Does surprise matter at the movies?

It seems like the majority of the movies I go to see nowadays are book-to-film adaptations. Is there still fun in knowing the ending to movies all of the time?
Beware of spoilers below!

Photo: Warner Bros.

When I walked out of The Dark Knight Rises for the first time, my heart was racing, my palms were sweaty, and yes, I couldn’t believe that Bruce Wayne survived. I was really going into the movie with grim expectations, which were partially executed to the point of Bruce Wayne and Batman “dying,” but not in actuality. It got me thinking – when was the last time I was this excited/anxious/stressed about a movie’s ending?

Sure, The Dark Knight Rises is the culmination of an intense, poignantly told story that took years to reach its end, so of course there was an increased amount of excitement leading up to its release. However, the feeling was still foreign to me.

I’m one of those people who are huge fans of Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games…you know, the standard young adult fandom blockbusters of late. I’ve read the books before the movies, so I have known every plot detail that could possibly show up on screen. I also religiously follow movie news sites, so usually there aren’t too many surprises for me going into the theaters. Still, the midnight releases bring with them great anticipation to see the characters and stories come to life, but not necessarily the mystery.

Photo: Warner Bros.

With movies like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the mystery is lost to those of us who have read the books. My mother saw Deathly Hallows – Part 2 for the second time and said, “Well, I enjoyed that much better now that I know how it ended!” Is this true? Is it easier to enjoy the film as a whole while knowing the ending, as if the first time we see it we are too anxious about its conclusion to appreciate how we got there?

For me, movies can be watched over and over again. Sure, I only watch Schindler’s List on occasion, as some can be emotionally draining. Even so, I obviously do not mind knowing how the story ends as long as it’s a good movie.

Will Jack survive the sinking of Titanic this time? Maybe Col. Tavington’s bullet will miss poor Thomas Martin in The Patriot… The stories still hook me in.

Photo: Columbia Pictures

The same goes for novels, as I have read books like The Da Vinci Code and Wuthering Heights multiple times; yet there is something to be said for sitting down for the first time and now knowing how it’s going to end.

With all of these highly anticipated movies coming out (such as The Hobbit, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2) it makes me wonder if I would have been better off not reading the books beforehand. I thoroughly enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies, and hadn’t read a single book except for The Hobbit. I was completely unsure of how the story would end in Return of the King, and it was one of the most thrilling movie experiences of my young life.

Photo: Lionsgate

Nevertheless, I don’t mind not having the same anxiety I experience while watching The Dark Knight Rises as I do while watching The Hunger Games. I equally enjoy each movie, even though I knew the ending for the latter. With great storytelling, I am able to feel the same suspense and thrill of Katniss’ preparation for the Games as I can for Bruce Wayne’s final act as Batman, but feel a little more at ease knowing beforehand that Katniss will come out of the Games with Peeta alive as a victor.

Therefore I can come to the conclusion that although book adaptations seem to be the hot commodity these days, that doesn’t mean that the telling of the story should suffer any more than a brand new idea. I am content with these seemingly endless adaptations as long as they offer the same excitement as something new without the added stress. I may not be getting surprised very often at the movies anymore, but that does not mean I cannot be entertained.

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One thought on “Does surprise matter at the movies?

  1. To help myself out in the surprise aspect (and so I wouldn’t get upset at how the movie is so different from the book) I wouldn’t re-read the book within a year of the movie coming out if I could help it. Made some HP movies better. And I too hadn’t read LOTR before the movies. It was so awesome being completely immersed in the visual story. I read them later and they are SO different, I felt a similar suspense when I read it. I haven’t read the Hobbit in ten years, so I’m pretty darn excited!

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