The Birth Of The Critic-Proof Movie?

The Arts

A quick straw poll of friends yesterday made me realise that none of us has paid to see a film this year so far. Okay, we’re all connected to the industry and consequently don’t have to pay, but there’s a difference between being invited to a screening and actively finding a movie and forking out dosh for it. But then, I looked at what was on offer, and decided to compare it with what was on offer from a local newspaper of an earlier summer.

I submit, M’Lud, this evidence as a result.

The Top Ten UK Films June 2010

Killers
Sex And The City 2 (sequel)
Streetdance 3D
Prince Of Persia
Letters To Juliet
Death At A Funeral (remake)
Wild Target (remake)
Tooth Fairy
Robin Hood (remake)
Brooklyn’s Finest

Top Ten UK Films 1968

2001
Bullitt
Funny Girl
Rosemary’s Baby
Romeo And Juliet
Oliver
Planet Of The Apes
The Thomas Crown Affair
Witchfinder General
The Lion In Winter

Interestingly, Hollywood dominates in both lists. If I’d have picked a half-term week, you’d have found more ‘family’ (ie children’s) films on both lists, but it’s noticeable that family films now dominate Hollywood by a huge degree, especially if one counts ‘teen’ films as ‘children’s’ (sorry teens, but where else can you put Eclipse and St Trinian’s 2?) Of course, there will be good films in the year’s final releases – 2009’s best included Slumdog Millionaire, Moon, District 9, Let The Right One In, The Hurt Locker, Synecdoche New York, Star Trek and Red Cliff.

But the most obvious difference to me is that there’s not one film in the new list that wasn’t critically reviled (Streetdance 3D got off a little lighter than the rest as it was cheap and British). I was talking to some national film critics last night, and they’ve noted that the press is no longer sending them to the kind of festivals they once routinely visited. The changing economy is one reason, but another is that, thanks to good internet critics, people simply don’t use traditional film criticism anymore.

However, that doesn’t tell the full story, because if we were simply using online critics, the list would read very differently so far this year, and would include Shutter Island, Ghost Writer, Green Zone, Mic-Macs and so on. What’s driving the decision to see the appalling Killers or the virtually unwatchable Prince Of Persia? The obvious answer is that we’re selecting films by their availability (multiplexes), that it’s mainly kids who go to cinemas – it being an affordable option – or that we don’t really care what we sit through anymore.

Cinemas are anxious to ‘own’ 3D in cinemas as a shared experience, just as they needed to own Sensurround and before that, Stereo. But if and when the 3D-ready LED TV becomes ubiquitous in the home, we may see a further shakeup. DVD sales have all but collapsed, and it’s clear that most people don’t care about HD, but the thought of a future in which we all watch children’s films downloaded onto palmtop players is too depressing to contemplate.

5 comments on “The Birth Of The Critic-Proof Movie?”

  1. I.A.M. says:

    The thought that all of those films were in cinemas in the same months of 1968 is astonishing. That alone is sufficient to banish the image of iPad showings of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs et al.

    However, just as with the major publishers, here’s another example of “this is popular becuase we say so”. As pointed out here earlier with Canadian and UK films, plus books being promoted to the point of saturation and therefore selling due to consumer awareness, the tail wags the dog with the situation being described as ‘the movie is in a massive amount of cinemas, so a massive number of people go to see it’ and defended with ‘a massive number of people are going to see it so we’ve placed it in a massive amount of cinemas in order to satisfy the demand (which we’ve created, and that was our goal, so we’ve done a good job there; go us!)’.

    I’d rather see Moon, The Hurt Locker, or Dr. Parnasus, but then I frequently don’t do what I’m told to.

