Avengers: Age Of Ultron doesn’t come out until May 1, 2015, but I’ve already seen its Avengers. I know what the new members—Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver—are going to look like. And I’ve even seen Iron Man’s new armor—at least from the waist up. (From the waist down, Tony Stark appears to be wearing sweatpants.) That’s because some enterprising photographer took photos from the set, and Getty Images published them. From there, they appeared on basically every film blog on the Internet.
These kinds of set photos are an increasingly common (if mostly unauthorized) component of movie publicity. The bigger the movie, and the greater the anticipation for it, the more likely you’re going to see candid set photos online. Some movies have started going to extreme lengths to combat them; Dwayne Johnson recently told Cinema Blend “close to 50 people” were fired from the crew of his upcoming Hercules movie because they were trying to take pictures of him in his costume as the Greek demigod. (You can see some studio-approved shots online now; they didn’t want you to know the Rock was wearing a lion for a hat).
Other productions take the opposite tack; Gary Oldman recently told Yahoo! that this year’s RoboCop remake actually leaked its own “spy photos” from the set. “That was absolutely a staged photoshoot,” Oldman said. “What happens is, you’ll get someone who will leak pictures, so it’s going to happen anyway. So, take a ‘paparazzi shot,’ but at least of the suit at an angle that you like, so you can ‘leak’ the picture first, and have some control over it.”
This is what the world has come to: Movie studios take their own “unapproved” photos, because if they don’t, someone else will—and theirs would look even shittier than the staged one. And who could blame a photographer for taking one of those shitty, illegitimate pictures? Photo agencies will pay big money for them—because websites and magazines and newspapers want them, because, in turn, they draw lots of readers and lots of traffic. So it’s not the supply that’s curious; it’s the demand that makes me scratch my head.
I mean, sure; we’re all film nerds here. We’re inherently interested in what the next Iron Man suit or Batman costume looks like. We love this stuff. It’s part of the reason we go to the movies in the first place, to see these kinds of mind-blowing, otherworldly spectacles on the big screen. A certain amount of curiosity and excitement is totally understandable. In this time of increasing studio control over every aspect of movie publicity—from which journalists speak to stars to what they’re permitted to discuss and for how long—it’s also understandable to want to wrest a little bit of that control away and return it to the fans. And besides, if you don’t care about these sorts of things on some level, you’re probably not a reader of a website like The Dissolve in the first place.
But the market for these unsanctioned set photos goes beyond the understandable amounts of curiosity and excitement. It’s particularly confusing given pop culture’s otherwise intense spoilerphobia. Put the wrong word in a headline, tweet the wrong thing on social media, and a writer is guaranteed to received buckets of angry comments and emails from readers who feel cheated out of discovering a film or television show’s surprise on their own. Just last week I was chided by someone for comparing the new film Sabotage to Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, and thus “giving away the film’s plot entirely.” (I didn’t, I swear!)
Yet put the words “set photo” in a tweet or a headline and people will click by the thousands to eagerly spoil a movie’s big surprise images. And by and large these are spoilers without the fun; the visuals are typically devoid of atmosphere, and they’re often poorly framed, awkwardly staged, and sometimes slightly out of focus. Is this really how you want to be introduced to Avengers 2’s Ultron? By a dude in a goofy, incomplete helmet and chest plate over a winter jacket and ski gloves? This guy is supposed to be a threat to Earth’s mightiest heroes? He can’t even hold an umbrella over his head to keep the sun out of his eyes. Them again, if Ultron just aims below Iron Man’s waist, he could still probably do some serious damage in his unarmored sweatpants area. So far, the “Age Of Ultron” looks like ass.
When the new Avengers comes to theaters, I’m sure Ultron will look incredible. Which is why people would probably be better off not looking at these images. All they’ll leave is a sour, goofy taste in their mouths. In this age of spoilerphobia (and Ultron) it’s odd that no one’s worried about spoiling the mystique of movies. Viewers want to be told nothing, but shown everything—long before it’s ready for mass consumption. Obsessively seeking out and poring over these kinds of pictures is like satisfying a craving for steak by stealing a piece of meat from the butcher shop and eating it raw because you’re too impatient to cook it. You get what you wanted, but in an unfinished, imperfect form that won’t satisfy you nearly as much as waiting for the finished product would have.