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Even the most dedicated movie fan spends, on average, only an hour or two a day thinking about movies. Maybe you cruise around Cinema Blend and check out the latest news, maybe you browse through our reviews, maybe you even leave a few comments calling one of us out for getting the new title of Transformers 3 wrong. Before long though, it's back to your cubicle, or your kids, or your wife and while you're busy having a life, we're still here thinking and talking, and spending every waking second of our life blogging and applying our brains to movies.
So it makes sense that a lot of movie blog readers simply don't understand how much of what we do, or other sites do, actually works. We spend our days reading your comments and when we read them, pretty consistently we find that regular site readers both here and in other places on the web simply get things wrong. People have a lot of crazy misconceptions about the way movies and movie reporting works. It makes sense, this isn't your job, there's no reason you should know and understand all the ins and outs of how everything on the internet and in Hollywood happens. You don't have time, you have a life. It's not your fault. We get it, we have no lives ourselves, and so we're here to help.
In this one post we're going to clear up a lot of the most common misconceptions movie blog readers have. Some of them may seem pretty basic, but we've learned from experience that even if it seems obvious to us, it isn't always obvious to those of you on the outside looking in. Here's the straight truth about ten of the most common movie blog reader misconceptions.
It's the clarion cry of every failed filmmaker or indie movie lover, and if only it were true we'd probably live in a much better cinematic world. Sadly, the truth is that box office does matter. Being number one at the box office doesn't mean a movie is good, of course, but making a lot of money does mean that the people who made the movie stand a good chance of making another one. If Transformers had been a total box office flop, then we wouldn't have had to suffer through Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. If Master & Commander: Far Side of the World had been a bigger box office hit, then in the summer of 2009 I might have been able to happily line up for Master & Commander: Desolation Island instead.
A big box office total doesn't validate your opinion of a film or in some way signify quality filmmaking, but supporting the movies you love helps get more movies you love made, and avoiding movie franchises you hate helps clear them out of the way so someone can get the money they need to make something better. Hollywood is, after all, a business. Box office totals aren't everything, but if you're a fan of movies, then the money Hollywood makes matters because it impacts what you'll be viewing in the future.
We reviewers hear this a lot, usually when we've said something negative about Twilight. Actually though, more often than not, film critics end up liking the same things you do. Of the top ten highest grossing movies of all time, nine received overall positive scores from film critics. Only number eight, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, received a negative score on the review compiling site Rotten Tomatoes and even it has a split score of 54%.
It's not that film critics set out to like what's popular or hate what's popular, in general they simply like what's good and hate what isn't. Most of the time, so do you. That's why those ten movies are the ten biggest of all time. While there are always a few dishonest curmudgeons like Armond White, who simply hate whatever's popular to get attention, most film critics like good movies and, coincidentally, so do most audiences. Audience and film critic tastes won't always sync up, opinions vary and critics see a lot more movies than you. That movie with the derivative plot may seem like a new idea to you, but they can spot its unoriginality a mile away because they saw the other ten movies it ripped off, ten movies you probably missed and would be better off watching instead. Still, much of the time, a lot of the time, if a movie's good it's simply good. For most honest film critics, popular or not doesn't enter into it.
There was a time when this was correct, however I'm pretty sure it hasn't really been true since 1937. Usually this argument is made in the process of lobbying for a sliding scale in which animated movies are reviewed less harshly because they're intended for a less aware audience. But these days animated movies are made for everyone. Most of them contain content targeted specifically for adults, and they're filled with ideas that kids just won't get. Pixar's movies for instance, transcend any one age group. When they make a movie they simply set out to make a good film, not a movie aimed specifically at kids. Sure kids are pretty easy to please and a lot of the time you can shovel out any old crap and they'll like it, but the fact that so many animated filmmakers have been able to please kids while also making great films for everyone else too, has deprecated the notion that it's acceptable to take the lazier route.
Modern animated movies are often more complex and adult than anything in live action. So stop feeling guilty the next time you buy a ticket for a Toy Story movie without a little kid in tow. And let's give up on this idea of allowing the handful of bad animated movies released every year to get by on a sliding scale. Animation came into its own the moment Beauty and the Beast was nominated for Oscar's Best Picture. This year, Toy Story 3 stands a good chance of being nominated as well. Whether a movie's live action or animated is no longer relevant to how you discuss it. It's simply a question of whether it's good.
