Monday, May 31, 2010
I'm under no delusions that I am an influential reviewer. Heck, I'm thrilled anyone would ask me to review anything. I review books and movies because it's fun. I like to spread the word about certain books throw in my two cents concerning popular movies. It's an ego driven exercise for sure, but as long as I can get away with it, I'll probably keep doing it. But do reviews have a meaningful impact in the real world? When I was growing up there weren't that many reviewers out there. Everyone I knew watched "Siskel & Ebert" and two thumbs up from those guys could make or break a movie. If you were really ambitious you might look in your local newspaper and see what they had to say about the latest movie and book releases. My newspaper had a Sunday insert called "The Sunday Ticket" and that was the biggest compilation of reviews around. But things have sure changed haven't they? The internet explosion has changed reviewing forever. And it's not just people like me-- though there are a lot of us around. Nowadays Twitter and Facebook play a huge role in determining a movie's success. Take this Memorial Day weekend for example: "Sex in the City 2" is the perfect example of a movie that absolutely defies expectations. I am not a huge fan of the series (it would be all too easy for me to go off on a digression about why I think the stereotypes in SATC are bad for women-- but I think I've gone on about that topic enough to last a while) so it's not a movie that would normally come to my attention. But the reviews for this haven't just been bad, they've been savage. Rotten Tomatoes -- which I consider a great reviewing tool and something I check often before I spend theater prices on anything-- gives SATC2 a 15% fresh rating. Ouch. But the terrible aggregate score for the movie doesn't seem to be scaring audiences away. The returns for the movie over the Memorial Day weekend, worldwide, are at $78 million. It looks like the movie won't need more than two weekends to turn a profit. And "Sex and the City" isn't at all a lone example of a review proof movie. The highly mock-able "Twilight" scores only a 50% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes but pulled in over $400 million at the box office. Both "Sex and the City" and "Twilight" have a couple of things in common. They're both part of franchises that exist outside the movie theater and were hugely successful prior to making it to the big screen. They are also the kind of movie that women go to see in packs, who then "Tweet" about how much they loved the movie. Believe me, I have seen this phenomenon. But I can't blame the reviewer/audience disconnect on the chick-flick audience. "Shrek the Third" is sitting at a so-so 41% fresh rating, and yet it has pulled in almost $800 million dollars. And do I even need to mention the craptacular "Transformers 2" and its massive earnings? However, these successes could be attributed to their sequel status. So the performance of "The Prince of Persia" is tougher to categorize since it has only garnered a 40% fresh rating, but looks like it will also exceed its budget by the second weekend of its release. Does anyone read the reviews anymore? Clearly reviews do have some weight. At least the recent lackluster performance of "Robin Hood" would seem to indicate that they do. But then again, is it really the reviews, or is everything now based on word-of-mouth spread by the various social networks? I'm actually stumped by the review-proof phenomenon. Movies aren't cheap and I don't like wasting my hard-earned money on movies (or books) that I'm pretty sure I'm not going to like, so I do check the reviews. I scan my favorite blogs and check in with reviewers I trust before I buy anything. But I wonder, have I become the exception?