Paul Greengrass’ true-life heart-stopper Captain Phillips may be opening next Friday, October 11, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to see the film a whole six days early ‐ at least, that’s what Sony Pictures seems to think. This Saturday, the studio will sneak preview the film in around 800 theaters around the country (you can see exactly where right here), and while Captain Phillips is already one of my favorite films of the year, I’m not wholly convinced it necessitates a sneak preview.
The sneak preview model isn’t a totally out of the box method of marketing, though it’s not utilized too often. In 2011, Fox launched weekend sneak previews for its We Bought a Zoo, positioning the family-friendly film for a Thanksgiving weekend release without actually having to change its release date. Last year, The Guilt Trip got its own sneak weekend, complete with a special video Q&A with stars Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand. Even J.J. Abrams and his mystery box couldn’t avoid the allure of sort of putting a film in theaters early for a sneak ‐ back in the summer of 2011, his Super 8 got a much-touted preview (that was really just a day-early release, but was marketed to high heaven).
But Captain Phillips has something none of those films had ‐ true awards season potential. This thing doesn’t need the buzz that a one-week early sneak will give it, it’s got the real goods ‐ including a bogglingly tense first act and one of the finest performances of Tom Hanks’ career ‐ and that should carry it much further than a single day of showings. But what should really keep you from seeing Captain Phillips until next week (and, seriously, go see it, it’s a wonderful film that knocked my socks off when it debuted at the currently ongoing New York Film Festival) is a little thing called Gravity.
Here’s the thing ‐ the end of Gravity was spoiled for me. Typically, I am not particularly afraid of spoilers. I’ll occasionally even ask for them, even if I am seeing a much-anticipated film in mere days (sometimes even hours, because I can be incredibly impatient, clearly to a fault). I don’t launch full-scale attacks against watching trailers or clips before a film comes out, I’ve never been angry when a “cameo” was revealed before a production even wrapped (although I understand I may be in the minority on this one), and my very career means that I know a lot about most films before they hit the big screen. But the end of Gravity was spoiled for me and I didn’t want it to be and, yes, it had an effect on my initial viewing of the film.
Sure, I still marveled at the effects work and the stunning look and feel of Alfonso Cuaron’s latest, nothing could take that away. When I reviewed the film out of Toronto, I wrote that it is “a marvel of technical filmmaking, there is not one crafted element of the film that doesn’t contribute to its overall jaw-dropping, eye-popping appeal. Space has never looked so beautiful, so terrifying, and so clear as it does here, and both Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki should be credited with creating instantly iconic shots and compositions that will forever be hailed as essential additions to space-set filmmaking. Gravity looks simply breathtaking, a typically hyperbolic term that is the only appropriate description of how the film both appears and feels.” By pure luck, I caught the film in IMAX 3D, and that too added to my experience, and I wrote last month that “Gravity is one of the few modern blockbusters that is best experienced with the added dimension (and if you can get it in IMAX, all the better). The film is an entirely immersive experience, and consuming it in the best (and biggest) circumstances isn’t just highly recommended, it’s nearly essential.”
But I wasn’t able to walk into the film without knowing how it was going to end (at least a little bit), and that’s an experience I’d like to keep other film fans from going through.
While Captain Phillips is based on a true story, there will surely be plenty of people who aren’t familiar with the actual events it chronicles, as even the most plugged-in newshounds will likely come away shocked at some of the smaller details so effectively put on the screen by Greengrass and company. But it’s also driven by Hanks’ performance, one I previously deemed “steady, believable, controlled, and relatable” and able to “easily [slip] between different facets of his character in a highly immersive fashion.” The character-driven action of Captain Phillips is essentially spoiler-proof on its own; the true-life plot of it just drives that home.
Gravity, conversely, hinges on a question: Will Sandra Bullock and George Clooney make it out of space? If you don’t know the answer by now, good for you (I am jealous), and I implore you to keep it that way until you take in Gravity this weekend. Captain Phillips can wait ‐ it’s worth it.