Sunday, March 18, 2007

Critic-al Juncture??

So perusing the box office totals for the weekend, it seems "300" used its superior fanboy-powered momentum to score a 2nd straight win. This is great news for fans of adrenaline-rush movies with some teeth and comic/graphic novel adaptations in general (I fall into both groups) because Hollywood being Hollywood, there will no doubt be many more movies of this nature hitting theaters in the next year or so as studios try to squeeze this particular lemon dry.
That's probably more good than bad. I'm sure there's already a script on some studio exec's desk about the legendary battle of Roman farmers who stood up and rebelled against the tyrannical produce price-fixers of ancient Rome. I can see the tag-line on the poster already - "Farmers, prepare to plant!"

Anyway, I also came across an interesting article from Variety's Peter Bart about an interesting effect 300's success could have. [check out the full article here]

Bart looks at the growing disparity between critical reviews and a film's box-office performance -- in the case of 300, mostly negative reviews had ABSOLUTELY NO impact on the movie's record-breaking opening. Same thing for 2007's other big box-office winners, Ghost Rider, Wild Hogs and Norbit. All 3 were raked over the critical coals but that didn't stop audiences from flocking to see them. GR's already over $100M and Wild Hogs will clear that hurdle by next week.

Using two print critics as examples, A.O. Scott of the NY Times & Kenneth Turan of the LA Times .. Bart illustrates how many critics today share no common ground with the average moviegoer. Scott trashed 300 and said its was on its way to camp movie infamy. That sounded silly to me when I read it on 300's opening day, and it sounds downright moronic now that it appears the film could usher in a new wave of filmmaking.

Studios no longer kowtow to critics like the old days. The fact of the matter is, they don't need to. Good reviews simply don't impact box office numbers outside of the more prestigious releases during the awards season.

Take horror movies. That genre rarely screens before opening day for critics because studios know that the teenage crowd they're going after with slasher films doesn't care what critics think of the film. As long as the blood runs deep and there's a high body count, they're happy.

I think the problem is that too many critics still view every movie from the same perspective. You can't critique a movie like 300 or Ghost Rider the same way you would Pans Labyrinth or Letters From Iwo Jima. The goal of the films is different, and so should the way they're analyzed.

Ghost Rider for example, wasn't out to win Oscar consideration. It was a popcorn flick aimed squarely at fans of the comic book (and starring a self-avowed fan, Nic Cage, who really got into his role as Johnny Blaze) and judging by the numbers, they were happy with it.

Judging by many of the reviews I scanned when the film first opened, few (if any) critics bothered to research the comic book before seeing the film. So how could they determine if it was faithful to the source material?

One of the first complaints about any movie adaptation of a book is its not true to the original story. The same should be held for pictures based on graphic novels or comic books. And since this genre is so important to Hollywood these days, critics need to pay closer attention.

The same for a movie like the Transformers or TMNT, both based on popular 80s cartoons. Movie critics would do well to do some research and try to understand why studios are so anxious to tap into the deep nostalgia properties like this spark in (mostly) 30-something men who grew up watching them. How can that NOT help them gain a better understanding of the film they're reviewing?

Knowing the intended audience of a movie is more important than ever. Its one thing for a critic to generate anger and frustration among its readers/viewers. But more and more, we're seeing something far more troubling -- indifference.

If you don't believe me, look at the box office numbers so far in 2007. They speak for themselves.

In a nutshell, sometimes a bad movie is a bad movie that deserves a drubbing. Norbit's a great example (or bad .. or .. er, forget it).

Other times, a movie's strengths need to be inspected from a more 'generous' vantage point. I'm not saying don't criticize a movie for fear of alienating its audience (and in return, your audience). But having a deeper appreciation for the movie and its source material could pay unexpected dividends.

Its like the difference between your parents (who listen to the lite rock radio station) and your friend's parents -- the ones who still listen to rock music and know who Fall Out Boy and the Tragically Hip. Whose opinion would you seek out to talk music?

If movie critics of any medium -- TV, print or Internet -- want to maintain their relevance, I think its time to draw up a new game plan. And quickly. The summer blockbuster season's just around the corner!

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