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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Element of Surprise

Or why I wish I didn't know so much about 'The Dark Knight Rises'

For me, the Christopher Nolan Batman movies are the perfect storm. I'm a massive Batman nerd, a movie lover, a Nolan fan... it's all in my hitting zone.

When I went to see Batman Begins for the first time I wasn't quite the movie-trivia version of the Cookie Monster I am now. I loved Batman but actually wasn't fully aware of how good the cast or director was and thus had no idea of what the movie was going to be like.

It was one of the best times I've ever had in a movie cinema. A rollicking thrill ride, unexpected villains and plot twists and a great sense of humour. I could not have enjoyed myself more.

So when 'The Dark Knight' was announced I started scrounging for information - anything I could get my hands on. I discussed with fellow nerds whether Heath Ledger would be any good as the Joker, what Nolan had in store for Two-Face, whether it would follow comic canon, etc.

When it actually came time to see the film, my expectations were so high that it was virtually impossible to meet them. Brilliantly, Nolan still managed to do exactly that but I still left the cinema less thrilled and more...satisfied - and I think that was mainly because I had spent so much time considering the film's possibilities so heavily.

That's why I'm torn about reading information like I did this morning - that Anne Hathaway would be playing Catwoman in 'The Dark Knight Rises' and Tom Hardy would be playing Bane.

On one hand it's just fantastic fun speculating about whether Hathaway will be any good as Catwoman, or whether Bane fits in to Nolan's Batman universe (and I’ll probably write an incredibly detailed post doing exactly that) - but does that mean that the moviegoing experience itself is diminished? Is our thirst for knowledge reducing the element of surprise?

A couple of people I know who went to 'Love and Other Drugs' mentioned to me that they were surprised that the movie was not the raucous comedy depicted in the trailers. One said they enjoyed the film immensely despite not really being in the mood for it whereas the other said they were upset the movie wasn't the comedy that was advertised.

But if they knew that ‘Love and Other Drugs’ was actually a dramatic film about illness as well as a knockabout comedy, wouldn’t that lessen the emotional impact and thus the impact of the film as a whole?

But if you think back to almost any seminal movie moment, they all have the element of surprise. Whether it’s a twist at the end of a movie like The Sixth Sense or Se7en or a mid-movie tonal shift like Million Dollar Baby, the element of surprise is one of a filmmaker's biggest assets.

When Million Dollar Baby was released the West Australian ran an article warning people that it was ACTUALLY A FILM ABOUT EUTHANASIA HOW DARE THEY TRICK US WATCH OUT PARENTS DON’T TAKE KIDS CONTROVERSY ARRRRGH and the outrage struck me as really misplaced. In 2004 were we really so averse to being surprised or challenged?

So with a movie as huge as 'The Dark Knight Rises', do we try and shut our eyes and avoid all the news and rumours flying around? Or do we count that as part of the fun and get involved in all the analysis and gossip at the possible expense of the movie-going experience itself?

Chris Nolan did a wonderful job of surprising us with Inception, a fantastic puzzle box of a film that he managed to keep the details of (particularly that last scene) under wraps. I hope he can do the same with 'The Dark Kniht Rises'. I have faith.

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