Thursday, August 3, 2017

Fresh Tomatoes?

I’d hoped that I’d be done with this after Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. For as much as the topic’s as relevant to film discourse as anything else, it’s an intellectual sin to waste my time on this nonsense. But there’s no maneuvering around it, so let’s discuss Rotten Tomatoes. Again. *Sigh*

Chances are that you’ve heard of The Emoji Movie. Not only is it the Summer’s biggest critical disappointment, but it’s also so reviled by film fans and audiences that people are frustrated that it replaced Genndy Tartakovsky’s Popeye project. It currently sits at a 5% on Rotten Tomatoes, and its consensus is an emoji itself. That’s how big a failure the film is, despite nabbing a little under $25 million in its opening weekend. It’s not a good sign for Sony Pictures, who are already struggling as is.

Rotten Tomatoes has been a hot-button topic in film discourse for years now. The site’s function is to be a hub for reviews from newspapers, online blogs, magazines, TV shows and videos around the globe where they’re then weighed for an average score. The accuracy of the score is up for debate, I take issue with certain facets of it myself, but the general formula for how films are measured is pretty straight-forward: gather the reviews, count the positive ones, average them out and factor in a 1-100 scale. There’s also a category for Top Critics (i.e. critics that are known to be trustworthy) and a median score out of 10. The reviewers are also linked in below, and users of the site can also posts reviews of their own.

Of course, being that this is the internet, someone’s bound to mess everything up, and that’s exactly what this article from The Hollywood Reporter discusses. The focus is on Hollywood’s attempt to subvert the system by tightening reviewer embargoes and only highlighting reviews that work in their favour. This is nothing new, but it’s gotten worse now that: a. many movies are shovelled out these days without passion or care. b. audiences take Rotten Tomatoes (perhaps a little too) seriously. In fact, AMC’s now clamping down on this by filtering out negative press. To quote:
“Box-office analyst Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations says including the Rotten Tomato score on Fandango's ticket site is counterintuitive. ‘Rotten Tomatoes is a great resource, but can be damaging to the bottom line for films that people are on the fence about. And Fandango, at its core, is about selling as many tickets as possible,’ he says.”

I get it: critics can be terrible. I’ve seen Chef. I’ve seen Ratatouille. I’m aware that a bad review can break people, I’m no idiot. For as much as reviewers are doing their job, many can be quite nasty.

That having been said, trying to screw them over to “protect your reputation” isn’t helpful. Because while reviewers are often unreliable, obnoxious and misleading, they’re an important part of the discourse of art. And film, a medium that functions on mass-collaboration, is no different. So while it might harm ticket sales to see bad reviews, at the same time shafting them isn’t the answer. Audiences are perceptive enough to listen to word-of-mouth, especially given how expensive ticket sales are.

Also, here’s a “Fresh” idea for you: why not make good movies? I understand that art has a 10:1 ratio when it comes to bad-to-good, it’s in its DNA, but with so many talents working in film you’d think that more of them would be put to good use, no? Going by The Emoji Movie, the film had three writers, one of whom was also the director. Are you telling me that none of them cared while writing this movie? Because if The LEGO Movie can succeed despite also being a marketing gimmick, then there’s really no excuse!

And why’s it such a big deal that people are turned off by bad movies? Movies are expensive these days. It cost me a little over $16 to watch Dunkirk in IMAX, and that’s hard-earned money that I received from a job that doesn’t guarantee work. Being conservative with spending isn’t “a turn-off”, it’s being smart. Because if I’m to spend my money on a film, I’m wanna sure it’s worth my time first. And Rotten Tomatoes is a reasonable way to gage that.

It’s like the article states:
“…[I]t is ‘a disservice to focus just on the score. There are many levels of information.’”
Honestly, this is where the argument about Rotten Tomatoes being the “be-all-end-all” falls flat. No one’s forcing you to take the aggregates literally. Nor is it the site’s fault if a movie’s badly-received. At best, the only say Rotten Tomatoes has is its Critical Census tag-lines, and even then it can’t make up anything that doesn’t match the reviews. It’s not unlike yelling at your dinner in a fancy restaurant for tasting bad: your tuna steak isn’t responsible for the chef undercooking it. Take it up with the manager, don’t take it out on the food.

But if you’re gonna yell at the critics for trashing a movie, remember something that The Nostalgia Critic once noted in an editorial: critics see more movies than the average person, and they see them on a regular basis. Because of this, they tend to pick up on recurring patterns. So if they come off as harsh, it’s because it’s harder to impress them. I’d add that the average critic is looking at a film differently than a general audience, picking up details that the latter doesn’t really care about. That might sound rich coming from me, given that I routinely chew out critics over the MCU, but I really do think they deserve some slack even amidst any and all complaints I might have.

Finally, people need to stop attacking Rotten Tomatoes. It’s only the messenger, it’s not responsible for bad press. And stop taking it so literally too! Because unless you’re an art objectivist, whether or not a movie has a 93% or a 96% shouldn’t matter. Nor should it really matter if it has a 5%.

That said, The Emoji Movie’s existence still makes me angry: seriously, we gave up Popeye for this?!

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