Back in January 2014, in an Entertainment Weekly article promoting Gone Girl, director David Fincher described how star Ben Affleck reacted to the script, which Gillian Flynn adapted from her own novel: “Ben was so shocked by it. He would say, ‘This is a whole new third act! She literally threw that third act out and started from scratch.’”
And the Internet went nuts, as it so often does. All the usual film outlets picked up the story that Flynn had radically rewritten her novel—Variety, CinemaBlend, Slashfilm, Collider, Salon, ScreenRant, Empire, The Christian Science Monitor, us—while other sites speculated wildly about all the things that might have changed, and encouraged readers to speculate as well. (Vanity Fair’s musings, which sneered at the book and hoped for changes including “comedic scenarios” for Neil Patrick Harris’ character, the elimination of the entire mountain-hotel sequence, and death for everybody, were particularly tone-deaf.) Commenters complained that the book’s original ending was terrible. Commenters complained that Hollywood always ruins good books by not trusting the authors. Commenters complained about the movie possibly being dumbed down, or given a happy ending, or ruined. Commenters complained.
Amid all the hubbub, the Internet barely noticed—or possibly didn’t care—when Fincher dialed back his statement, saying the whole notion of a new third act was “blown out of proportion,” which is celebrity-speak for “I said something flat-out wrong, and the media noticed.” He admitted the third act was “ostensibly the same thing, just attacked from a completely different vantage.” In an April Reddit AMA, Flynn similarly said the reports of a new ending were “greatly exaggerated.” Never mind that all those original pieces were directly quoting Fincher’s own statement—or at least, his hyperbolic impression of Ben Affleck’s supposed surprise. (Affleck may well wish he’d been left out of the whole thing.) One way or another, they turned out to not be true. The film came out, and while its ending snips a few side details from the book, like a saved jar of evidentiary vomit and a muffled protest from Desi’s mom, it’s largely just as Flynn put it on the pages of the book. So much furor and frustration, to so little purpose.
This process has been repeating over and over lately, as the media blows up any hint about the content of major movies into a frenzy of speculation, and usually approbation. Anger comes so naturally on the Internet that it feels as though people enjoy being offended. And it’s true that the self-righteous, superior burn of, “I know how to do this story right, and the people who are making it don’t” can feel clarifying and satisfying. But at some point, it becomes counterproductive, especially when it distracts from actual movies. At some point, outrage fatigue has to set in. It’d probably be better for movies—and especially for journalists and journalism—if that happened sooner rather than later.
Because the demand for details about upcoming movies—even wrong or fake details—is so vast, it pushes outlets to report on the faintest rumor or wildest speculation, blowing theories out of a single set photo, or an anonymous tip dating back to an outdated story meeting, or a celebrity’s flippant, “Sure, why not?” response to a highly leading question. When the movie in question comes out, and the rumors are all proven false, the invective moves on to the next target with no apparent sense of irony—or betrayal at having been fed a thin gruel of half-invented facts and thin-skinned moral superiority.
It’s worth looking at some of the after-the-fact rumor round-ups that examine past news stories for any hint of truth, which often isn’t there. For instance, Collider’s Avengers rumor recap, which points to old stories promising the Skrulls as the movie’s main villains, with the Kree fighting them, and a primary focus on Captain America’s perspective. Or What Culture’s Dark Knight rumors collection, which has Ellen Page as Batgirl (based on a faked photo), Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the Joker, and Bruce Wayne’s series-ending death. Examining these kinds of guesses in the wake of the actual movie coming out shows exactly how flimsy they were all along—but in their moment, sometimes with the actual movie years away, some of them seemed plausible. Movies—particularly gigantic tentpole movies involving characters with decades of continuity to sort through for ideas—evolve a lot from conception to screen, and it’s even possible that some of the rumors on those pages were actually true at some point, for a hot minute or two.
But that’s one more reason to wait for the actual screen version before getting frothingly angry. There’s nothing wrong with speculation, or trading theories, ideas, wish lists, or worries. It’s fun to spend the ramp-up time while waiting for a movie by talking to other people with shared interests and possibly different perspectives. But the tone of the reactions is so often shrill and hysterical. And later, when all those rage-inducing pre-facts are demonstrably proved untrue by the film, that somehow never seems to blunt the next wave of unsubstantiated, unnecessary anger. The how dare they!!! never seems to get replaced with wait, never mind, they didn’t on anything like the same scale.
