A Perk

June 30, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

"I don't get no respect." That's how Rodney Dangerfield put it. And that's how Internet critics sometimes feel. I occasionally write about how slow Hollywood is to recognize cultural shifts and a failure to acknowledging the growing importance of on-line critics is another example. In the pecking order of those who review and write about film, we're somewhere near the bottom - just ahead of the casual blogger and well behind anyone who writes for a newspaper or magazine, or appears on television or radio. When it comes to legitimacy, more respect is accorded to those who work in traditional media.

There's also an element of fear involved, most of it courtesy of Harry Knowles, whose style of "journalism" has tarred everyone who writes on-line with the same brush. Granted, studio heads are starting to become aware that "writing on-line" does not equate to "writing for Harry Knowles," but old prejudices die hard. The nature of instantaneous information distribution on the Internet scares distributors because they can't control it. If a movie is a box office disaster waiting to happen, that news can't be contained or effectively spun. Speed Racer was D.O.A.

More and more frequently, Internet critics are being refused entry to press screenings of movies. We still get to see the films before they open - but only a day or two early. Hancock is a good example of the trend. Print, television, and radio critics had opportunities to see the film last week. Internet critics were barred until tonight. Technically, the film opens tomorrow so, no matter how fast we type, there's little chance of a review showing up before the day the film opens. Print critics get first crack at voicing their opinions - by posting their newspaper reviews on-line.

Other studios have a different solution to the "problem" of on-line critics: demand an embargo and woe to those who break it. In plain language, this mean issuing a stern warning that no reviews can be posted before Opening Day. Those who ignore this edict (and get caught) will have their accreditation revoked. This kind-of sort-of makes sense when the film is a bomb. But what about WALL-E? The film has been universally praised. In cases like this, wouldn't it be in the studio's best interests to get as many of these positive reviews out as early as possible?

If a studio has confidence in the product they're releasing, they shouldn't care what the reviews say or when they go on-line. Most summer blockbusters are review-proof to begin with - they live or die based on word-of-mouth, branding, and return viewership. Bad reviews will be routinely ignored. Good reviews can be used to help marketing. Disney's policy regarding WALL-E reviews shows both a fear of the power of the Internet and a lack of confidence in their movie. Most of these studios were created in the first half of the 20th Century, and many of them still think they're there.

I obey studio edicts when they are explicitly issued. Initially, I had been planning to post the WALL-E review on Wednesday, but ended up delaying the posting until 12:01 am on Friday. Actually, though, the review was accessible earlier to anyone who spent a little time looking. It went into the database on Wednesday and readers who searched for "wall-e" could pull up the complete review before its official post time.

After a little thought, I have decided to provide an unadvertised "feature" for those who read ReelThoughts. After all, readers of this blog are the most loyal of those who visit ReelViews. They're the ones who click most frequently on the ads. (I have tracked this and it's rather interesting. 95% of the clicks are generated by those who stop by ReelThoughts during their visit.) So, in the "Upcoming Reviews" area (for those who aren't aware of its location, it's on the main page in the left column near the top, just below the RSS icon), I will put a * next to any title where the review is projected to be in the database before the "expected" post date. While Hancock won't be in this category, Hellboy 2 will be (by about a day), as will Journey to the Center of the Earth (by two or three days) and Brideshead Revisited (by more than a week). The Dark Knight may or may not be early. My current goal is to post it on July 14, but if Warner Brothers requests a hold, the review will go into the database on July 14 but will not be posted until July 17. So there's a "perk" for those who read this column.

Now it's time to put together the mid-year Top 10.