There's an interesting post over on Green Cine Daily from yesterday that's worth pondering: How much is it okay for a film critic to reveal spoilers when writing a review? The post was inspired by a piece in the New York Times by Village Voice film critic Nathan Lee called "Giving it All Away," in which he pretty much revels in being a critic who spoils key points in a film for the people who read his stuff. This is an important topic for me -- when I review a film, I try to respect that people usually don't want to have it spoiled for them before they see it, and so I try to balance analyzing what I like and don't like about a film with not revealing too much.

This issue of spoilers has reached a fever-pitch with the release of the seventh and final Harry Potter book; I've had to scrupulously avoid any and all websites that might give anything away, and even in our house, where four of us are simultaneously reading the book, we're careful not to give away anything about the storyline so as not to ruin the fun of each of us discovering what happens for ourselves as the story unfolds. So I mostly disagree with Lee's perspective, just as I disagreed with the idiots who drove around my town with one of the key plot elements of the sixth Harry Potter book shoe-polished on their rear window right after it came out -- I suppose there's a bit of power and glee in spoiling things for those who haven't yet seen or read something yet, but why would you want to do that?

I guess it's also bit of a philosophical thing -- is the role of a critic to reveal the plot and analyze it in minute detail, as though writing a thesis paper for a grad school film class? Or is it to tell potential viewers what you like and don't like about a film, while carefully treading that line between explaining your point of view without giving too much away? I fall in the latter camp, but I know that Lee isn't the only one who doesn't care about revealing spoilers. If I'm reviewing a film, I never read other reviews until I'm done writing my own, because I don't want my perspective to be inadvertently shifted by reading another point of view; if I'm just deciding whether to see a film for pleasure, though, I have a few critics whose opinions I trust who I tend to gravitate toward, because I like to hear their perspectives going in; then afterwards I roll over their points in my mind and compare them to my own take on the film.

I guess it's a good thing Lee wrote this piece, though -- at least his readers will know once and for all that anything they read by him is likely to have spoilers, so those who don't want to have a film's plot spoiled for them can just avoid reading him altogether. What do you think, though? Is there a difference between how an arthouse film should be reviewed or critiqued, versus a mainstream flick? Do you care if a critic spoils a film for you by revealing key elements of the plot in a review? And if you know that a critic has a habit of doing so, do you avoid reading their reviews to begin with?
categories Movies, Cinematical