the critic, the people, and the blockbuster
July 17, 2006
There’s a fun article in the Times today discussing the pronounced gap between critical reception and popular success of various summer “blockbusters”, Pirates 2 and The Da Vinci Code being the most notable examples from this round, and asking why, given the discrepancy, critics continue to blather on and on to an audience that loves only to ignore them. While film critic and article author A. O. Scott takes great pains to avoid any semblance of a superiority complex–to do otherwise would be to alienate much of his audience–his formidable experience in the world of cinema, coupled with the writing talent that befits a professional journalist, does distinguish his opinions (and those of other critics) from those of the unwashed masses. In my view, critics opinions deserve if not deference then at least some measure of respect from the throngs that flock to theatres to see these bombastic summer spectacles; ascribing a measure of authority to them is not as “suspect” as Mr. Scott so modestly claims.
Then again, I realized long ago that my views are generally at odds with those held by the general public. As an aspiring critic of sorts myself–witness the blog and in particular this posting–I am perhaps predisposed to identify with and adore characters like Paul Giamatti’s Miles (a critic himself) in the 2004 film Sideways, which with a Metacritic score of 94 is to many of my friends and family a minor curiosity quite detached from the mainstream consciousness. In other words, I’m of the type who think 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s two hours of silence are actually interesting and even compelling, rather than insufferably boring in light of our modern sensibilities; I enjoy the film, and others like it, in spite of them (though I am not so foolish as to claim complete independence from them).
Mr. Scott arrives at an amusingly honest answer to his line of inquiry–answer: for love of the art (as in, “we do it for you”)–but at the end I was left pondering the more troubling and still unanswered question of why such maddeningly average films continue to generate obscene amounts of revenue, summer after summer. Is the “fun” of the blockbusters and all their accoutrements really enough to make seeing them a “forgone conclusion”? After countless summers with offerings that are just as depressingly ordinary as those that came before, I’m getting a more than a little tired of the whole thing. Studios, you must impress me, and not just with flashy effects and big names but with genuinely original ideas. Absent that, my DVD shelf of favorites is more than enough to see me safely into the indie-filled autumn.
–D. S. W.