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Hell Hath No Fury Like a Critic Scorned…

So, G.I. Joe didn’t get screened for critics as part of Paramount’s unusual marketing. I’m miffed. I’m ticked off. I think it’s a bad omen.

I’m also (apparently) a damnsight more professional than the huge number of film critics out there. Apparently the fact that most of them haven’t seen a frame of it, a huge number of professional film critics are panning the movie.

Are critics a bigger threat to Joe than Destro?

Are critics a bigger threat to Joe than Destro?

For example, from The Wall Street Journal:

The folks at Paramount wouldn’t screen “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” for critics—they must love the movie so much they want to keep it to themselves. But why do I have to see it to review it? People debate the merits of movies they haven’t seen all the time—especially on the message boards of the Web, where vast numbers of fanboys, apprentice ­fanatics and professional grousers turn an endless supply of baseless ­assumptions into groundless ­conclusions.

Or the LA Times blog which is tracking the Tomato-meter, waiting for it to fall and taking bets on how bad the review is going to be:

… as a fan of demolition derbies, I’m hoping the New York Times assigns Manohla Dargis to review the picture

Somehow I sense that reviewer might actually see themselves as too sophisticated for demolition derbies, but still…

I get it. I know that not screening it for critics indicates tat it is a stinker. But instead of responding to the move with a quiet dignity (the Irish Times will states which movies were not screened for them, without comment, for example), it seems that it’s okay for renowned journalists to pre-judge a film they haven’t seen. Okay, you might argue that – in this case, at least – we know it’s going to be a stinker. Well, we don’t know. We think and we guess. And I introduced this article with a warning that I think it’s a bad omen. Not a bad film, a bad omen.

It might be the best film ever. Probably not. It probably won’t be the worst film ever. But I always assumed that journalists viewed films with open minds. When they went into a cinema, the lights went dark and the slate was clean. It seems not. It’s an interesting bias and perhaps it explains many a lost masterpiece – Blade Runner got torn to shreds on initial release. Maybe the film critics had decided a science-fiction movie couldn’t be good. It has since been rehabilitated as a masterpiece, a classic. The same happened with The Wizard of Oz. I don’t dare presume that the same is true of G.I. Joe, but I’ll see it with an open mind. If it blows my socks off, I’m cool with that. It it doesn’t, well, I’ve formed my opinion on fact.

These reviewers seem to be acting like spoiled children who didn’t get an invitation to the party (The Wall Street Journal even thanks Paramount for sparing them). Critics are quick to point out that the fanboys praising the movie are being won over by expenses-paid trips and just being included by the studios. Maybe they’re right. But that doesn’t mean it’s fair to be equally bitchy about excluded by the studios.

I can appreciate all this critical ill-will aimed towards Transformers 2. They’ve seen it. They watched the two-and-a-half hours of it and they reached their own opinion based upon that viewing experience. The seemingly-inevitable scathing reviews may retroactively legitimise all this hate (and it may be just as bad as these pre-emptive “reviews” suggest it is), but that isn’t my problem. My problem is with these organisations running reviews of films they haven’t seen. In the case of the Wall Street Journal article it will be stored for posterity as the review of record. That would be like having coverage of the US elections on BBC which read “McCain is an idiot when he made those speeches that he makes, you know the ones we’re talking about: aren’t they stupid? – Obama was awesome at whatever it was he did this week”. I don’t know about you, but I’d feel cheated.

And it isn’t just because it might be wrong (google ‘Dewey beats Truman’ for an example), though I appreciate it’s easy to presume it won’t be in this case. It’s more fundamental than that. I’ll try not to seem to naive or saccharine and talk about integrity. I’ll accept that we all form opinions about films we haven’t see. I anticipate Avatar or I won’t see The Ugly Truth. I won’t see that’s fine, but it’s understandable. How else do us regular movie-goers decide which films to see? I have neither the time nor the money to see everything ever. So it’s not a black-and-white issue. But I do think that someone whose job it is to see movies running a review of something they haven’t seen crosses the line. I don’t know where exactly the line falls, but it has been crossed. In contrast to this behaviour, we have the example of honest, hard-working non-professional reviewers actually paying out of their own pocket to see the film before they review it. Sure, Brad at Rope of Silicon hated it, but at least his opinion is based on fact rather than prejudice.

Some of the reviewers state that it’s okay to do this because fanboys do it all the time. Yes, they do. I’ve seen it. Call me crazy if I don’t hold actual journalists to a higher standard. Just because people do something doesn’t make it right. People express bigoted views on message boards, should we do that too? Maybe I’m old fashioned in holding the media to a higher standard. Most bloggers are more professional. Print media may say that they are only doing what the new fanboy media – their rivals for public attention these days – are doing, but that means nothing. I thought that class and taste were the dividing line. If Rupert Murdoch wants me to pay to read journalists on-line, he’d better give me higher quality than what I read on the fansites.

I’ll see the film. I’ll make up my own mind. Every film deserves that chance (even the apparently crap ones that nobody watches) from an industry paid to watch films. I earn nothing from this site, I don’t even get invited to screenings.

I may not be a professional, but today I feel a little more professional than most critics.

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2 Responses

  1. I think the freebie nonprofessional bloggers might have a willingness to watch anything that some bigger-name critics might not. That said, I don’t think any reviewer goes into a movie with a totally open mind. I mean, I know I have biases (against certain actors, directors, etc.) that make it a struggle to be objective. But I think the important thing is the spirit of acceptance. Once you lose that, it’s all downhill.

  2. […] recently lambasted a bunch of critics for jumping to conclusions about G.I. Joe, even though they hadn’t seen it. I acknowledged that it is nearly impossible to leave all […]

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