I'm going to take a break this week from my normal Friday morning new release post, for two reasons:
1) I don't have a concrete perspective on either The A-Team (cast looks good) or The Karate Kid (remakes blah blah blah);
2) I don't know that I'm doing a service to these movies by issuing a concrete perspective on them in the first place.
You see, this week I got involved in a debate in the comments section of another film blog, about the intrinsic value (or lack thereof) of writing a post every Friday in which you make snarky predictions about the quality of the new releases. Of course, those of us who write such posts are not always trying to tear these films down -- sometimes we talk about how we're giddy with excitement. But the basic point of the blogger taking the other position was that whether we're excited for a film or cursing its name, "reviewing by trailer" is a dangerous practice, and the whole thing is speculative and a little suspect. It isn't giving these films a fair shot.
This debate has stuck in my craw the last few days, so I decided I'd move it to my own blog and flesh it out a little bit. And since the other blogger will probably be reading this, I'll address him directly now: I certainly don't want to just write a dozen bullet points about why you're wrong, precisely because I'm not sure you are wrong. Sometimes, I start writing without even knowing where my mind will be at the end. Today is one of those days.
The first thing I felt during this discussion was a defensiveness about my own Friday new release habits, even though the comment was not addressed at me specifically. So it caused me to look back and examine my tendencies when writing about Friday new releases. Yeah, there's some amount of assuming that certain films will be bad. But more than anything, I am trying to use these releases as what we in journalism call a "news peg." (I actually went to journalism school.) A "news peg," if you're not familiar with the term, is any kind of current event that gives you the opening to write about a more general trend. For example, if someone wanted to write a think piece about how we're allowing young people to take unconscionable risks, their news peg would be the 16-year-old sailor who was almost lost at sea while trying to sail around the world, solo. (Thankfully, a search team found her and she's okay.)
For me, the Friday new releases are often used as news pegs more than as specific films whose strengths and weaknesses I want to discuss. Take last Friday, when I wrote about Splice. I actually didn't write almost a single thing about the content of that particular movie -- instead, I used it as a news peg to discuss my wife's pregnancy, and to offer up a list of ten movies a person wouldn't want to watch while pregnant. But even when I'm being snarky, and making dire predictions about particular movies, it's usually so I can talk about other trends. For example, when I wrote about Date Night, I was less interested in whether Date Night in particular was bad (though I assumed it would be), and more interested in the idea that Steve Carell and Tina Fey are great TV personalities but not great movie personalities. And this was based on my opinions of movies I'd actually seen (Baby Mama, Dan in Real Life, Get Smart, etc.).
So okay, I was reacting too defensively during this week's debate -- not only was the comment not aimed at me, but maybe it doesn't even apply to me. I'm not "reviewing by trailer" at all -- I'm using trailers and release dates to get ideas of other things to write about. If you've read me much, you know that I don't do much in the way of actual reviews on this site -- I save that for my paying work. Even posts devoted to the quality of films, and not larger trends, are not things that I necessarily consider "reviews," because the reviews I write are only 300 words, and don't use the first person singular.
But I think I actually do want to support those bloggers who do "review by trailer," because I do think there's some value in it. Here's why: Writing a blog is about presenting your opinions to the world, and who's to say what limitations should be placed on a person's opinions?
Let's take things out a step. Any time you see a trailer for a movie, you are probably struck with one of three different impressions: 1) "That looks great, I want to see it!" 2) "That looks terrible, I don't want to see it." 3) "Hmm, that could be interesting -- I need to see the trailer again and process it a little more."
My argument is, if you are thinking these things anyway, what's the harm in writing about them on your blog? The only way you are really doing the films a disservice is if you are trying to convince people that you've already seen a movie you know you haven't seen, and are offering a bogus review merely out of some kind of spite. Anything else you write is the justifiable speculation of a consumer being sold a particular product. What's the harm in talking about whether the movie is doing an effective sales job, or isn't?
I guess it's really a matter of what hat you're wearing when you write your blog. If your blog is almost exclusively reviews, and you have a personal creed to give every film the benefit of the doubt, no matter how insipid it looks -- and you should if you are acting only as a critic -- then that's one thing. But me, I call my blog The Audient for a reason. Yes, I'm a critic, but I'm also a member of an audience, and I embrace that part of my relationship with movies as well. If I were wearing my critic hat on this blog, then it might be a violation of my principles to give some movies a fair shake, and throw others under the bus without all the information. But I actually started this blog to give myself an alternate way to write about films that wasn't reviewing them. Which I think is all the more reason for me to include content that relies on my own interpretation of the film industry, even if it involves certain low-level assumptions about certain films I may not have seen. The alternative is that you can't write about a film at all unless you've seen it, and I think that's just too strict of a stance.
I think it makes sense to pause at this point and support the general perspective of this other blogger: That every film deserves the chance to be the best version of itself it can be. There is no genre of movie, no type of movie (remake, reboot, etc.), or no intellectual level of movie where I could be 100% sure the movie would be bad -- any movie can surprise you and be better than it looks like it will be. I'm a firm believer in that, and I proudly tell people which movies that are generally hated are movies that I actually like (such as the first Transformers).
But I think if we prevent ourselves from assuming certain things about certain movies, we are basically just muzzling ourselves. Is it really unfair to adopt a weary outlook on the latest remake of a 1980s horror movie, and to write about that on your blog? I don't think it is. Your knowledge of the motivations that went into making that movie (financial rather than artistic) earn you the right to be skeptical, and you don't have to keep that skepticism to yourself. As long as it's clear in what you write that you are merely stating your concerns, and that you are basing those concerns on the apparent similarity of this films to other films you've seen, you are being fair enough, I think.
Might you be wrong? Hell yeah. And that's part of the fun of eventually sitting down and watching the movie in question.
I'd love to hear what you think. Do you take a post less seriously when it talks abstractly about movies the writer hasn't seen? Or do you think it's fun to have debates about new releases as they come out, when there's the greatest "news peg" relevance for discussing them, even if you are necessarily speculating?