Kong Vs. CinemaSins: The Role Of Modern Film Criticism
I found something interesting in a one-sided feud between director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and CinemaSins. The Kong: Skull Island director recently went on a lengthy Twitter rant about his film being the latest subjected to a video series that goes along the lines of “Everything Wrong With [movie] in [#] Minutes or Less.” He describes the function of these videos as lazy attempts to capitalize off of other artists’ efforts, and I agree. Even in acknowledging how the two men behind these CinemaSins videos are more or less trying to provide sarcastic critiques in good faith, I cannot say I find much to value in these lengthy video essays beyond giving the internet a negative base to stand on when discussing films. However, the real interest I found is in determining what makes good criticism in modern times.
While the critical fate of a movie in no way matches up to seeing the legitimacy of actual news being challenged in various ways in today’s culture, there has been a hot button issue involving the role Rotten Tomatoes (among other movie review aggravator websites) plays in film culture. There are various focal points one could look to in seeing how the tension between movie goers, filmmakers, and critics began to boil over, but it is hard not to put a spotlight on the 2016 releases of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad.
Due to factors involving the level of anticipation for said films, the commitment of fans to a particular aesthetic in their preferred blockbusters, and the unnecessary feuding between those choosing to picks sides between comic book companies (Marvel vs. DC), bad reviews arriving for two huge movies had a mostly negative impact on those wanting the best. This includes the general audience, filmmakers, and critics, as no one wants to sit in a theater and have a bad time.
Jumping to this year, multiple reports have noted how studios have come to blame Rotten Tomatoes (and other similar sites) for the poor box office performance of their films. Those involved with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (which I was a fan of) and Baywatch (I did not care to see it), in particular, seemed to have many opinions about how a percentage score and the regard from critics ended up influencing audiences choices in movie going.
Here’s a quick recap of how Rotten Tomatoes works: Approved critics have their reviews submitted to the website. If that review is positive (basically a 6/10 or above), their review is deemed “fresh.” If negative, the critique is considered “rotten.” That is calculated into an overall percentage score, but it is a very black and white way of looking at it. One movie could get 100 5/10s and have a 0%, while another film could receive 100 6/10s and have 100%. Notably, there is also an average score marker that’s not as prominent but establishes a more accurate general regard for a film. This means a movie with mostly “rotten” reviews could still have 6.1 out of ten, showing how it is considered to be mediocre, as opposed to the connotation of an 18% rating or what have you. Conversely, a film with a 93% could have an average score of 6.3 showing that it may not be so highly acclaimed.
That’s a short-handed explanation, but I bring it up because it’s frustrating to see critics being blamed both for what audiences choose to view as the determination of how good a movie supposedly is and for “making” people miss out on potentially good films because they looked at some silly number. I should not have to say this, but the goal of a critic is not to tell you what movies you are supposed to like or dislike. It is about offering an opinion and potentially having a say in what you may find yourself enjoying more, based on the thoughts laid out before you.
As someone who considers himself a part of the critical community (I attend screenings, spend time writing reviews, make very little money in the process, and deal with other who talk down the role of critics for daring to express an opinion), it is disheartening to hear phrases like “it was made for the fans” or “I don’t listen to critics, I listen to people.” Never mind the fact that critics are seemingly the biggest fans of them all if they love movies so much they choose to forgo a more promising career in favor of writing about movies for peanuts, I’m more interested in how someone stops becoming a person because he or she has a differing opinion on a movie.
Of course, this only really matters when a movie is disliked. There are no words putting down critics for films that have a high level of praise (or shared dislike) coming from all sides. It only really matters for movies that are enjoyed by general audience members (often before said films even arrive in theaters, making them more determined to like a feature no matter what, even after seeing it), but are opposed by those who have cultivated a stronger level of understanding for what makes films more or less enjoyable for them.
There is another matter to discuss, and it is what I began with. YouTube and other online video portals have become its own world for people to jump onto and find ways to share their opinions on movies. Some are simple videos from phones or webcams, but others have a more professional style in place. This speaks to things like Honest Trailers and the videos like the ones from CinemaSins. I may not be a big fan of either, but I do see a separation between the two. The problem I find is the approach.
Right from the start, a video titled “Everything Wrong With…” is telling you what you need to know. The choice has been made to identify supposed flaws and make that into some sort of joke. While the intentions of the creators may be for the sake of fun, it’s hard to really see that when the videos have gone from 3 minutes to nearly 20, and the millions of views seem to come from people that have already ruled that said movie is terrible and could use the outlet for why via snarky criticism.
It’s an issue that’s emerged more recently (admittedly with some critics as well), where there seems to be a choice in attacking cinematic language at every step with cold, hard logic, as opposed going along for the ride, which is what going to the movies is generally all about. It doesn’t help that this approach is usually filtered through inaccurate memory, rather than real consideration (something Honest Trailers is better at than CinemaSins).
In my writing, podcasts and other outlets, I feel I have made it pretty clear that I’m against mean-spiritedness. Snark, hyperbole, and sarcasm is kept to a minimum, save for obvious targets that have little to sympathize with, while ambition and good qualities are highlighted. I don’t purport myself to be some genius author, critic martyr or even a film expert. I know a thing or two about a thing or two and have been happy to expand on that through the world of cinema (and TV, among other areas).
Seeing a director like Vogt-Roberts come out against CinemaSins is something that may not look good to many on the internet, but feels completely understandable to someone like me who enjoys a wide variety of films, doesn’t put an extreme amount of focus on movies I didn’t much care for and does a lot of hard work in crafting reviews that speak to my response towards a film, as opposed to finding ways to explain why “everything sucked.” I may not like every movie I see, but I also don’t have some responsibility to put down the hundreds or thousands of people that work on various features by nitpicking every detail for the sake of the bullying world of the internet.
Still, we are in a time where the value in the critical establishment is divided into varying states, with many having to be on the defense because of possible differing opinions or even the simple fact that they are a critic. If it matters, everyone is a critic, because everyone has an opinion and can choose to share it, but that seems to be beside the point. From what I can tell, there is a large contingent that is happier shooting down those who try and put in the effort to share viewpoints through writing (or well-thought out video productions) as if that is the reason a viewer cannot enjoy whatever they want to. Meanwhile, there are those who have found the best course of action is to make fun of the filmmaking process in its entirety for the sake of humor. I’m all for good and challenging satire, but I do wish each of these levels of the established world of criticism could be seen for what they are.
Opinions are subjective. Status and outside factors may contribute to how said opinions are communicated or even pushed forward via pretenses or for the sake of online traffic, but no critic is out to tell someone they are wrong for liking or disliking something. Heck, I can determine what movies I’m interested in sometimes because I have read others whose tastes differ from my own. It is all about common ground, as opposed to identical matches. Moreover, when it comes to focusing solely on “Everything Wrong With…” I can only hope the viewer spends time considering whether this helps them in some way beyond fueling a desire to dislike the efforts made by others to be creative.
So where do you stand? Is it reasonable to believe a critic is only sharing an opinion that is informed by a certain amount of time spent cultivating an appreciation for cinema? Does it make more sense to sit back and watch someone nitpick the creativity of others? Moreover, why not keep in mind the many smaller films that would not have been discovered by audiences without the aid of critics, in addition to the studios and filmmakers trying to get the work of new voices out there? This opens the door to larger discussions, but for now, I hope the perspective is appreciated.