Are Film Critics dead? Roger Ebert seems to think so, and I’m inclined to agree. Last week Ebert published an editorial entitled, Death to film critics! Hail to the CelebCult!, in which he bemoans the rapidly changing newspaper landscape. Print publications are giving their in-house critics the axe, and those that keep them are forcing their reviewers to cover things from a celebrity oriented angle. No one wants to read well thought out critiques, and Ebert bemoans the cultural loss. Read it. Like everything Roger writes it’s brilliant.
Except I don’t think Ebert goes far enough. He focuses primarily on the death of film criticism in print, and most are quick to point out that it’s all moving online. I’m here to tell you that’s not so. The fastest growing movie blogs on the internet these days increasingly contain fewer and fewer actual film reviews. Instead their time is devoted to generating useless lists which lure in traffic from all powerful social bookmarking sites like Digg, or engaging in pointless fan rants to rile up their geek base. Spend some time browsing your favorite movie sites, heck even this one, and you’ll find real movie reviews given less and less prominence on all of them. There’s a reason for that: People are reading them less.
Several years ago when I first started doing this, movie reviews were everything. Sites jostled and fought and clawed to see who could be the first to get their review out there. The internet’s biggest movie sites made their name on their reviews, and other sites would eagerly link to and discuss the reviews of their competitors. Being the first to review the new Bond movie would mean an instant influx of new readers beating down your webpage to see what you had to say about it. A well written movie review would mean endless interest and discussion. No longer.
Cinema Blend’s readership has doubled in the past year. It doubles almost every year. Our readership increases consistently and constantly, thanks to all of you. The interesting thing is that even though the site’s traffic overall has grown, the number of people reading our reviews in the past year has stayed pretty much static. Most of that growth has come from people reading our news items, obsessing over editorials, and well just about anything and everything else that isn’t a movie review, though we continue to do them with just as much energy and intensity as ever.
So it makes sense that most of the web’s newest crop of power bloggers has, more often than not, decided to skip reviewing movies altogether. In some cases it’s because the people blogging them aren’t capable enough writers to pull a decent review off, but mostly it’s because their readers simply do not care or worse, because their readers love garbage like Twilight and would only be offended by anything a legitimate, honest critic had to say about it. Those who do bother with reviews only seem to do them whenever they get around to it, as if realizing it’s probably not worth the trouble.
Part of the problem for the internet may be an issue of time. In the good old days, film critics watched movies and reviewed them. That’s it. Their entire life was dedicated, almost totally, to watching movies and reviewing them. On the web, that simply doesn’t work. Any serious internet critic must also write dozens and dozens of other pieces every week, covering news items, interviewing celebrities, writing long, drawn out editorials, generating useless lists. Few full time internet journalists have the luxury of sitting and watching every movie that comes out. They can’t see everything, because there are too many other things which they must do. In the good old days a print critic might see 400 to 800 movies a year. Most online critics are doing good to see 100 to 150. You’d be hard pressed to find any internet writer who makes a real living doing nothing but writing film reviews. On the internet, this is a profession which simply does not exist.
It’s easy to call the media greedy and unprincipled, but to exist newspapers and websites must have an audience, and to have an audience you must give them something they want to read. A growing number of people want to argue over who is more eviler: Darth Vader or Anton Chigurh. They do not want an in depth review of No Country for Old Men. Anyone ignoring shallow, fanboy ranting in favor of an deep discussion of the latest movie from the Coens is doomed to failure.
Luckily there still are people out there interested in reading honest film analysis, and we’re proud to say that many of those people are our readers. It’s just that they’re rapidly being outnumbered. It’s not only the print film critic that’s dying, it’s critical thought in general. While I don’t think there will ever come a time when Cinema Blend stops reviewing movies, if only for our own sanity, it’s hard not to recognize that the average movie fan cares increasingly less. We still care, what about you?