October 6, 2017 at 7:30 AM
The trailer for “The Mountain Between Us,” a new film featuring Kate Winslet and Idris Elba, quickly makes clear that lives are on the line. A small plane carrying the pair crashes into snow-covered peaks. Soon they are trudging through the vast and frigid wilderness. A yellow Labrador romps near their snow-submerged calves.
The question, clearly, is survival. “We can go three weeks without food, three days without water and three hours without shelter,” we hear Winslet saying as a mountain lion is shown padding down a slope. The trailer ends with Winslet plunging through ice into a lake, Elba urgently shouting her name — and the dog nowhere to be seen.
In a review that gave this film a tepid two and a half stars, The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday noted that the dog belonged to the pilot, who, the trailer makes evident, did not survive the crash. The canine does serve a flimsy purpose of sorts, Hornaday wrote: “Just in case the survival of Idris Elba in chunky knitwear doesn’t create enough buy-in, the filmmakers helpfully throw in an adorable dog for, you know, stakes.”
But several days before the film’s release Friday, the folks at Twentieth Century Fox apparently decided those stakes were a bit too high. Last week, they released a spoiler video assuring potential viewers that the pooch survives not only the crash but also the mountain lion, the brutal temperatures, the thin ice, the grueling trek and, yes, the protagonists’ hunger.
“Spoiler alert!” the movie’s Facebook page announced. “The dog lives.” To underscore the point, the video put it in all caps: “THE DOG LIVES.” To further underscore the point, the dog emits a cute little squeak.
Releasing such information is an unusual move for a film studio, although it maybe shouldn’t be surprising in this era of what researchers and marketing types refer to as the “humanization” of pets. Lots of people can’t handle movies in which child characters die. Given that most American pet owners consider their animals members of the family — even “furbabies” — it’s only natural that some of us might extend the same sort of emotional investment to animal characters, or at least the species we share our homes with. (Note that no official spoiler let audiences know whether the mountain lion makes it.)
The first comment under the official trailer for “The Mountain Between Us” on YouTube dives right into the worries. “As long as the dog doesn’t die, I’m good,” the commenter wrote.
So real is the concern about four-legged fatalities that a website, DoesTheDogDie.com, crowdsources intel about movie animal deaths and other possibly disturbing plot devices such as torture and clowns. Should you desire a list of films in which dogs do perish, people out there have helpfully published lists featuring an impressive range of cinema: An IMDb inventory gives the top spot to “Marley & Me” (2008), while No. 2 is the 1939 film “Of Mice and Men.”
Reactions to the doggy spoiler from “The Mountain Between Us” suggest that the studio’s bet — that removing any hint of suspense about the Lab’s fate would turn more people onto the movie than off — seems to have been sound.
Much relief was expressed on social media. Whether that will translate into box office success remains to be seen.