Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Everyone's a Critic

After 35 years the balcony is getting ready to close, permanently. Sometime in August ABC will air the final syndicated episode of the granddaddy of all movie review television shows, “At the Movies.” I for one will miss it.

For my money, the current incarnation with Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott is the most insightful and entertaining since the days when Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel hosted the show. “At the Movies” is the most direct descendent of the original PBS series “Sneak Previews,” which broke ground by translating film criticism into the preferred language of my generation – television.

But the generational language has changed. Most of today’s moviegoers speak a digital dialect. They don’t read movie reviews, they access them. There’s an app for that, lots in fact.

Today’s movie goers don’t want to know what one critic thinks, they want to know what they all think. This has spawned “Rotten Tomatoes” and other websites that aggregate the opinions of hundreds of critics and spit out a single number that is supposed to express the quality and entertainment value of the latest release.

On reflection, maybe that’s not so much different than Gene and Roger’s trademarked “thumbs up, thumbs down” rating system, Michael and Tony’s “see it, rent it, skip it” system, or the hundreds of critics who award movies a certain number of stars, letter grades or boxes of popcorn.

If the ability to capture the opinions of a hundred bona fide critics in a whole number between 1 and 100 isn’t enough for you, the social media revolution has created a democracy in which anyone and everyone can be a critic. While it might not be all that helpful to know that your 16-year-old son thinks “Inception” rocks (he’s wrong) it might be meaningful that a dozen of your Facebook friends think “The Kids are Alright” is better than just alright (I agree).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m hardly an elitist. I’m just an unrepentant movie lover. I also find the Internet to be a wonderful enabler of my film addiction. As evidence, I chose “movienuts” as my Prodigy screen name when I first began exploring the world-wild-web with a 28K modem.
No doubt I’ll continue to read reviews from favorite critics (including Phillips and Scott) online, share recommendations with Facebook friends, and use the IMDB to answer the frequent question, “Where have I seen that actress before?”

I will not, however, watch “Clash of the Titans” on my cell phone. That would be difficult enough in a theater. And they have popcorn.