MovieBob - Intermission
It's Hard Out There for a (Critic)

Bob Chipman | 5 Dec 2014 12:00
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Audiences and critics don't always get along, but this is one thing we should agree on: when you sit down to watch a movie, you want to see the best possible version of it.

Earlier this week, I was privileged to attend an early screening of a decently-noteworthy upcoming film. Said screening was held in a major multiplex movie theater in Boston. I won't say which one (theater, that is), but suffice it to say it's not an "exclusive" theater -- in fact, you could say it's a rather Common Boston theater...

Anyway. As the film started up (no, you don't get to know which movie, either), it was obvious something was wrong: The image flickered and glitched, colors switched and jittered. The entire thing looked like someone had laid an After Effects "strobe" effect over it and this was most definitely not a film where this would've been intentional. We (the assembled critics) snickered and groaned while one or two ventured out to alert the film's publicist and the theater staff that something was amiss, ultimately watching about five minutes of the movie before it was stopped and re-started to correct the issue.

This happens more often than you'd imagine. Like, a lot more often.

Was the movie good, ultimately? Yeah, pretty good. But let me ask you something: If you go to a restaurant and they get your order wrong (and I'm talking "I ordered a salad, this is a Cajun pan-seared Ugg Boot" wrong), even if they fix it and you eventually have a good meal, do you imagine you'll consciously walk out of there feeling 100% happy with the experience?

Well, then...

For some reason, "Food Critic" is an unusually well-represented profession in movies. Maybe it's because Hollywood is as fond of food metaphors as some entertainment writers tend to be ("If Gone Girl was a pizza..."). But thanks to films like Big Night, Mousehunt, Ratatouille and, most recently, Chef (to say nothing of the popularity of Food Network's 751,300 separate shows about food/restaurant judging), I feel like audiences are largely familiar with at least the ideal of how restaurants attempt to ensure positive reviews.

We've all seen the scene: The Critic arrives with the ominous pomp and circumstance of a foreign dignitary at the threshold of war. They're given the very best table (even if someone else is using it!) and the cleanest, shiniest silverware. The head chef? Ordered to prepare their signature meal. A bottle of the house's finest wine? Complimentary! Everything must be just so -- just right. Above all else, The Critic must be made to feel as though they've awoken in the comforting womb of luxury before they even get around to tasting the food.

Sounds nice.

In any case, when I read about what audiences/readers/etc think of film critics (or, lately, game critics), I get the impression that they think that's how it works for us, too. It makes sense, after all: If you're showing a movie to people whose job is to inform the public of whether or not it's worth seeing, you'd want to make sure they saw it under the best possible circumstances -- wouldn't you? Maybe not feted in the manner of a Roman day spa ("Hot towel, Mr. Chipman? Another palm-frond girl, perhaps?") but at least comfortable, in a good mood, feeling welcomed and, well, "deferred to" to a reasonable degree. If nothing else, you'd expect that they'd be seeing the Best. Possible. Version. Of the film they've come to judge.

Wouldn't you?

Well, that's not how it works.

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