Donald Clarke on the duel between critics and studios
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.
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