Has the Web killed movie criticism?

There’s an amusing article in Variety today marking the tenth (or so) anniversary of the rise to prominence of movie fanboy sites like Ain’t It Cool News and Dark Horizons, an article that notes the uneasy detente between the sites and the film industry. I’m not sure about the article’s historical accuracy (wasn’t Film Threat a magazine for years before it was a a supposedly grass-roots website?), but it raises an interesting suggestion: that these sites have all but supplanted traditional film criticism. That’s a questionable proposition even to AICN’s Harry Knowles, who quips: "I get a lot of letters from readers who say, ‘You’re the only filmcritic who has my voice.’ Which I assume means illiterate, uneducated,Southern, semi-virginal…." (Eww, I don’t even want to know what he means by "semi-virginal.") On the other hand, Film Threat’s Chris Gore boasts, ”Film criticism is effectively dead. I would love totake credit for killing it with my badly written reviews, but it wasthe blogs and audiences that did it. Audiences really democratized filmreviewing on the Internet."

What say you, PopWatchers? Is traditional film criticism dead? Do credentials matter anymore when it comes to reviewing movies? Are there Web-only film critics and fan-run sites you trust more than establishment movie critics and traditional outlets?


Comments (33 total) Add your comment
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  • Ep Sato

    I don’t know about “credentials”, but to me the EW rating system and the Rottentomatoes.com tomatometer are still good ways to measure whether a film is worth seeing. And IMHO, any movie not screened for critics is straight to video fare.
    That said, it’s a little odd that critics are kept for as long as they are. Roger Ebert’s most famous for helping to right a Russ Meyer film (and not a very good one) back in the early 1970’s. He’s been writing critiques of movies since about that time it seems. It would make sense for publications to switch up their critics every five years or so to ensure a fresh perspective.

  • Tom Brazelton

    The web didn’t kill film criticism. Film criticism killed itself by become bloated and self-important. Critics forgot the audiences they were writing for and the impetus behind film criticism. It is just as much a value judgment on art as it is an informative piece to let readers know which movies are worth their time. I’m not a Harry Knowles fan, but if people are writing him and saying “You’re the only critic who has my voice” then clearly more “legitimate” critics aren’t doing their job.
    In my mind, more professional critics are more interested in flexing their knowledge about film history or lauding the obscure to indicate relevancy (and job protection) rather than critique with their readers in mind.
    Traditional film criticism can save itself if they can step off their high horses for a while.

  • fredric

    Although I make a lot of decisions on what to see regardless of what the critics have to say about it (action or suspense movies specifically), but in many cases, a critic’s review of something brings my attention to a film I might not have heard much about. I especially love the festival highlights editions (and wish they were longer) because it gives me something to potentially look forward to when some of these films hit my hometown. And, sometimes a review can change my mind about something I’ve dismissed based on a lame trailer.

  • Christopher

    I read AICN for film reviews, actually. Even if you do pay attention to the reviews, you can often miss a gem of a movie because it didn’t get many reviews. Sometimes it comes down to whether or not the movie’s premise attracts you.
    I wouldn’t say reviews are dying. EW reviews (and while they are often pretentious, there generally more in line with my own tastes) and all newspapers still review.
    I’d say the experience of theater-going is dying. But reviews have nothing to do with that. Crappy movies and inflated (worse-than-convenience-stores) prices are responsible for the death of movie theaters.

  • nOva

    Well, it could be argued that to be a credible critic of anything, one must be a historian of the subject. But there’s something to be said for what the regular Joe thinks. I still don’t think professional criticism is dead because not many studios are going to websites and blogs for positive blurbs.

  • melissa

    The landscape is changing, of course, but I’d say film criticism isn’t dead for the people making a living doing it. I don’t know that the Internet has the credibility yet that it would need to wipe out film criticism as we know it — though some sites are better regarded than others, the fact that anyone can take a stab at it online makes it less trustworthy. My knee-jerk response when I see that a critic is Web-oriented is to not take them as seriously.

  • Andrew Wickliffe

    Given your magazine gives great reviews to the most absurd films (Spider-Man, Batman Begins), I’d say yes.
    However, since I remember the A- score EW gave to “The 13th Warrior,” I’d actually blame EW for the death of film criticism.

