Movie reviewers: spill less, kill less
How far should a movie reviewer go when describing plot elements?
It's not easy finding the right balance.
However, I think reviewers who outline entire stories and sprinkle in the odd observation are movie killers. Roger Ebert is one. After all, there's no sense in seeing a movie if you know everything; you'll just be ticking off a list of events as they happen. Wouldn't you rather concentrate on other more interesting things, like the music, the cinematography or maybe the dialogue?
Informed viewers read magazines or keep track of upcoming releases online. They know general plot summaries, who's in what and whether it's likely to be a bomb or a revelation. They may not want to know more until they actually hit the multiplexes.
Some super-serious movie fans wait for many years for Hollywood (or another country's filmmakers) to adapt stories. This is certainly the case for fans of "Watchmen," a comic book series that many believed was unfilmable but is now doing reasonably well in theatres. (According to Wired.com's Underwire blog (http://blog.wired.com/underwire/2009/03/watchmen-receip.html) the film will easily make back Warner Bros' $200 million investment - and probably a lot more after the DVD release). Fans of films like these don't need much from reviewers. Actually rabid fans are almost impervious to poor reviews.
Yes, there are people who spend little time thinking about movies before their release dates, and they want reviews to help them make intelligent choices. And there's value for all in knowing if a movie is bad or good.
But there's a fine line between reviewing and deconstructing.
Personally, if a reviewer has told me the whole story before I've had the chance to see it unfold naturally, it's impossible for me to enjoy it. I want a movie to take me somewhere, but I don't want the road map and a pen to trace it with. I want a story to wash over me. The journey is the experience.
Here's my message to reviewers who get their jollies from spilling beans: save the grade-four-book-report-style reviews for grade four book reports. Set up the story without telling it all. Tease me a bit. Tell me why the movie is unique, who directed it and who's in it. Tell me cool stories about how the movie came to be. Hell, tell me anything that's relevant and interesting, just don't give away the whole thing.
If you truly love movies - and I assume you do - keep the magic alive long enough for your readers to experience it too. Don't be a movie killer. It's not your job.