April Foolishness

April 06, 2004
A thought by James Berardinelli

For me, April is one of the busiest months of the year. In addition to the usual early spring rush of movies, there are the opening of baseball season (when even followers of perennial losers try to watch as many games as possible) and a local film festival. I had meant to write this column a few days ago (April 2, actually), but couldn't find the time. So here it is, a little late.

I don't post anything to my website on April 1. That's because of the "April Fools" mentality that permeates the web. On a normal day, a certain degree of skepticism is necessary for approaching information gleaned on-line. But on April 1, hoaxes outnumber legitimate stories by a huge margin.

Not that I'm a against an April Fools joke, if it's a good one. Most of what you find on-line is pretty obvious, however. There's a fine line between concocting a credible lie and going too far. To illustrate the point, let me use a few real examples.

In 1997, I posted a solid, three-star review for a movie with a very silly title. (Sorry, but I can't remember what it was.) I got dozens of e-mails asking where it was playing. In fact, there was no such movie. It was a fake review, but, because I didn't go overboard with praise (like giving it 4 stars) and because I didn't deviate from my usual tone, a lot of people bought it.

A few years later, I considered posting a fake review of The Phantom Menace seven weeks before its release. I decided against it because it wouldn't seem credible that I had seen the most anticipated movie in decades at such an early date. The "review" might have been fun to write, and it would have gotten a lot of attention, but no one reading it would have believed for a moment that it was the real thing. (Speaking of The Phantom Menace, I am planning to write an upcoming "ReelThought" defending it.)

This year, a press release appeared on-line announcing that MGM and New Line had come to an agreement regarding the distribution rights for The Hobbit. The April 1 date raised my bullshit antenna. Yet, for a few paragraphs, the press release seemed legitimate. It talked about how MGM would handle International distribution of the film while New Line would disperse the film in North America. In addition, MGM would get points on the film's U.S. gross. Had the authors of this bogus press release stopped there, it would have been a brilliant hoax. But they then proceeded to name a director (Paul Anderson replacing Peter Jackson) and to state that both Andy Serkis and Ian McKellan were on board. Sorry, but at such an early stage, no actors would be associated with a production. And the likelihood that New Line would go to any director other than Jackson is miniscule. By the time I was done reading the press release, I knew it wasn't legit.

Then there was an item that showed up on-line about how William Shatner was willing to appear in "Enterprise" next season as Kirk. According to the article, Shatner has figured out a way for his character to come back from the dead, and, if "Enterprise" is renewed, he would be willing to guest star. It's not such a far-fetched possibility, since the Master of the Dramatic Pause will be co-starring in a new ABC TV series beginning in the fall (spin-off of "The Practice"), which means that he's willing to accept a television-level payout. As I perused this bit of gossip, I marveled at how solid it sounded. I could almost believe it. The reason, as it turned out, is because it's true. So not everything posted on-line on April 1 is false. Just most of it.

Teenage Girls

It seems that Hollywood has finally figured out that girls between the ages of 10 and 15 like to go to the movies just as often as their male counterparts. For years, the studios have been focusing the majority of their high-profile features towards teen and pre-teen boys. You know the kind of stuff I'm talking about: short on story and characters, but big on action, special effects, loud noises, and scantily-clad women. (No nudity - this is all PG-13.) Suddenly, the movie-makers have figured out that about 50% of the population lacks the Y chromosone.

And so we have... The Prince & Me, Elle Enchanted, Mean Girls, and 13 Going on 30 - all coming out within a few weeks of each other. These titles are targeted primarily at teen and "tween" girls, those who idolize Hillary Duff and the Olsen twins. (Britney Spears has moved into an area where dads are more interested in her than their offspring are.) While I don't object to this trend in principle, couldn't the movies be spread out a little more evenly? Why cluster them together? When it comes to seeing these pictures, I'll probably score about 50%, which is about how I fare on so-called "urban films" and kids' flicks. The sameness of these teen girl movies is dispiriting. I could probably say the same thing about the teen boy films, but I possess a Y chromosone, so I guess I'm genetically pre-disposed to like mindless action films.