Ruining Film: The Fourth Kind of Spoilers

By  · Published on November 10th, 2009

EDITOR’S NOTE: It goes without saying that in discussing the idea of spoilers ruining a particular film, we’ll be throwing out a ton of spoilers, so don’t read this until after you see The Fourth Kind. Or, you know, if you’ve already had it ruined or if you just plain don’t care. Consider yourself spoiler-warned.

I want you to think of your favorite movie. Think about why you love it, the impact it had on you the first time you saw it, the twentieth time you saw it. Let it live in your mind for a second. Play it out on the big screen in your head and fall in love with it all over again.

Now I want you to imagine that someone ruins it for you before you get to see it.

Spoilers are nothing new, but with the release of The Fourth Kind, it seems like a new conversation needs to be had about how the film experience can be ruined. As you probably already know, the real footage from The Fourth Kind is real fake. There is no Abbey Tyler. There are no tapes of her counseling people who are being haunted by a vicious owl-alien beast. There is no reality to be dramatically interpreted by actress Milla Jovovich.

You probably know this because a) you’ve seen the movie and put two and two together* b) you googled it beforehand or c) someone on the internet spoiled it for you.

For a ton of people, it was unavoidable. At a certain point, you could barely round a corner on the internet without being bombarded with a headline spoiling the hell out of the flick. And usually doing it boastfully. As if they’d done a great public service.

Now, for the record, I don’t think that The Fourth Kind is a good movie. I think it’s an interesting experiment that ultimately fails. There are a few good scares, but it’s a frustrating experience. Still, it takes balls to create fake real footage and then go the next step of making fake footage based off that fake real footage to play it side by side. It strikes out, but at least it swings for the fences. Gives us something new.

But none of that matters. You could think the movie is absolute crap, but out there somewhere is someone who is watching it and thinking it’s an incredible flick. Maybe their favorite of all time. Laugh if you want, but that’s the nature of the beast. A film you think is a piece of cheese might be in someone’s all-time top five. Your treasure might be someone else’s trash. We all connect to different things, and even if a film falls flat, we should at least be given the chance to experience it purely.

But for some reason, it’s been open season on spoiling this film. I have no idea why, but leading up to its opening, everything from spoiler-warning-free reviews to errant twitter feeds were shouting from the rooftops about how what the film was purporting to be real was fake. How the entire premise of the film was a sham.

My favorites include titling a review “Not Real, Not Scary,” a major film website calling it a Blair Witch fakeout, and io9 flat out calling the film a hoax in its headline (you know, the things that people can’t avoid while casually browsing) a full day before the movie even had a chance to be met with the eyeballs of an awaiting nation. For even the mild film fan checking out websites, they had no choice but to have it spoiled.

Not to mention the endless twatting about the damned thing.

Essentially, people were running around making it impossible for those encountering their snark to see the film with fresh eyes. For, as you may know, not only is the film being marketed as the dramatic interpretation of true events, but it’s also presented that way. It’s central to the filmic experience, and that central premise was stolen from a ton of people (some of which may have loved the film).

I see this as especially insidious. I understand that The Fourth Kind isn’t Citizen Kane (you know, because Citizen Kane is totally real), but it shouldn’t matter. No film should be spoiled. Which is what baffles me most about the near-universal apathy toward pissing in the punch for this particular sci-fi flick.

I don’t think anyone would argue against the idea that every film deserves a chance to be seen how the filmmaker wants it to be seen, but here’s where I go off the deep end. Feel free to strap on your floaties or let me drown out there all alone. Either way.

Part of me sees this wanton disregard as indicative of two terrible roads that film criticism seems to be headed down. The first, the love of elite status over true film passion. We have become a film culture obsessed with what’s in pre-pre-production and who is almost going to be cast in something. That has led inevitably down a path where some people see it as more important to display their inside knowledge than to keep the reverence for a film in tact. That’s not film love. It’s the love of being on the inside (no matter how fabricated the feeling) and rubbing it in other people’s faces.

The second, a world where film critics forget that opinions aren’t correct. Or incorrect. Because they’re subjective. Earlier in the year Jen Yamato from Rotten Tomatoes spoiled a major impact moment in Antichrist by tweeting about it. Several other film folks, including Vic from Screen Rant (in a move he will never live down until our short term memories lapse) retweeted it verbatim. This personally spoiled the moment for me, and Vic claimed that he saw nothing wrong with spoiling a movie he didn’t care for. Whether you believe that particular move spoiled something big or not, we got to see firsthand a belief that it’s okay to spoil a film directly because of the perceived quality of the movie. It was a situation where his opinion trumped decency – and it’s a similar notion to any film blogger who has a vested interest in how well a film does or how poorly a film flops opening weekend.

And he’s not alone. Especially now.

Which brings me all the way back around. I know that there aren’t going to be a huge number standing up and claiming to be Spartacus for The Fourth Kind. I know that there are many out there who don’t think it’s a good movie. But for those of you answering my rant with, “Who gives a shit? That movie sucks!” I have to hang my head, roll my eyes a little and quietly remind you that somewhere, someone thinks your favorite movie is a piece of shit and might not have thought twice about spoiling it to your face before you got a chance to fall in love with it.

*Yes, it equals four. That’s a little bonus pun free of charge for you.

Flame on.

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Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.