Don­ald Clarke on the duel be­tween crit­ics and stu­dios

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

Afew weeks back, Screen­writer mused on the neg­li­gi­ble ef­fect bad re­views have on the ad­vance of block­busters. Ob­serv­ing the suc­cess of de­rided Aunt Sallys such as Pi­rates of the Caribbean and Na­tional Trea­sure, you might as­sume that dis­trib­u­tors would be quite happy to al­low crit­ics to see their films.

“So, you’ve com­pared our movie to a bucket of ma­nure?” they might say. “Boo hoo! Watch as we mop up our tears with fist­fuls of crisp $1,000 bills.”

Well, it seems that the stu­dios are more sen­si­tive than we thought. Over the past six months, it has be­come in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for crit­ics to see films suf­fi­ciently early to file their re­views. In the past, it was cus­tom­ary for movies to be pre­viewed at least 10 days be­fore the re­lease date. But, over the last two months alone, such films as The In­cred­i­ble Hulk, In­di­ana Jones and The Hap­pen­ing have all been press-screened within three days of their pub­lic un­veil­ing. Nei­ther the ghastly Sex and the City nor the un­com­pli­cated Harold and Ku­mar Es­cape from Guan­tanamo Bay were screened for re­view­ers at all.

As a re­sult, some daily pa­pers have been un­able to carry no­tices of the sum­mer’s big­gest re­leases. Writ­ers for monthly publi­ca­tions have even greater dif­fi­cul­ties de­liv­er­ing the copy on time.

Now, you might quite rea­son­ably cast your eyes to heaven and won­der why the pub­lic should care about the poor hacks and their comfy, un­crowded screen­ings. But re­mem­ber: it is the reader who is be­ing de­prived of intelligence con­cern­ing up­com­ing re­leases. You may hate that speccy mo­ron from The Ir­ish Times, but surely you have a right to grum­ble at his me­an­der­ings with­out in­ter­fer­ence from stu­dio busy­bod­ies.

What’s go­ing on? Fear of video piracy is cer­tainly an is­sue here. Though the chances that the av­er­age pi­rated ver­sion of a film (now of­ten of ter­ri­fy­ingly high qual­ity) will have orig­i­nated at a press screen­ing are minis­cule, it still looks good if you de­lay the me­dia preview and nab ev­ery­one’s mo­bile on the way in. It looks as if you are do­ing some­thing about it.

It is, how­ever, hard to avoid the con­clu­sion that some movie com­pa­nies are try­ing to cut pro­fes­sional crit­ics out of the loop and con­fine com­ment to the in­ter­net blogs and mes­sage boards. But there is one ob­vi­ous rea­son why this ap­par­ent lurch to­wards democ­racy would be a sin­is­ter de­vel­op­ment.

How­ever much you might hate the speccy mo­ron from The Ir­ish Times, you can be fairly sure that, de­nied the cover of anonymity, he is not some stooge hired by Mega Pic­tures Inc to write poorly spelled en­comi­ums of that stu­dio’s latest re­leases. When Frodo456, writ­ing about At­tack of the Lob­ster­peo­ple, com­ments that “LIKE WOW!!?! YOUR GONNA BE BLOWN AWAY!”, keep in mind that he may, ac­tu­ally, be a Har­vard-ed­u­cated in­tern in MPI’s pub­lic­ity de­part­ment.

Then again, maybe movie stu­dios are too honourable and morally up­stand­ing to in­dulge in such chi­canery.

Sorry? What’s all that laugh­ing in the back? dclarke@ir­

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