'New Moon's' astonishing $140 million-opening weekend makes it clear that what he had to say clearly didn't reach (or resonate much with) the masses. It was like spitting against the wind, or in this case, the tsunami, when Rolling Stone's film critic Peter Travers said that 'The Twilight Saga: New Moon' "failed to ignite." He went on to bemoan the non-acting of the film's stars, among other failings.
'New Moon's' astonishing $140 million-opening weekend makes it clear that what he had to say clearly didn't reach (or resonate much with) the masses.
It becomes more apparent with each passing year: When it comes to the box office returns for Hollywood movies, critics just don't matter much. Look at the top ten highest-grossing movies so far year. Did negative reviews deflate 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,' or 'The Proposal' or 'Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian'? Nope. On the other hand, did mostly positive reviews give a big boost to 'Up' or 'Star Trek'? Probably not.
It's often been said that mass audiences go to movies for a good time, and the finer points (i.e., quality) that matter to critics are just not that big a deal. But now film critics are not just being ignored; they're getting upstaged. In the age when reality television means that anyone can be a star, it's also true that the Internet and Twitter mean anyone can be a critic.
Case in point: when reviews for Rob Marshall's 'Nine' come out during the week of its December release, the most important one won't be found in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, or coming from Roger Ebert. It's already been written, and posted on the Ain't it Cool News website, by someone who wants to be called Tobby, who works in the musical theater industry. He/she attended a DGA screening and, being a non-professional critic, simply ignored the industry-observed embargo on reviews of a film until the actual release of the film.
Because Tobby got there first, and because he/she is on a fanboy site like Ain't it Cool News, his/her (positive, by the way) review has a lot better chance of going viral than the reviews that appear in newspapers on the day of the film's release.
Even in Oscar season, normally a time when critics gets their due, we may be reminded yet again of critics' slipping relevance. When 'Avatar' is released in a few weeks, we should recall how director James Cameron tried to get L.A. Times critic Kenneth Turan fired when he gave 'Titanic' a negative review, because Cameron said he was out of touch with what people like. This time around, it's hard to imagine Cameron -- just like audiences -- will care what any old critic has to say about his film. (Maybe Cameron will set his sights on negative tweeters this time.)
And yet, to say that critics are increasingly less important is not to say that they're totally dead. Just look at how audiences have been clamoring to see 'Precious'; so much so that they are up in arms in the cities that do not have theaters showing the film. How did they hear about 'Precious?' The almost universally positive push from film critics has been vital for the wider acceptance of this indie film with such challenging subject matter (though the backing of Oprah surely helped just a bit).
And as the Oscar season kicks into full gear, we will see the critics on full parade. We will be reminded of their relevance when films such as 'The Lovely Bones,' 'Invictus,' and 'Brothers' roll out. They will make a lot of noise, get treated to dinners, appear in countless ads, and, occasionally, get credited for pushing this or that film.
So, it's not all bad for the critic. There are still people who like to read well-reasoned film criticism, and studios still find some use in their opinions as marketing tools, especially during Oscar season. (Just check out any newspaper with movie ads; they're littered with critics' quotes, even on films getting less-than-stellar reviews.) And, in some ways, the Internet has enhanced the collective power of critics, by bringing them together on useful and increasingly popular aggregate sites such as Rottentomatoes and Metacritic.
Travers and his kind are now just part of a much more inclusive dialogue. And is he really so out of touch? After all, "BigEd," who left a comment responding to Travers' 'Twilight' review, says he should be ashamed he even gave 'Twilight' two stars. You just can't please everybody. That might be the goal of movie marketers, but it's never been the role of the critic.