In a 7.4.07 piece, N.Y. Times reporter David Halbfinger has looked into “the explosion of the old gentlemen’s agreement by which the Hollywood studios screened movies early for critics, and the critics held their reviews until opening day,” which has brought about the only card that studio publicists have to play these days — i.e., “hide the ball.”
The destruction of the old g.a. “has been several years coming,” Halbfinger says. “The rise of film blogs like and — for whom there is currency in being first to have seen an important new movie — has prompted the trade dailies to view them as competition.
“The trades’ quest for a wider consumer audience, in turn, has brought first Variety‘s and then The Hollywood Reporter‘s critics out over the news wires. The Associated Press has often responded by speeding up the publication of its own reviews, publicists for the studios say.
“For film critics from major newspapers, standing by while the available positions on a given movie are staked out by multiple competitors, whether online or in print, can be too much to ask.” Halbfinger quotes N.Y. Daily News critic Jack Matthews as saying, “I think editors are right in asking, `Why is it okay for bloggers to review movies early and not us?’
“Studios used to exercise much control over when reviews and other articles would publish,” Halbfinger writes. “But the contours of today’s online reviewing landscape dictate hard decisions about when to screen movies in advance, and whom to invite. ‘It’s about all we have control over any more,’ Adam Fogelson, president of marketing at Universal Pictures said.
“So, for films that are bad or merely expected to be assailed by critics, the play to run is hide-the-ball, especially when the movie doesn’t need critical support to be a success. In a watershed move last year, for example, Sony did not screen The Da Vinci Code for critics until the night before its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. The film was widely panned, but the movie still was a worldwide blockbuster — in part because interest in the movie had fueled countless articles in the entertainment press exploring the subject from every conceivable angle that didn’t require seeing the movie in advance.
“‘Every single movie is its own little war,’ says David Poland of Movie City News. ‘The whole thing is about avoiding the negative. Unless you’re a smaller picture, reviews are no longer the issue. The marketing is so huge that what they need to avoid are the critics hating something. It’s a defensive game: only a community saying one thing in a single voice can hurt a picture.”
Avoiding the negative, eh? Why is it that articles of this sort never state the obvious bottom-line truth, which is that oppressively expensive dumb-ass tent-polers are the essence of negativity themselves? A movie that numbs, bores, bludgeons, tromps on the gas and recycles is a movie that is saying “no, no, no, no….we will not try anything truly new, we will not work out the kinks, we will not divert or depart…we will do only what the Lorenzo di Bonaventura types want us to do. Bayo, Bayo, Bayo!”
What’s a mild-mannered columnist supposed to do in the face of all this? Channel Susan Granger?