Posted on Sunday, March 22nd, 2009 by Peter Sciretta
JJ Abrams‘ Star Trek will make its world premiere at the Sydney Opera House on April 7th, which will kick off a world tour that includes Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Spain and Britain. What this means to you is that you should expect reviews to appear online more than a month before the film’s domestic theatrical release.
I’m not sure how many people care about the meta world of writing about films, but generally when critics screen a movie (unless it is at a film festival) they are under embargo not to post their review until the day of release. Some print outlets like weeklies and trades are allowed to run their reviews a little bit early, which has always angered online journalists. I’m not going to delve far into the subject of of how online journalists feel slighted by print media, and vice versa, but truth be told – print writers are generally treated better, given better opportunities and leeway to publish reviews early. If they actually deserve better treatment could be an article in itself (and honestly, I see both sides). What I’m trying to get at is that the people that populate the world of film writers like to argue about these things much in the way that Jim has to fill out less TPS reports at the office because he transferred from the regional office… or whatever.
It will be interesting to see if Paramount will allow international journalists to print their reviews so early. And even if they don’t, I expect a ton of “reader reviews” to appear online following the premiere. A big stir was created online when British movie critics began to run their reviews of Watchmen, after the night of the film’s UK premiere. Paramount, which was handling the international distribution for the film, gave writers covering the premiere the official go ahead to post their reviews, which angered critics in the states who had already seen the film at the Los Angeles junket screening, but were not allowed to run their reviews until opening day.
Warner Bros eventually broke down and unofficially removed the review embargo. By unofficially, I mean that they told critics who were complaining that they could run their reviews early, but as far as I’m aware of, did not send out an official release regarding the lifting of the embargo to all critics.
Why does running a review first really matter? More readership, hits, traffic, attention. Just like a news story, the first few reviews of a tentpole release are linked on many pages across the web. But honestly, it is only the first few reviews, or maybe a contrarian review (i.e. the first guy who hated The Dark Knight) that sees a significant traffic boost.
I find it silly that regular working critics (those who review films on a regular basis, week after week) get angry over embargo. It seems to me that people read sites or authors on a regular basis. For instance , I read ____ site and also Roger Ebert’s reviews every week to get my fill. If someone breaks embargo on a film I really want to see, I might read that review as well, to get an early fill. But at the end of the week, I’m still going to come back and read Ebert, listen to the /Filmcast and read the other websites I regularly read for those opinions. Reading an early review or a reader submitted test screening review (which is a whole topic in itself) isn’t going to affect my need for an informed trusted opinion.
In the end, like most other things in life, it’s all about fear. Now that everyone can have a facebook page, any joe nobody can create his own blog, and anyone can write a review. And critics are scared — and they should be. The downfall of print newspapers has resulted in the layoff of many working film critics. The smart critics have created blogs or sites of their own, and are beginning to learn that they need to hustle to make it in the new media world. It’s no longer about just turning in your completed review, it is now about engaging and interacting with readers to promote your content. Writers now have to become salesmen.
The old world was static; you read what was fed to you by your local news publisher. But the new world is on demand. It’s a scary world for movie critics becuase readers now have a choice between thousands of possible “professional” and “non professional” critics. And at the end of the day, the person with the most film knowledge or best written review isn’t usually the winner. In this web 2.5 world, readers are looking to connect with writers who more closely mirror their tastes and opinions, while being able to provide context to stuff within the film that they normally might have missed or didn’t understand.
People are reading reviews after movies more now than they are before seeing a film. The future of film recommendation is not movie reviews. Facebook apps will be able to closely tell you what movie you should see on Friday based on data gathered from your most in sync friends and strangers, tastewise. As the algorithms evolve and become more complex, they will become more accurate and personalized.
I don’t consider myself a movie critic, but I criticize movies on a daily basis. I’m really interested to see what becomes of the future of film criticism as we enter an age without newspapers.
And many might point out that the medium of reviews is also in free fall. Blogs have created a world where opinion and information merge together. I know more people who claim they don’t read movie reviews than will admit that they do. But those same people read three or four websites where opinionated bloggers (I’m going to call them bloggers for the sake of using one term, but the term also applies to websites like CHUD or AICN) give their thoughts on every little casting announcement, trailer, photo…etc. They visit the set of a movie, read the script, hear things from studio sources, and some of them even see the movie weeks in advance at junket screenings. And while these readers claim that they do not read reviews, they do come to these sites for a relatable, informed, contextualized opinion.
Anyway, this began as a one sentence news item in Page 2 about Star Trek’s Australian premiere, and somehow expanded into a monster. Like I said before, I’m not sure how many people will find any of this interesting, as it’s something I feel is interesting only to a subset of writers and journalists. But if you’ve gotten this far, than obviously you’re interested in the subject, or maybe just interested to see what random sidetrack I take next.
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