I've been reviewing movies in one form or another for more than ten years now, and in that time I've never heard of a single instance in which money was paid to a film critic in order to alter his opinion. It simply doesn't happen and if it did, you'd hear about, since we movie bloggers are a pretty cutthroat lot and generally more than willing to rat each other out or rip each other to shreds over real and imagined impropriety. It's safe to say that no film critic working today has ever taken studio money to give a movie a positive review, nor are they likely to do so. That doesn't, however, mean some of them don't get paid in other ways.
Some film critics have been known to avoid giving negative coverage to movies in order to curry favor with movie studios, who in turn reward them with exclusive access to celebrities, cool parties, or even lavish trips to visit movie sets. Others have befriended celebrity filmmakers and as a result, flat out admit that they'll never give negative reviews to the films of people they've befriended. In spite of this, most reviewers really do give their honest opinions and are able to compartmentalize these sorts of demands and keep them from influencing their review. If you want to know whether you can trust the review you're reading, consider the writing history of the person reviewing it. Here's some of mine. You may not always agree with my opinions, but spend a few minutes around this site and you'll know they're really my opinions. Once you get to know the work of anyone who writes about movies regularly, if you look at them objectively, you'll figure out pretty quickly who's worth trusting.
Movie bloggers of all types hear this one a lot, especially when we talk about Star Wars. There's a school of thought which suggests that in order to be a fan of something, you must accept everything associated with it, whether it's good or not. Maybe that's valid point of view but I've always thought that if you're really a fan of something you'll want to guard it and protect it. Every time you buy a bad Star Wars product, you encourage them to make more bad Star Wars products. Every ticket you buy for the new, terrible Indiana Jones movie encourages them to keep making more bad Indiana Jones movies. Why go through the effort to make something good, when you can get rich producing mediocre crap?
Hollywood and the filmmakers within the system need a reason to work hard, and if you don't give it to them, then they won't. It's why someone like Tyler Perry has never really bothered to grow and develop as a filmmaker. His fans have already declared him perfect, and eat up everything he gives them, whether it's actually any good or not. It's why George Lucas stopped making movies and settled in to becoming a toy magnate. He doesn't have to go through all that trouble to make good films anymore, he'll make just as much money by producing crap. Human nature is to take the easy way out and if you're a fan, then you don't want to give the humans who earned your fandom in the first place a way to do that.
As a fan, it's your job to keep pushing whatever it is you love to be good. Being a fan can be about more than rampant consumerism. Being a fan of something, it seems to me, should simply mean you care. Being a fan means when something you love takes a wrong turn, you stand up and say “hold on a minute, come back over here,” before you end up in a theater wearing funny glasses, fighting off a blinding headache, and watching Precious 2: Pig Crazy 3D! starring Miley Cyrus.
This position sounds pretty good on paper, but it's based on a misconception about what movie reviews are actually for. The goal of a good film critic isn't primarily to tell you what to think, rather he's simply telling you what he thinks. A good review doesn't determine your opinion, rather it prompts discussion, critical thought, and reading them can sometimes just be plain fun. Movie reviews aren't meant to tell you what to think, but they can help you think.
At the same time, dozens of movies are released in theaters and on DVD shelves every week. There's no way to see all of them and as a potential movie viewer, you need some way to choose what you'll watch. If you decide based on trailers you're headed for folly since movie trailers are, in essence, lies highly trained marketers tell you in order to get at your wallet. Most film critics, as we've already established, are at least honest. The goal of a good movie review isn't to tell you what to think, but it could help you decide what to see. Some people find a film critic whose opinions mirror their own and simply stick with him or her, but I've always thought allowing the opinions of one specific reviewer to shape your watching habits somewhat foolish. One movie review should never be used to help you decide what to see, but if you're trying to pick a movie to see this weekend, read a wide variety of reviews from different sources, and then make your own decision.
