Pop Quiz: what do films like Night of the Hunter, Fight Club, Scrooged, Predator, A Christmas Story, and The Shining all have in common? They are all films that received mostly bad reviews upon their initial release. In regards to The Shining, famed filmmaker Stanley Kubrick even received a Razzie nomination for Worst Director; which is just baffling considering how revered Kubrick is amongst most film lovers. Of course, over time, these films went on to become either “classics” or gained a strong and loyal fan base. Though time can change one’s perspective, even some of the top critics admit to “getting it wrong” every now and then, it does make me wonder about the value of negative reviews these days?
I have been pondering this question for a few weeks now partially due to a conversation I had with fellow film blogger Bob Turnbull at TIFF. We were discussing a film that we were not particularly fond of when Bob remarked that he was not going to write review about it. His reasoning was that he would rather focus his energy on the films he liked. “What good would my negative review do for the film?” he questioned, to which I had no real answer. Sure my knee-jerk reaction was to try and assemble some argument about the importance of being able to critically assess the film. However, I knew deep down that he had a point.
Due to the nature of the film, it was pretty obvious that it probably would not be seen outside of the festival circuit. At best, we guessed it might get a VOD or DVD release in North America, but even then it would be tough for the film to find an audience. So what good would publicly being critical of the film really do? It is not like the filmmaker or the studio is paying any attention to the negative feedback. If anything it might make finding funding for the director’s next project, which could turn out to be a masterpiece, a tad more difficult. However, even that is highly doubtful as it is making the grand assumption that one person online, or even a group of people, has that type of clout.
While we would like to think that every critical voice has an impact, the fact of the matter is most filmmakers do not care what is said on blogs or on social media. At times they do not even seem to care what the professional critics have to say. This is especially true from a big studio perspective. Despite receiving negative reviews, both of the films in Adam Sandler’s Grown Ups franchise still made a killing at the box-office. Regardless of how many people jump on the bandwagon of dumping on the idea of Ben Affleck as Batman; the Man of Steel sequel is going to make a lot of money worldwide.
Sure it may be easy, and sometimes even fun, to just focus on the negative. It is hard not to develop that false sense of authority in deciding what constitutes a bad film. However, at the end of the day, what good does all of this do? I think Bob is onto something in regards to channeling his time into something positive. Instead of joining the line of individuals harping on the lack of merits in something trivial, say Movie 43, it might be time to focus more of our effort into promoting the films we actually love. This includes the higher quality films that will instantly provoke conversation (e.g. 12 Years a Slave), and the smaller gems that left an impression on us even as they struggled to get noticed (e.g. Upstream Color, Gabrielle). With so much negativity these days in the realm of online film discussion, it is time get back to all the positive things that makes the medium of film so captivating in the first place.