"Critics' clout has gone down," according to movie reviewer Harry Kloman in an article in USA TODAY (May 31, 2006). "With the advent of new media and the Internet, studios know they can reach the audience they want to reach. They don't need us for big movies."
The article ("A Teflon summer season?" by Scott Bowles) pointed out that even though critics panned several summer movies, the flicks were doing quite well at the box office.
A large segment of the movie-going audience seems to blithely accept whatever summer fare Hollywood produces. To get those patrons into theater seats, the studios only have to put out the word through the Internet and other marketing channels that their movie is the next big, noisy, star-studded blockbuster.
The USA TODAY article said that critics still matter "for smaller movies."
Of course, some moviegoers prefer smaller, quieter, more thoughtful films, but they also like thrillers, action-adventure potboilers, romantic comedies, and even the occasional horror flick, as long as the movies have interesting characters and don't insult our intelligence too much. We simply don't have the time or money to spend on fluff, unless it's high-quality fluff.
For us, the advent of the Internet is more of a boon than it is to the studios. As they flex their marketing muscles to reach uncritical audiences, we can avoid their grasp by visiting a few of the hundreds of Web sites that offer to guide us to movies worth our time and our box-office bucks.
Your Friend, the Critic
Reviewing the book American Movie Critic for The New York Times, Clive James said that "since all of us are deeply learned experts on the movies even when we don't know much about anything else, people wishing to make their mark as movie critics must either be able to express opinions like ours better than we can, or else they must be in charge of a big idea, preferably one that can be dignified by being called a theory."
James also noted that the critics "without theories write better. You already knew that your friend who's so funny about the Star Wars tradition of frightful hairstyles for women (in the corrected sequence of sequel and prequel, Natalie Portman must have passed the bad-hair gene down to Carrie Fisher) is much less boring than your other friend who can tell you how science fiction movies mirror the dynamics of American imperialism."
The friend/reviewer who doesn't bore me is Roger Ebert. He's plainspoken, but he expresses opinions (such as mine) better than I can, and I almost always agree with the direction in which he points his thumb. He's like a friend who has promised to be ever vigilant about getting me the most bang for my box-office buck.
But Ebert does inject just enough theory--just the right amount of observation on the ways in which movies reflect and explore big issues--to bring a bit of weight to even the fluffiest of flicks.
For instance, after pointing out that actor Cameron Bright has "large dark eyes and ominously sober features that make you think he might grow up to become chairman of the Federal Reserve, or a serial killer," Ebert's review of X-Men: The Last Stand, noted that the film (when it isn't "distracted by the need to be an action movie") raises questions about numerous political and social issues, including "abortion, gun
control, stem cell research, the 'gay gene,' and the Minutemen."
Ebert added that "'curing' mutants is obviously a form of genetic engineering, and stirs thoughts of 'cures' for many other conditions humans are born with, which could be loosely defined as anything that prevents you from being just like George or Georgette Clooney. The fact is, most people grow accustomed to the hands they've been dealt and rather resent the opportunity to become 'normal.' (Normal in this context is whatever makes you more like them and less like yourself.)"
Ebert's Web site (http://www. …