Sunday, May 2, 2010
A disappointing decline
There were two new major studio releases this week: A Nightmare on Elm Street and Furry Vengeance.
Neither of them was reviewed in this week's Entertainment Weekly.
Which is hardly the fault of Entertainment Weekly. In fact, I'm getting accustomed to seeing the following feature, almost every week, in the magazine's pages: Reviews Online. It's a little box graphic with one (or in this case, two) photos in it, and the following text:
"The studios behind the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street and Furry Vengeance declined to screen them in time to include in this issue. You can find our reviews at EW.com."
EW has to include the Reviews Online box almost every week, but this week I really noticed it, because both of the new prominent releases were not reviewed. Usually one of them would lead off the magazine's movie section, but in the absence of that, Lisa Schwarzbaum had to write an essay called "Directors and their muses." (During which she does also submit a review of Nicole Holofcener's new movie, Please Give, whose studio was gracious enough to make it eligible for critical dissection. Then again, Lisa gave it an A-, so I guess the studio was pretty confident in it.)
There was once a time when a movie could not escape the glare of critics, no matter how wretched it was. You made the movie, you had to stand behind it, at least to the extent that working professionals were given the chance to view your product and let others know whether or not they should consume it.
Not now. If you're the least bit skittish about whether your movie is any good, it's all too easy to avoid the kind of critical lambasting that would kill your movie's opening weekend box office. And why shouldn't a studio avail themselves of this opportunity? It's only business. Granted, a shrewd viewer will probably be even more frightened off by learning that a studio refused to screen a movie for critics, than for reading a bad review. Of course, the movie industry's entire infrastructure is based on the fact that most people are not shrewd viewers.
I should comment here that both of these films are currently reviewed on the website I write for, and were up at a reasonable hour during the day yesterday. Which means either our critics scampered out to a midnight Thursday night screening (which may have been available for Elm Street, probably not for Vengeance) and wrote something up in the wee hours of Friday morning, or more likely, there were critics screenings of the films, they just were not held in time for Entertainment Weekly's deadline.
But I don't find this much of an excuse. Studios are fully cognizant of what they need to do to get a movie reviewed in the pages of Entertainment Weekly, one of our country's leading resources for film criticism, and in the pages of other weekly magazines. Not setting up a screening until the Wednesday night before the film's release is not an "accident," not some low-level functionary's failure to meet the deadline due to inexperience. It's a calculated attempt to add a couple million to the film's box office, because those 300,000 people won't have read how bad the movie was in the pages of Entertainment Weekly.
If I were speaking from the perspective of a studio, I might consider this a smart move. Perhaps I consider it a smart move, even not speaking from that perspective. But I'm coming at it from the critical side, from the judicial branch, from the perspective of someone who thinks that every movie should be judged on its merits. In fact, I use the language of government intentionally here. I would almost be in favor of the existence of a body that required films to be screened a certain amount of time prior to their release. No such body will ever exist, but it should.
So I guess both A Nightmare on Elm Street and Furry Vengeance are pretty bad. I can't say I'm surprised. For about five minutes my wife and I talked about seeing Furry Vengeance. See, she's from Australia, where they don't have squirrels, so she loves loves loves squirrels -- and that's spilled over to me having a renewed love for them. Our mutual love of squirrels has spilled over to loving other critters and woodland creatures.
Furry Vengeance gave us the hope of speaking to us specifically, even if it stars Brendan Fraser and looks stupid. Well, not now. I'm part of a system, Furry Vengeance, and you need to participate in that system as well if you want any love from me.