  2. I.A.M. says:

    Thinking about the original topic more carefully, I’m not sure how many people — myself included — factor in the professional film critics’ views on an offering, or to what extent it forms a part of the ticket-buying decision. Friends specifically go to opening weekends before reading that day’s paper, or else refuse to read any review before viewing a film, claiming they don’t wish to have their view skewed by other’s opinions. This seems a tad arrogant, as critics are hired specifically because they have a speciality in the art form they’re critiquing. Still, it seems we continue to buy a dog and ourselves bark as we blindly head to the multiplex to see what we’re ordered to out of loyalty to someone else’s pocketbook, ignoring the urgings to see a film in a tiny cinema on the other side of town that will be showing something entirely different in a few days.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    I’ve seen movies in strange places, including a drive in with hitching racks for horses, and a major factor in any decision is convenience. I have two multi-screen theatres within walking distance, which should give me a choice of a dozen movies on any given night. However, what you get are the major studios’ products. If I want a “small” theatre, non-mainline product I have to go snooping in the dark corners of the entertainment pages and then travel a fair distance, probably by car since the few small theatres are not on main transit routes. (Watch IAM prove me wrong.) I do read and listen to reviews because I can compare my reaction to a film with the reviewer’s reaction and let the difference colour my acceptance of said reviewer’s next effort. All said, though, I go to very few movies of any kind. I think I’m going to join a local movie meetup group and go to whatever they’re going to (except vampire flics).

  4. Surely the move towards franchises is a deliberate move by the studios to undercut people’s using reviews to help them decide whether or not to see films. People don’t need to read a review of Transformers to make a decision about whether or not to see it, they just need to remember the cartoon.

    Thinking about it, I’m not sure this is a new phenomenon. The point of a sequel is to make a film that the viewing public will judge on something OTHER than the quality of the film (or the participants). As long as people decide whether or not to see things based on reputation rather than quality, it’s easier for studios to make hits and every innovation (the star system, sequels, the promotion of director to auteur, Technicolor, Dolby sound, 3D) has been about enhancing the reputation of films without necessarily making better ones.

    Transformers 2 was Hollywood finally making the film it has tried to for a century.

  5. Man of Constant Sorrow says:

    Interesting snapshot of 1968 but I’m not sure what a snapshot proves, unless you are not judging like for like – the 2010 list is obviously a ‘this week’ list (or something similar) whereas it may well be that those are the top grossing movies for 1968 as a whole. And to be honest half of the 1968 movies are ludicrously over-rated in any event – the only real exceptions being 2001, Bullitt, Planet of the Apes and Witchfinder General. I’ll grant you that there’s nothing in the 2010 list that makes me want to pay to see it, but that’s been the same story for at least ten years. It’s always worth remembering Sturgeon’s Law here – ‘90% of evverything is crap’.
    Movies are a crap-shoot, quality wise. Even going to see Kurosawa you might get something as amazing as Seven Samurai or something as pointless as Dreams. And Kurosawa was one of the more honest directors out there who was at least trying. There was a time when I would have said the same about a dozen or so western ‘auteurs’ but frankly I think it probably only applies to Gilliam and Eastwood now.
    And movies have always been critic proof. I certainly don’t pay any attention to a critic telling me a film is good, because most ‘critically acclaimed’ movies these days are self-indulgent exercises in navel-gazing worthiness. The best you can hope for from a critic is some form of consistency – Barry Norman was good because you atarted knowing that he hated all SF and horror movies without thought, Ross is good because you start by knowing he’s a raving fan-boy and you can adjust expectations accordingly. Mark Kermode is bad because he’s a sneering faux intellectual who just thinks we should all like what he likes simply because he’s ‘cleverer’ than the rest of us. And then of course there are the critics who are pursuing an agenda – The Mirror gave a brilliant write up to Shrek 3 this week but as they have all the exclusive give aways and interviews they were hardly going to say it was rubbish, were they?
    And it’s always worth remembering that cinema is a business, not an art school. With even a ‘low budget’ movie now costing the national debt of a third world country, then that’s big stakes and failure really isn’t an option.
    There’s also a whole other debate about distribution and the like – I’d love to see The Illusionist but it won’t play in a cinema anywhere near me and I simply don’t have the cash to travel into London and pay London ticket prices and all the rest of the baggage – my wife would expect a meal as repayment for dragging her to a French cartoon at the very least – so that’s the best part of £100 before drawing breath, so yeah, I’ll probably settle for watching Moon on the tv or perhaps Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

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