Outrage about movies that haven’t come out yet isn’t entirely a product of the Internet Age. Church groups threw massive protests over 1988’s The Last Temptation Of Christ, and circulated “ban this movie” petitions quoting a couple of scandalous lines from an early screenplay—lines that weren’t actually in the film when it hit theaters. Author Anne Rice whipped fans into a fury over the casting of Tom Cruise as Lestat in Interview With The Vampire, only to recant when she actually saw the movie. Ian Fleming was reportedly horrified at the idea of the Scottish Sean Connery being cast as his mannered English superspy, James Bond—but when Fleming saw Connery in the role, he was so impressed, he wrote a Scottish bloodline into Bond’s background.
So gossip, rage without factual basis, and jumping to conclusions aren’t new things. But the Internet spreads rumors so quickly, and makes ranting about rumors so easy, that the scale has become entirely different. Consider a few of the big advance rageathons over films that came out this year, besides Gone Girl:
- Early reports said Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the 2014 Michael Bay-produced reboot would be space aliens. Bay reported this himself at a Nickelodeon presentation in 2012, but backtracked on it shortly thereafter. There was no sign of it in the actual movie.
- Stephen Sondheim mentioned that the musical number “Any Moment” might be cut from the upcoming adaptation of Into The Woods, leading to wide reports that Disney had completely censored any hint of sex or death out of the movie, and would doubtless also be cutting the Big Bad Wolf song “Hello, Little Girl.” Sondheim expressly retracted the whole statement after actually seeing the film.
- The hiring of James Gunn as the director of Guardians Of The Galaxy was controversial right up until the film’s release, because of the strangeness of his past work and because of some seriously off-color comments about female superheroes he made in a blog post about the lady superheroes he’d like to bang. The film itself generated well-deserved massive goodwill, plus a relatively small amount of distaste, mostly over an unnecessary “whore” comment and the relatively minor role of the one female character, but marketing decisions that didn’t reflect on Gunn or the film—like leaving Gamora off a licensed T-shirt—ultimately produced louder complaints.
- Darren Aronofsky’s Noah generated serious friction among religious groups over the complaint that the movie never mentions God, and among secular viewers over the worry that Paramount would censor it to please potential religious audiences. Both groups’ concerns were unfounded; the movie frequently talks about “the Creator” and is heavily centered on the thorny moral problems of interpreting God’s will, and Noah made it to theaters intact, as Aronofsky intended. And while the film did reasonably well for something so dogged by controversy, the actual release was subdued compared to the manic press lead-up, which anticipated an all-out religious firestorm over the film.
More to the point, consider all the fan complaining about the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman in Batman V. Superman. He may be terrible as Batman—he may be the wrong choice for it entirely. But until the movie comes out, it’s impossible to know. Fans complained bitterly about “gay cowboy” Heath Ledger being cast as the Joker. The Internet was full of gripes about “too blond, too unknown” Daniel Craig being cast as James Bond. Some vocal posters were furious about Idris Elba—one of the absolute best parts of the Thor movies—being cast as Heimdall, because obviously, imaginary otherdimensional gods are never, ever black. Matt Damon was once considered too young, lightweight, and pretty to play Jason Bourne. For that matter, Truman Capote hated Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, and consistently argued that Marilyn Monroe should have had the part. Given the chance, actors do sometimes manage to make roles their own, no matter what franchise fans think of them sight unseen.
There are certainly times when vocal fan outrage can be useful. Months of online furor over The Weinstein Company’s efforts to cut Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer by 20 minutes for American release may have helped Bong eventually get his version to theaters intact, by indicating the market for an uncut version, and the possibility of a press nightmare for the Weinsteins. The indignation over the “racebending” in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender may not have hurt its bottom line, but it did help open up ongoing conversations about movie whitewashing. (Meanwhile, the outpouring of anger about the casting of a black actor as Rue in The Hunger Games didn’t hurt the film’s box-office, but did expose a handful of racists to public pillorying.) It’s always possible that the TMNT explosion of contempt over the “aliens” twist did actually have an impact on the notoriously contempt-immune Michael Bay.
But more often than not, people who get worked up over pre-release Internet reports about films are quite literally getting excited over nothing: over false “facts” and vague fears. The environment of outrage on the Internet tends to build echo chambers where theories, misinterpretations, and outright hoaxes get repeated, encouraged, and taken as gospel. The excitement of being in on a prolonged, sweaty group attack on a not-yet-existing film can blunt the excitement of actually seeing the films when they come out. Gone Girl only lasts two and a half hours, so how can it fully compete with the experience of complaining about what it might look like for the entire year leading up to its release?
There’s something to be said for living in the actual world, and reacting to actual art, and seeing things as they actually are. There’s nothing wrong with spinning hints and theories about an imaginary world that might eventually come into being, and onto screens. But treating those tidbits as important—as something worthy of hatred, resentment, and feelings of betrayal and frustration—just dulls everyone’s reactions to the real thing. It’s a waste of time and energy. There are real things to freak out about.
Like the actual ending of Gone Girl. Now there’s something worth discussing.