big thing in terms of plot or story, but it was a nice little crowd pleaser and a surprise for the audience who were unprepared for that moment. Now, with almost grim inevitability, fanboys are both foaming with joy and raging like angry bears all over that site. Now would that reaction have been the same had that moment not been spoilt and just appeared as a cool little Easter egg in the middle of the action? Or, as per my original point, has a small magic moment been utterly banjaxed by someone desperate to feel self-important before a readership who'd rather ruin a film for themselves than just enjoy the surprise, then bemoan the state of cinema in the same breath.

I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to inhabiting the spoiler zones of websites, but frankly of late, I find the guilty until proven innocent vibe of fanboys does diminish my movie-going experience. And I hope that taking my own advice and reviewing something on its own merits may actually let me properly enjoy a movie again!

So perhaps, just for once, just ignore the spoilers, the leaks, the draft scripts, the extra lengthened "exclusive clips" and the clueless opinionated armchair critics (yes I appreciate the irony of that last statement) and just see if we can go into a film cold and see if we can enjoy it based on our own genuine unsullied opinions rather than those the of the cynical internet collective?

You never know you might just get a bit of the magic back...



This week Lee has been mostly looking up The Dark Knight Rises spoilers, making fake Catwoman pictures and posting them to Harry Knowles.