  • Scott P

    I would say that film criticism is only hurting right now because its best example, Roger Ebert, has been out of commission for most of the year. We really need him back, there aren’t many good reviewers rising up to take his place. It would be nice if Peter Travers from Rolling Stone would review a movie more than once in a blue moon.
    nOVa is right tnough, in order to have a respectable opinion critically, you have to have a bit of a historical perspective. I doubt any of the web geeks who were anticipating “Snakes on a Plane” have anything like that.

  • aramis

    I can’t say that I’ve generally cared for critical reviews when I like to pretend to write my own on my blog. Because, really, for me, it’s MY opinion that counts when it comes to spending MY money.
    I like reading EW’s reviews, even if they do miss the mark every once in awhile. But hey, you can’t agree on everything – it’s our right as AMERICANS, dammit! LOL!
    I think film critiques are going by the wayside because it’s becoming more of a battle of wits between reviewers and not actually about reviewing the films. It’s all about comedy and punchlines. Look at the reviewing debacle of 2001, “Glitter,” for example. It’s my favorite example because here you have a movie that was decent at best (not good, but not as terrible as it was written to be). But it was a – I think one writer put it – “cinematic crime against humanity” to most becuase it was hip in the critical world to jump on the bash-Glitter-bandwagon (even though you KNOW half those “critics” didn’t even see the movie; I do believe the receipts – or lack thereof – of the movie prove it).
    But I only use this as an example because it shows the downward motion of critical reviews since then. I KNOW people are just waiting for another opportunity for a “Glitter”-like insanity to hit the film world, just so they can duke out who punched it out first, or who had the WORST to say about it, or who’s jokes were funnier.
    Part of me was thinking “Apocolypto” was going to be just that film, but the big whigs in the heirarchy of Film Critics (i.e. EW, Rolling Stone, etc.) actually liked it, while the other half jumped the gun and started to bash it. Rotten Tomatoes is a great site to meter out how films are being treated by reviewers in general.
    I think traditional film reviewing will make a comeback if and when people start actually reviewing the films, instead of looking for ways to compete in taking jabs at the filmmakers or the stars involved.
    This debate will surge on and on.

  • KTS

    I don’t think I’ve ever not watched a movie because it got bad reviews – shoot me, I happen to like a lot of “bad” movies. I have, however, watched more than a few movies because they earned great critical acclaim, and been more than a little disappointed for the most part. “The Anniversary Party” anyone?

  • Talking Moviezzz

    I don’t think that article is really fair to film criticism. AICN and Dark Horizons really aren’t film criticism sites. They are more of the Defamer or Gawker of the horror / sci fi crowd. They post up news, and information for a certain genre of film. You don’t go to them for the latest reviews on the mainstream films, or serious arthouse films. But, if you want to see what Peter Jackson is up to, they are sure to have it.
    I guess I’m part of the problem. I have a film / TV / pop culture blog. But I still read the serious critics (as well as AICN on occasion). But the internet has now made it easier to read the reviews of all the print media. Many of the mainstream critics (like Ebert or Dave Kehr or Leonard Maltin) have their own websites and blogs.
    And yes, Film Threat was a zine first, then a full magazine (early 90’s), then an email zine, and finally a website.

  • LM

    My feeling is film critics at places like Entertainment Weekly write for their bosses rather than the average consumer. And I seriously doubt a film that plunked thousands of dollars in advertising into EW would receive a scathing review.
    Media can be very biased and money-oriented. I like EW but do not find I agree with their reviews much of the time. I prefer to go by word-of-mouth, which is, I suppose what the average joe web review is.

  • Mozz

    I’m a big fan of IMDB scores, and the Metracritic score, why read one critic, when you can combine all their criticisms into a score, the same goes with audiences… now I wait till I see the score of the movie, anything above 65, I consider watching, anything above 80, It’s a strong contender for my viewing dollars.

  • Jazzy

    I pretty much read every review I can get my hands on when regarding specific films because I don’t think that there’s one ‘educated’ film critic that I can solely rely on. I love me some Ebert and Roeper but, just like anyone who reviews movies, educated or not, it comes down to someone’s true opinion. I mean I would think I would trust a critic more from EW then joblo.com but it’s all relative. I’m such a picky movie watcher anyway.

  • Sally

    I check rottentomatoes for everything including running time. I notice AICN is NOT linked to rottentomatoes, so how seriously can that be? I think there will be fewer film critics for newspapers like USA and NYT, but the literate published film critic will not go away.

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