Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Avoiding information

I went to great lengths this weekend to avoid learning anything about Watchmen.

My usual Friday ritual involves flipping directly to the movie section of my Entertainment Weekly and seeing what grades the new releases have been given. I don't usually read the reviews, because I don't want to inadvertently steal someone's perspective if I review this movie someday. But I am curious to get a general sense of how EW critics Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum have judged a film.

This week, however, I was afraid to even open the magazine. I was on high alert against accidentally finding out what I was trying so hard to avoid learning -- that the movie might stink. Maybe they chose this week to shift the movie reviews from the back of the book to page 5. Or maybe I'd suffer a momentary failure of finger dexterity and end up there through an errant flip. I just had to last until Sunday night.

Having bought my tickets online Friday morning could have had something to do with trying to avoid having my enthusiasm crushed. You might say it should actually matter less under those conditions. I'd be seeing it no matter what, and it would theoretically be better to avoid getting the bad news were I still on the fence about buying tickets. But I couldn't afford to be on the fence. Those IMAX tickets went quickly. By Friday morning, my desired 3:15 show had already sold out, and I had to settle for the third row of the 6:30 screening if I wanted to go on Sunday at all.

So I was locked in anyway, and a bad review could only mean I'd have the chance to be pleasantly surprised, right? I'm a big fan of the pleasant surprise, and I'm also a big believer in the idea of the possibility of a pleasant surprise. Lots of people let their moviegoing desires get curdled by a single bad review. For me, it's a setback, but it doesn't ultimately stop me.

Still, I wanted to go in totally fresh to Watchmen.

I mostly succeeded. I managed not to get sucked in by any unexpected headlines on any of my websites. I wasn't in the presence of anybody discussing it. And that part of the Entertainment Weekly stayed safely closed until after my viewing, though I did venture into the early parts of the issue by Saturday morning.

What actually got me was facebook. I'd had the distant notion that somebody's facebook status might ruin the movie for me, but I perused my status updates anyway. (Addictions are, by definition, hard to break). I actually read two Watchmen-related status updates, but one of them was a joke, where my friend said he "was confused. He thought Watchmen was about clockmakers in the '60s." Good one. It gets across the point that you saw the movie, without spoiling anything.

But then another friend got me by sneaking it in at the end, as a non sequitor: "James is on the porch, lesson planning and thinking about how AWFUL The Watchmen (sic) was."

I grimaced.

Well, fear not, friends. For now, I will extend to you the same courtesy of information avoidance -- though if you've read this far, you've probably dared to learn my thoughts on the film already. Until more of you have seen it, I will just say that my friend James does not speak for everybody.

But as usual, Watchmen is just an entry point into what I want to talk about. I wrote a post early on about what lengths you have to go to if you want to avoid spilling the beans about a certain movie. Well, here's the flip side: In our information-saturated culture, how can you avoid learning what you don't want to learn?

Instead of pontificating on that for awhile -- I mention some of my own strategies above if you're interested -- I'd rather declare my amazement. I'm not amazed at how easily information seeps through to unwilling minds, but rather, how some of the information you think you'd be likeliest to hear can remain hidden, through no essential effort.

Case in point: I still do not know what happens at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

When you consider how many people I know who have read that book, how many people in society at large who have read that book, and how many cultural commentators are getting faster and looser with what constitutes common knowledge, I think it is a downright miracle that I still don't know the fate of Harry, Hermione, Ron et al.

What does this have to do with the movies, you ask?

Well, it means that when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II finally becomes the eighth movie in the series in 2011, the ending may actually still be a surprise to me.

Now I should say, I wouldn't really care that much if I did find out. I read only the first novel in the series, and have allowed key secrets to be divulged to me over the years. I watch those movies not so much to be surprised at what happens, but mostly because they're big event movies and I want to see if they're any good. (Speaking of which, I saw an IMAX-sized trailer for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince before Watchmen, and it looks like some crazy shit is going to be happening in it). Truth be told, I tend to forget what happened in the last movie, and I've really only thought one of them was truly great, Alfonso Cuaron's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

This is not an invitation for you to go spoiling it for me in the comments section. Because this is quite a thing I've got going on here, and I want to see how long it lasts. I want to see if I really can walk into a theater sometime in 2011 without knowing whether Harry Potter lives or dies.

If I do, it'll be pretty certain proof that the world is not composed only of ruiners and TMZ-bred gossip mongers. Maybe, just maybe, there's a silent majority of people who like staying silent.

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