On Wednesday, Robin Hardy’s cult horror masterpiece The Wicker Man returned to cinemas nationwide for a one-night-only special Summer Solstice screening. Promising the new 4K restoration of the film’s celebrated ‘Final Cut’ alongside ‘bonus content’ from a recent London event, the re-release pulled in the crowds with sold-out screenings up and down the country. However, StudioCanal’s choice to include the ‘bonus content’ before the film – and over 70 minutes in length, almost the runtime of the main feature – rubbed a lot of audiences the wrong way.
The content was recorded at a recent celebration event in London, which I myself was lucky enough to attend. This film screening back in May was preceded by live music and interviews with cast, crew, and fans, hosted by Edith Bowman. It was a wonderful experience to share with other fans of the film, although it was surprising that some in the audience that night had not seen the film before – the event was clearly marketed as much as a celebration of the film as it was a screening. The interviews desperately tried (and failed) to avoid spoilers, but there’s only so much you can say about The Wicker Man before you start discussing the ending and the infamous twist.
While the ‘bonus content’ added to nationwide screenings last night was expected to maybe be a condensed version of this event – quick clips of the interviews, maybe an excerpt from the live music, spoilers removed…it was, surprisingly, the entire event. Running approximately 75 minutes, this large celebratory experience that felt so special on the night was run in its entirety to audiences everywhere – many of whom had not seen the film before, and so over an hour of pre-film discussion (which included showing clips from the film) was meaningless.
The discussions that took place on stage that night – with Britt Ekland, Reece Shearsmith, Gary Carpenter, and more – were good fun, and the entire event was very special to fans like myself. The Wicker Man is my favourite film, and the love felt for the film at Picturehouse Central that night was enormous.
But showing this entire event for all audiences on the nationwide re-release feels like a misfire. Spoilers were rife, and the film’s impact could have been lessened for first-time viewers considerably when they’ve had to sit through over an hour of clips, discussion of plot-points, and live covers of the film’s impactful music which is so much more haunting within the context of the film.
The event footage should have either been hugely condensed if running it before the film was non-negotiable, or included in its entirety after the screening. Does recording and sharing this special night – one aimed at hardened fans of the film – with audiences everywhere diminish how special it felt for us? And does it alienate the more general audiences who just want to see the film, and even worse, lessen their enjoyment of the main feature? It’s a tricky situation, and certainly, the inclusion of this special event was done with the best of intentions. And I’m sure some audience members around the country would have been delighted to see the event, either again like myself or for the first time.
But a quick glance at Twitter shows a lot of frustration:
“The Wicker Man 50th anniversary is one of the worst specials I’ve had the misfortune of seeing. Half the cinema walked out, QA at the start ruined a lot of the film for first time viewers. Poor form @StudiocanalUK” – @sinclairstrange
“@StudiocanalUK why did you run a 71 minute panel filled with spoilers before the Wicker Man screening tonight? The film is only 84 minutes long. The 4k restoration was enough to get fans into the cinema. Terrible decision for fans and first timers.” @mattowen85
“Hello @StudiocanalUK you dropped the ball big time with The Wicker Man pre-show. People in the cinema were very restless, and when it finished people actually cheered. Please put stuff like this on AFTER the movie for those that don’t want to sit through it. Not fair.” – @CombatCr
I adore The Wicker Man, and what StudioCanal are doing this year to celebrate the film is wonderful. The upcoming 4K UHD release looks magnificent, and the celebration event in London was an unforgettable evening. But it’s a shame that it’s been included in the cinema re-release in this way, because it has clearly rubbed a lot of viewers the wrong way and in some cases even ruined people’s first experience with The Wicker Man.