The press kits given to critics to accompany the movie they’re reviewing are, for obvious reasons, not given to hard truths. They tell us how much everyone enjoyed working with each other, how proud they are of the final film, and generally how well everything’s worked out — predictable, harmless stuff.
But once in a while one will go out of their way to make an extra-foolish statement that seriously shatters credulity, like last year’s “My Sister’s Keeper” (the Cameron Diaz weepy about a terminally ill little girl) kit, which testified that “In films as disparate as ‘John Q,’ ‘Alpha Dog’ and ‘The Notebook,'” director Nick Cassavetes “has investigated the nuances of the human condition, the nature of love and free will and human dignity.” This is not how most people think about “The Notebook.”
Generally, though, such statements are avoided for films that aren’t screened in advance for critics — it’s tacitly understood that the film in question is, most of the time, no good whatsoever, and that it’s only hope is to make as much money as possible before people catch on.
Lionsgate may have well made history in explaining why “Killers” — next Friday’s Ashton Kutcher-Katherine Heigl action-comedy-romance thing — isn’t going to screen for critics (except the day of, in the almost-standard “courtesy screening” that at least saves writers the trouble of invoicing their employees).
It’s not, the studio assures, because the film’s a stinker: it’s because they “want to give the opportunity to moviegoing audiences and critics alike to see `Killers’ simultaneously, and share their thoughts in the medium of their choosing. We felt that this sense of immediacy could be a real asset in the marketing of `Killers.'”
Here’s assuming they hope that the kind of people most prone to “sharing their thoughts” online about a movie like “Killers” are also the kind of people that go on message boards and call critics they don’t like out-of-touch-elitists. The whole scenario is nonsense (and would be no matter what the caliber of the movie; 99% of the time, people write in to hector, not to discuss).
The real issue here, as noted by Screen Daily critic Brent Simon, is that studios “don’t really have their finger on the pulse of the fan community”:
For people who are really into films, what the Internet has done – through message boards and a plethora of other sites that report on film – is it’s opened up this world whereby they’re able to see not only the goings-on of production but also of marketing. So when there are no reviews of a film the week of release, that message gets out there. It doesn’t really matter what their interests or predilections are as far the types of films they’re interested in, but people smell a stinker.
They seem to have equal problems figuring out which ones are good, which ones are marketable. The “Crank” films were unscreened, despite being cult classics in the making, and excitably received by some critics. (The same goes for the Neveldine/Taylor team’s “Gamer,” which is actually good fun.)
Nor do bad reviews make much of a quantifiable difference in the first place: people still showed up for “Transformers 2” and “G.I. Joe.” The former screened, the latter didn’t; “Transformers”‘ average Metacritic score is a statistically insignificant three points higher than “G.I. Joe”‘s. There is no real way to explain, based on that evidence, why “Transformers” made nearly $500 million more worldwide and $350 million more domestically. It just doesn’t matter.
This is a backhanded way of advocating something I think should go without saying, but perhaps studios should rethink this policy because there’s no evidence reviews affect box-office revenue. The critic-proof film is now a matter of fact (cf. “Norbit,” “Wild Hogs”); let the coverage be done on time. Everyone’s lives will improve, and no one’s will be harmed.
[Photos: “My Sister’s Keeper,” Warner Bros., 2009; “Killers,” Lionsgate, 2010]