Oh Tony, Tony, Tony. The "Do critics really matter?" discussion is so very last month. Still, nothing will stop the New York Times‘ A.O. Scott from martyring his chosen profession:
…Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesnâ€™t, but the judgment of critics almost never makes the difference between failure and success, at least for mass-release, big-budget movies like â€œDead Manâ€™s Chestâ€ or â€œThe Da Vinci Code.â€
So why review them? Why not let the market do its work, let the
audience have its fun and occupy ourselves with the arcana â€” the art â€”
we critics ostensibly prefer? The obvious answer is that art, or at
least the kind of pleasure, wonder and surprise we associate with art,
often pops out of commerce, and we want to be around to celebrate when
it does and to complain when it doesnâ€™t. But the deeper answer is that
our love of movies is sometimes expressed as a mistrust of the people
who make and sell them, and even of the people who see them. We take
entertainment very seriously, which is to say that we donâ€™t go to the
movies for fun. Or for money. We do it for you.
While we appreciate the ideas being expressed, there’s something a bit insufferable about the article â€” though it’s possible we’re just in a bad mood, as it’s 6,000 degrees in New York and we have no air conditioning in our apartment and this weekend we sprawled on the couch praying for death and watching "The Chronicles of Riddick" on TV because it was too hot to find the remote, and an extended sequence in which Vin Diesel bulgingly rock climbs his way up a mountain to escape the sun on some ill-advised planet where daylight burns you to a CG cinder was completely ineffective as we’d already been outside that day and experienced that unpleasant sensation in real life.
We had a point to make somewhere…yes, the film that prompted the article, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest," continues to defy unimpressed critics, breaking record after box office record, but there isn’t the critical hostility greeting this fact that one would expect â€” maybe because no one expected the first film to be particularly good, and the fact that it was watchable was a pleasant surprise. The consensus with "Dead Man’s Chest" is that it’s a flashy, overlong mess, but there are worse cinematic sins. At Cinemarati, there’s a smart, lengthy and entertaining discussion of the film that kicks off with this key observation:
Is Captain Jack Sparrow the Doctor Frank-N-Furter of the new millennium? Will (Bloom) and Elizabeth (Knightley) here seem to channel Brad and Janet, zero chemistry between them, each deeply focused on Deppâ€™s boozy brigand deviant. Explaining the state of pure Willâ€™s heart to Davy Jones, Jack exposits, â€œHeâ€™s in loveâ€¦â€ and quickly adds â€œwith a womanâ€¦â€ Uh-HUH.
At Salon, Aemilia Scott chronicles the continuing adventures of "Snakes on a Plane," which we is striking us as the most joyless, calculated experiment in movie marketing imaginable, and the true thing critics should fear â€” films that abandon all pretense of art at all in favor of artificial and crowd-dictated camp appeal. If it can even be called camp (WWSSD: What would Susan Sontag do?).
This reveals the meaning of the cult classic. The C factor lies not in the shittiness of the film but in the agreement between moviemaker and moviegoer on the film’s shittiness. The moviegoer goes to see a movie and thinks, "Wow, this movie is going to be terrible for X, Y and Z reasons." The bad movie delivers reasons X, Y and Z. The cult film responds, "Oh yeah? You think you know X, Y and Z? We’re gonna show you some X, Y and Z!"
"Snakes on a Plane" is an agreement, but one born of an unlikely power shift. It’s an agreement between moviegoer and Hollywood. It’s an agreement between David and Goliath, where Goliath slips up and calls himself a knuckle-dragging retard giant.
Incidentally, as Josh Tyler at Cinema Blend reports today, "Snakes on a Plane" will not be screened for critics. Of course not! There’s no room for critics, even grumpily ignored ones, in this equation. Tragic.
+ Avast, Me Critics! Ye Kill the Fun: Critics and the Masses Disagree About Film Choices (NY Times)
+ Cinemarati Summit: POTC: Dead Manâ€™s Chest (Cinemerati)
+ Hissy fit (Salon)
+ Snakes On A Plane Hidden From Critics (Cinema Blend)