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Apparently You Don’t Have to See Inception to Know it’s Good…

Sorry, I couldn’t resist posting on this. Apparently the reviews for Inception are good… even from those who haven’t seen it. ExBerliner, a German magazine, published a review of the film before its first ever press screening (giving it three out of four). When confronted, the author confessed it was a fake, and acted as if there was nothing wrong:

I went into the theatre and sat down. A moment later, Ms. Troester came in and, as fate would have it, took a seat directly in front of me. I leaned forward and asked if she was from ExBerliner. She said that she was. Our conversation thereafter went like this:

“I’m just wondering, how did you get to see ‘Inception’? Friends of mine in L.A. only got to see that the other day. And I didn’t think there were any long-lead previews.”

For just a moment, it seemed to me, she looked slightly surprised. Then her composure recovered. She smiled. She seemed very agreeable. “We didn’t,” she replied.

“I’m sorry?”

“We didn’t see the movie. With our deadline…there was no time.”

“So why did you run a review on it?”

“We didn’t. We just did a piece.”

“But you gave it three stars.”

“Well, hearts,” she demurred. “Three hearts out of four.”

“Hearts or stars, lady – you reviewed the film.”

She shrugged. Her expression remained blandly serene; I might have been asking to borrow a cigarette.

I tried again: “What I don’t get is, if you hadn’t seen it, and you had no time to see it before you went to print, why do a review at all? You could have just previewed it…‘Oh, this looks pretty cool, it’s by the guy who did “The Dark Knight”…’”

Troester: “But that’s what we did.”

“No, you didn’t. You offered an opinion on the worth of the movie. You said, ‘here, Nolan’s not as original as he can be.’ You gave it stars, or hearts, or whatever. I’m sorry, but that’s a review.”

“If you’re unhappy, you should talk to the editor,” she said.

“But you’re the film editor. It’s your decision, surely?”

She hesitated. “I’m not sure why this matters to you.”

“If you hadn’t said that line about originality – if you hadn’t offered an opinion on the actual worth of the film – I mightn’t have so much trouble with this. But there’s no way you could have known whether Nolan was ‘as original as he can be’ this time around, or not. Or if it was a three-star movie and not a four-star one. Because you hadn’t seen it.”

It’s a great piece. I’ll spare you a rant about responsible journalism and all that sort of nonsense (if you want that, you can read my opinion of Variety’s decision to sell advertising space in its review section), but it’s just a crazy story about how fast and loose some publications can be. I won’t be seeing Inception until next Friday, and I won’t be writing a review before that.

Stay tuned for my upcoming review of Peter Jackson's version of The Hobbit...

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23 Responses

  1. So does the man mean if she had given it four stars and said she loved it he’d be fine with her lying? I don’t get that.

    • That’s the one part I’m not sure on either. I think he was trying to say that he might have been less offended if she hadn’t included a particular criticism with it. So if she had said “it was okay” rather than offering something that’s trying to pass off a more precise opinion. I can see where he’s coming from, even I’m not sure I agree – in my opinion, either criticism is invalid (not being based on anything the person has experienced), regardless of the level of complexity.

  2. Can’t wait for Inception and wouldn’t dream of reviewing anything until I saw it. But it happens all the time, there’s a well-known journalist who does reviews without ever going to gigs. And they get away with it..

    • Nor I. I mean, at this rate, I may as well review Preacher before it’s even made. In fact, I’ll give it 5 stars right now!

      • Yep. It’s a little crazy. Seriously though, can’t wait for Preacher. It’ll give me an excuse to crack open and review the books.

    • I didn’t know any of that. I kinda figured that, at least for established critics working for publications (rather than freelance) that going to the premiere/preview was part of the job description in the same way that going to my office or visiting a client is part of my own. I guess I’m just naive.

  3. I don’t see anything wrong with that, most of my reviews are written even though I don’t actually see the movies! On a good news, Inception is 100% on RT so far 😉

    • Ssssshhhh, Castor! You’re telling everybody my secret! I’ll never be able to rave about the prop design of the cane from Citizen Kane again!

  4. Honestly, if it’s anything less than mind-blowing now, it’s a disappointment.

  5. That is bonkers to me. Very strange behavior. Can’t effing wait for next Friday though.

  6. I thought the Eagles played extremely poor in the 2011 Super Bowl. They really need to fix that defense. Oh, and that acl tear for the lineman was brutal. 🙂

  7. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t more of this going on. This is like pre-taping the weather in California. With the commoditization of movies, there is a basic level of quality that people are willing to accept, and whether it delivers or not doesn’t matter ’cause there’ll just be another one along in short order. Also, nobody is accountable for their reviews anyway. “Oh, you thought it was no good? Hmm I suppose it was more to your taste then.”

