Have Bloggers and Facebook Made Film Critics Obsolete?

| by Hollywood Elsewhere

In a just-posted Boxoffice Magazine piece called "Can Theatres -- And Studios -- Survive Without Critics?," Pete Hammond disputes the conventional wisdom that film critics are toast.

He begins by quoting from A.O. Scott's fare-thee-well essay that ran in the 3.31 N.Y. Times, to wit: "Maybe criticism mattered once, but the conventional wisdom insists that it doesn't anymore," Scott wrote. "There used to be James Agee, and now there is Rotten Tomatoes. [And] rotten movies routinely make huge sums of money in spite of the demurral of critics.

"Where once reasoned debate and knowledgeable evaluation flourished, there are now social networking and marketing algorithms and a nattering gaggle of bloggers."

No argument, says Hammond. "But then why does every major and minor (i.e. indie) release rely so heavily on critics' opinions? Just look at the ads: print, internet, TV, radio, billboards, DVDs. The studios have scoured reviews from the biggest papers to the tiniest websites to flaunt whatever compliments are fit to print, even if just a single adjective: 'Brilliant!' Reviews aren't just being read -- they're being parsed.

"'If critics are irrelevant, then why is every movie ad without exception based on critics' quotes?' asks veteran film critic and historian Leonard Maltin (who also publishes a thriving annual movie guide of reviews). 'And it doesn't matter who the critics are. They will quote anybody, [and yet] the advertising premise seems to be that you can't persuade people to go to a movie without quoting someone recommending it."

"Maltin says the practice is so pervasive that when an ad or a DVD box doesn't include a quote, he's immediately suspicious that the movie must really be a dog."

It's a persuasive and impassioned article, but it ends with a tart comment from Box-Office reader Steve Simels: "Film criticism isn't dead, but film criticism as a job where you also get health insurance coverage clearly is."