Especially with the explosion of movies based on comic books or even toy lines, it's become impossible for critics to familiarize themselves with every film's source material before they review it. Sometimes it matters a lot-- not seeing Tomas Alfredon's Let The Right One In before reviewing the remake Let Me In makes it much harder to understand what Matt Reeves was going for with his film, and if you didn't know the basics of the Avengers universe before Nick Fury showed up in Iron Man 2 God help you. But most of the time it doesn't matter at all; you didn't need to read Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go to recognize the subtleties of the film, and while I'm sure some people got a lot out of knowing Spider-Man's entire back story before Sam Raimi's first movie, the genius of that film is that it works for everyone, no knowledge required.
If a movie is successful it adapts its source material so seamlessly that the audience would never know it's not the original; only when a movie loses your interest do you start wondering what it would have been like otherwise. It can be interesting to compare and contrast, sure, but the movie has to stand for itself, and sometimes the best way to tell if it succeeds is to come in knowing nothing more than what you're going to see on the screen.
I can't vouch for how corporate run blogs do business. I've heard rumors of corporations giving in to advertiser pressure. For instance there was that case earlier this year when Variety was rumored to have removed a negative review at the request of an advertiser. But I run an independently owned movie site and I've worked for other successful independent web publishers, and so I understand how independent sites make the money they need to keep their operation running. Because of that I can tell you with certainty that advertisers have absolutely no input into how an independently run blog like this one conducts itself. It's impossible for advertisers to affect our content because, unlike corporate websites which often communicate directly with companies to sell ads, we have no actual contact with our advertisers.
Instead a third party firm sells advertising on our site to various companies, and then we receive revenue based on whatever they sell. We're not involved with what they sell, they're an entirely separate entity, which creates a layer of distance between how we run our site and the ads sold on it. We simply get a check, without any intimate knowledge of where the money came from, and hope that check is big enough to keep the site running for another month. Conversely, independently owned sites have little control over which ads appear on their pages. We were probably as surprised by that annoying new popup as you were. We simply create a place for banners, walk away, and then advertisers who like what we do buy space on Cinema Blend and other sites from third party providers who run interference between us and them. Not only do advertisers have no input into what we do, but because of the way advertising is sold on almost every independently owned website in existence, it's all but impossible for them to exert any sort of control since they have no contact or communication with the website owners they advertise with.
Every movie critic has personal preferences, genres or actors or directors we like more than others, or certain movie dealbreakers that will immediately turn us off a movie. But our job as critics is to set those aside and consider every movie outside of our own personal context; yes, a review is merely an individual opinion shaped by our own lives, but there's an objectivity there too, an attempt to look at a film from all angles and figure out the best way to examine it.
And yet, every time a female critic pans an action movie, a male critic hates on a romantic comedy, or an older critic knocks something like Scott Pilgrim, we hear the same thing: "You're a ____, so you shouldn't review ____ kind of movie!" Set aside the fact that plenty of women are action experts, plenty of men dig a good romantic comedy and some of our oldest critics are also our sharpest-- a good movie is a good movie, and a critic worth your time is going to be able to tell the difference no matter who they are or where they're coming from. Just as movies aren't made for a single kind of audience-- if you're gonna have a hit, you need everyone to come-- they're not made for a single kind of critic either, and the most insightful opinions on movies can sometimes come from the people who least expect to like it. Critics aren't uniform robots, and observing different personal reactions is the fun part of reading a bunch of different reviews; embrace the diversity, and you might be surprised by who you wind up agreeing with the most.
You'll hear people saying this a lot during awards season, but usually only after their favorite movie wasn't nominated for an award, or lost out to Crash. Except, well, awards really do matter. Not because it validates the work or your opinion of that work, but because giving a movie a major award draws more attention to it, and will lure Hollywood into giving the filmmakers who created it money to make more similarly great movies. Every time a movie you love wins a major award, the chance that the people behind it will some day will make yet another movie you love has just increased exponentially.
That's not to say you should care about every award. Just the big ones. Real movie fans should care about the Golden Globes or the Oscars, maybe even some of the major critic awards. Those have an impact. But real movie fans probably shouldn't care about random awards given out by random websites. If we do the CB Awards this year, it won't be because we think it matters, but because we're simply having fun talking about the films we loved. Care about the big ones, have fun with the little ones, and you'll strike the right balance this awards season.