    • “Well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.” Yep, it’s the kinda thing it’s hard to hold someone accountable for, but it’s still shocking. It would probably terrify me if I knew how much of this actually went on (you’re right, it’s probably more than just a rogue German publication).

  8. I have read all of the reviews for this film, and I still have barely an idea of what to expect.

    • And that is one of the reasons I am sooooo looking forward to it. I’ve only allowed myself to watch the trailer, so I must have seen it a few dozen times by now. I can recite it line-for-line.

    • I’ve tried not to read reviews, but had sneaky look at the synopsis a few times. It feels like the first days of my cinema-going all over again 🙂

      • I think that’s the beauty of it all. It’s like those early Christmases – you don’t know quite what you’re going to get, but you can see the shape of the box. And people hav been dropping hints. But it’s still a surprise when you open that present.

  9. I can’t believe someone would write a whole pieced together review before the damn thing is seen.

    But the thing that bothers me most is the lack of integrity on part of the author. “So I wrote it, whatever.”

    • Yep, she just seemed so blaisse about it. I suppose it’s better than denying it, but there’s no shame there.

  10. Hello everyone,

    This is what I wrote on the Exberliner site – it also applies here:

    I have worked at Exberliner and I can tell you, Änne and her team are definitely not hacks. Not only do they watch the films they review, they also see films that don’t even make it into the magazine.

    What does happen is that very, very occasionally – maybe two or three times a year – a big Hollywood blockbuster comes out that cannot be reviewed before print time (always because its distributors/production company have refused to release review copies and hold advance press screenings). If they are too important to be ignored, these two or three Hollywood blockbusters are given a minimal capsule review based on the extended segments and insider knowledge Änne gleans from her friends in the industry, as well, of course, as her knowledge and research as a professional film critic of some nine years standing.

    So… all this to say that Shane Danielsen’s rant in Indiewire – his positioning of himself as a great crusader for good, honest, old-school film reviewing, and Änne as the immoral hack who’s only in it for the freebies – is so misguided as to be ridiculous. Danielsen claims to be taking on the fakes who are killing off ethical film journalism, but instead writes a character assassination of an extremely conscientious reviewer at a last-stand independent magazine. (Exberliner, for those who don’t know, is still run by the three journalist-editor-publishers who started it just under a decade ago.)

    And, because it’s an independent (read idealistic) magazine, Exberliner watches the films it reviews. At the very least, this fact is made clear by the example Danielsen himself gave in his Indiewire rant: Exberliner gave “Toy Story 3” a worse rating than “Shrek: Forever After” because the reviewer was repelled by Toy Story 3’s insidious right-wing agenda.

    Danielsen’s beat-down is therefore not directed at a bad film critic who doesn’t watch films: it’s directed at a film critic who watches all other films (indie, art-house, obscure, mainstream, you name it) with tenacious thoroughness, but very, very exceptionally doesn’t see a Hollywood blockbuster in its entirety.

    Hmm… so remind me. Who’s the hack here?

    • I see where you’re coming from, but that doesn’t change the underlying fact that she didn’t see a movie that she offered a critique of. Her opinion of the film (basically that’s it’s not nearly inventive enough or as it should be) wasn’t prefaced with a “it looks like it might not be as inventive as it could be” or “I’d wager that…”, but offered as an opinion based on concrete experience – and in writing a review, it’s safe to assume that this concrete experience is actually seeing the film.

      And, however much I may disagree with Danielsen’s opinion of Toy Story 3 (and I do), it doesn’t change the fact that it seems to be based on his own experience watching the film, rather than second-hand opinions he’s cobbled together. It would be an entirely different issue if I felt he wrote that piece without seeing the film at all.

      I hope I don’t sound harsh, but we’re not complaining that the magazine didn’t get to see Inception – as you observed, it does a lot of worthwhile things. What I object to is somebody picking up the magazine and reading a capsule review of a film that isn’t based on the author having seen it. If you are going to pass off industry gossip and the opinions of Hollywood insiders, at least label it as such – don’t pass it off as your own opinion. And certainly don’t call it a “review”.

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