Is it possible to watch a film spoiler-free any more?

Simon's determined not to know anything about films before he steps foot inside the cinema... but the world's making that difficult

The Joker

Ever since I stepped out of a screening of Batman Begins, back in the summer of 2005, my mind was made up. Not only was there no other film on the planet I wanted to see more than Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to the film, but I also wanted to see it as cold as possible. I made a vow to avoid spoilers, trailers, pictures, clips and articles, so keen was I to see the film knowing as little as possible.

To some extent, I was on a loser from the start.

It’s now taken as a given before you walk into a screening of any major superhero movie that not only will you know who’s in it, but you’ll also know the characters that they play. As much as I’d like to scrub the thought from my mind, I know that Aaron Eckhardt is playing Harvey Dent, and I know that he’s going to turn into Two Face. It’s like you have to accept a minimum amount of information as a given before you take your seat. If you have a level of enthusiasm for films and like reading about that, it’s the price of entry no matter how hard you try.

That said, I’ve gone to great lengths to ensure that I don’t accidentally find out more than I want to. I’ve had to avoid seeing a film in a cinema for the past few months, simply because I don’t want another Hollywood trailer trying to pack everything good into two or three minutes, and instantly diluting some of the fun. From what I gather, The Dark Knight trailers have been quite restrained, but I’d far rather have got my first glimpse of Heath Ledger as The Joker on the big screen, rather than freeze-framed in a YouTube video. That was never going to happen.

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Nonetheless, I consider it quite an accomplishment to have got to the day that my Dark Knight tickets are booked for knowing as little as I do. But why does it take so much effort to do so? Appreciating that I write for a site that does discuss and speculate a lot (albeit with spoiler markings to keep everyone safe!) – and I’m as guilty of that as the next person – it’s still some effort to venture into a major Hollywood film without knowing much about it. It’s not as if I go actively hunting for information, but I still like to watch telly, browse the Internet and talk to people. And each of those is laden with some element of risk. The last time I was able to see a Hollywood production absolutely cold? I suspect it was John Badham’s The Assassin, way back in the early 90s. And I think that the fact I knew nothing about it, hadn’t seen La Femme Nikita and didn’t have much of an idea what to expect (save for the title, and the star) is partly why I enjoyed it more than many of the people I talk to about it.

So troubled is the path to a completely clear viewing that even the ratings board in the UK want to get in on the act. No longer is the BBFC providing just a certificate, there’s now accompanying guidance to go with it! I understand that on a film that a child may be taken into, but when we’re looking at 15 and 18 certificate movies, do the same rules really have to apply? Do I need the BBFC to tell me that Hostel Part II “Contains very strong bloody violence and horror”, does it? Well no shit, but can I at least have a chance of finding that out for myself? The Mist “Contains strong language, violence and threat”, while my favourite of the moment – The Happening – “Contains frequent images of suicide and moderate bloody injury”. Appreciating that the BBFC are caught somewhere between a rock and hard place, is it really necessary on more mature films to even allude to that kind of detail?

But there’s more. If you dare to read the listings on the back of a soundtrack CD, as Phantom Menace enthusiasts once found to their cost, there’s an implied and assumed risk in that now. Should you scroll down the comments after a story, what’s the betting that one person goes hell for leather and posts spoilers in an unexpected place, without labelling them up as such? And did someone really have to put up a single Facebook comment that gave away the ending to I Am Legend to me?

All considered though, the trickiest part of my personal quest has come in the past week, when many of the people around me have seen the film, and naturally been keen to talk about it. All I’ve asked of them is a star rating and nothing more, and I’ve practically had to staple my mouth shut to avoid the temptation to ask even a single additional question of them. To those people, I apologise, because not a day goes by when I haven’t wanted to ask you again and again about the film.

I’m curious, writing this just before I head off to the cinema to see The Dark Knight, just how well I’ve managed to insulate myself from finding out too much about the film, and my gut feeling is that I’ve done an alright job. But it’s been a hell of an effort to get through the last three years knowing as little about it as I do, and I still dread people talking on the way out of the screening before, or accidentally overhearing a conversation at the train station that will render my mission a failure.

My next target? Avatar. There’s no point even trying on Star Trek XI

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