In the early 1980’s at the height of my religious cult conversion, from which I got better, I raised money to feed the cult by selling off many of my beloved books which involved running a second hand stall on a market for about six months. As a business venture it was fun, but not particularly successful in any commercial sense.
Early on, I sold off a copy of a history of the Third Reich, for about £1.00, as it was in a shabby paperback edition. A week later the customer returned it as the last few pages had come loose and fallen out. Naturally I refunded his money and he was happy to buy other books from me. As he left that day, I called to him, “If you are wondering how it ended, they lost the war, and Hitler committed suicide in the Bunker.” He took that in good spirit.
Of course, he knew the facts already. Who doesn’t? What is scary however is how many people cheerfully blab out details of the endings of stories, and films you’d rather not learn of until you’ve seen them for yourself.
Reading on here, you will see references to the end of films, Citizen Kane, King Kong, The Empire Strikes Back, The Usual Suspects, The 6th Sense, and both film and novel versions of Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express. There will be reveals about Alien & Jaws too, though not the endings. I’ll also discuss key moments in three Star Trek movies. Telling you to expect these surprises to be revealed is a convention among science fiction fans known as using SPOILER SPACE – Essays online need to carry these alerts too. It’s a bit like when news-reporters tell you to look away if you don’t want to see the football results before getting to watch a re-run of the big game for yourself.
I suspect that as these are old, established stories you either know or don’t mind learning their big surprises, but you should never take that for granted in writing reviews or features for your readers, or when the films turn up on TV.
My Mum saw the 6th Sense before I did, and rushed home excitedly shouting, (SERIOUS SPOILER ALERT) “I didn’t know he was dead all along.” That Willis’s character was a ghost all through the film is a surprise to most people on a first viewing of the film, and many had told me how amazed they were by the big revelation. I was looking forward to seeing if I could work it out. I never got a chance. I have seen the film, and I loved it, though once you know Willis is dead, it is quite obvious what the clues are telling you.
You wouldn’t ruin a Whodunit like the Agatha Christie story Murder On The Orient Express by skipping to the end (SPOLER ALERT) to see that all the suspects committed the murder together. Don’t spoil it for others too. The stage version of Christie’s play, The Mousetrap, and the original French film Diabolique (not the lame remake version with Sharon Stone) both carry big surprises I won’t divulge here. They conclude with warnings and pleas to the audiences not to tell others what to expect when they come to see the stories. Both depend heavily on the big concluding shock moments.
I love the moments in cinema that take me totally by surprise. Watching The Empire Strikes Back (SPOILERS) as Vader tells Luke that he is his Father was jaw dropping. Had I seen the film a few days later than I did, everyone would have told me of that big reveal. Similarly, that (SPOILERS) Kevin Spacey is the villain of The Usual Suspects, Rosebud is Citizen Kane’s childhood sledge, etc, are great moments to discover in their rightful place.
Sometimes, a spoiler is broadcast even by a title. The comic book Death Of Superman tells you from the outset that the caped crusader gets killed. The real (SPOILERS) non-surprise being that he comes back.
When I went to watch Alien, I already knew of (SPOLIER ALERT) the chest bursting moment in advance, as virtually everyone and the media had spelt it out as being a highlight of the film. There was no surprise there. What amazed me (MORE SPOLIERS) was the moment where Ian Holm, as Ash, turns out to be a killer android. That was to me a greater moment as virtually no one talked of it before the film. The John Hurt chest-burster event had served as a great decoy devise. It’s easy to assume everyone knows about some old established classic film moments, such as (SPOLIERS) King Kong falling off The Empire State Building, but never assume everyone knows that is coming. Take no chances.
With Jaws (SPOLIERS) everyone told me of the scary moment a severed head pops out from a hole in a sunken boat. I was one of the few who didn’t jump out of his skin as it happened when I finally got to see the film.
Now to the Star Trek films. Three of these require spoiler alerts.
Star Trek 2 The Wrath Of Khan carried a very over hyped and media spoilt ending (SPOILERS), in which long serving much loved character, Leonard Nimoy’s Spock, is killed off at the end Few were surprised to see it, and the film plays heavily with expectations how / when it will occur.
The sequel, (SPOILERS) Star Trek 3 – The Search For Spock, makes much even in the title of his miraculous return. It would have been an anti-climax not to see this in the film. Amidst that hype though, lay a big secret – (SPOILERS) the destruction of The Enterprise spaceship itself. That really got me and proves to be my favourite twist-sequence on film. I’d have killed anyone telling of that before I saw it for myself. As it hadn’t been hyped, and Kirk (William Shatner) had bluffed the destruct sequence gambit many times in the TV series, the shock of them really doing it was awesome and powerful.
The latest Star Trek film, just called Star Trek, (SPOILERS) as it goes back to the start, really plays on expectations and audience assumptions. We barely see the planet Vulcan, familier to us from the TV series, before it’s destroyed, changing the entire series history and time lines in an instant.
Too many film surprises are nothing of the kind. It has become a cliché of the horror slasher film to show a twist in which the vampire / monster / seriel killer / villain isn’t really dead, often as preperation for a chain of formulaic sequels. It’s more of a surprise when it doesn’t happen, and the Scream films play well by parodying such clichés.
So, in your reviews, warn of any surprises. The film you are evaluating might have been out in 1937, but there will be people out here who haven’t seen it yet.
A review should not just summarize, abstract, synopsise and condense the plot, but give some idea how you feel about what you read or watched.
And now, (SPOILER SPACE) The End.
Arthur Chappell (Ha-Ha, yes. It was me all the time – Bet you didn’t see that coming).