There’s always a lot of talk over at Jim Emmerson’s: Scanners about the critic’s place in the world today. Do they have any power over the audiences of today or are they out of touch with the general movie going public? After having been proven wrong so many times I guess they decided to get their revenge. And in doing so ruined many of the surprises in one of the best advertised films in a long time.
If you haven’t seen the previews for Cloverfield then you’ve missed out on something incredible. Hand held home cameras and an attack on the Statue of Liberty that had everyone drooling during the trailer before Transformers this last summer. Now there has been a good 5 or 6 months of speculation as to what the heck took off Liberty’s head! No more can there be speculation thanks to our reviewers.
First there was Roger Ebert giving away the attacker of the film in his blurb above his review of Cloverfield, not even in the body of the review. (I vent at my other write up Roger Ebert Undermines Cloverfield’s Campaign.) He responded to an email of mine suggesting that he thought it was common knowledge now, pointing me to the IMDB tagline which refers to the attacker as a “monster”, but what kind of monster it doesn’t say. Even beyond that he goes to great lengths to describe images in the film that are much better experienced for the first time in the movie theatre. But it’s unfair to reprimand Ebert alone.
When I spoke to my friend about this later (the friend whom I’m going to see the 5:40 show with today before some other reviewer decides to rent an airplane and scrawl the end of the film out in cloud form above Los Angeles,) he told me he had a similar experience, though I fault him for reading the entire review. It was the LA Times he said, but the review I read at the Times did not divulge such information, so i wonder what he was reading. I have no reason not to believe him, because he sounded upset, because not only did they give away the attacker, but also the outcome of the characters’ goal!!!
Maybe it’s me, but I don’t think tid bits like say, oh, the outcome of their goal has to be given away to write a proper review of a movie. Other reviews (including the LA Times review) have described the creature. Shouldn’t the reviewers job first and foremost be to preserve the experience of seeing a movie at all costs – even if they hated it? One can give ones opinions or thoughts about the film without giving away major details, or without destroying the anticipation of discovery. Does it work or doesn’t it, the mechanics of the film can be talked while remaining vague about the crucial story elements.
Another thing this does is destroy the creators vision of the film and how he or she wants audiences to experience it. If J.J. Abrams wanted us to know what destroyed Lady Liberty, he would have shown it in the preview – he cut the teaser himself at home on his Mac. Ebert gave the film three starts, so obviously he liked it. Why then would he feel the need to do Abram’s job for him? Why would the review my friend read feel the need to be the first person to talk about the end of the film?
Another film recently has gotten reviewers so excited about it that they’ve destroyed the theatrical experience. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days has a preview that ominously hints at something dangerous the girls are getting into, but never says what it is. The film itself waits for a good thirty minutes before letting you in on what’s happening. You read any review and I promise within the first paragraph or two they will have blatantly told you what the big secret is.
It’s like dealing with a bunch of grade schoolers that rile each other up, like there’s a competition between reviewers to be the one to talk about something first. And it’s really, really aggravating.
Up to this point I’ve gotten used to closing my eyes during a lot of trailers because they do give away so much, so when a film takes such great pains to avoid doing that, what right do reviewers have to do it instead? If I was J.J. Abrams I would sue the pants off anyone and everyone for destroying a multi-million dollar campaign, because a lot of it hinged on not knowing what was happening in the film.
There’s a problem when reviewers don’t respect the fact that other people might enjoy the films they review with fresher eyes, and they are the ones that are supposed to appreciate and empathize with what filmmakers are trying to do, and empathize with what the audience wants from a movie – to be surprised. Maybe this is why they don’t hold as much weight with the audiences of today.
Lisa Schwarzbaum from Entertainment Weekly gets it right referring to the menace as a “thing” then continuing on with what she thought of the movie. She gets an A+ from me. My computer is running slow and it’s 1:30 in the morning, so my quest for evidence is being cut short.
This is why I think there’s a difference between a critic and a reviewer. A reviewer will detail the events of a film whereas a critic will explore what’s actually happening in the film, tell you how it made him feel in light of how the story is told, without actually telling you the story and revealing surprises better left for the audience members to discover while watching the actual movie.
Let us be surprised.