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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

doh! ‘Simpsons Movie’ won’t screen till mere hours before it opens

Word came down today from 20th Century Fox: press screenings of The Simpsons Movie will be on Thursday, July 26… the night before the film opens. And by “the night before,” I mean that the very multiplex in which I will see the film on Thursday evening will open the movie to public showings a few hours later, at 12:01am.
Rumors have been buzzing around the critical community here in NYC that the film simply isn’t finished yet, and that’s why it won’t screen any earlier, but I dunno… that’s a pretty standard excuse I’ve heard before from studios. Other rumors around the professional online watercooler suggest that only Internet critics are being kept from the film until the last minute, as Jeffrey Wells says at Hollywood Elsewhere, though he gets the no-guests thing wrong, as I was told I can bring a guest with me to the screening. This no-onliners thing is actually an even less promising explanation: We onliners are, presumably, far more representative of the audience Fox is courting for this film than are print critics. So why wouldn’t we be allowed to see the film until the night before it opens unless it isn’t very good?

Five new movies are opening wide next week, on the same day The Simpsons Movie opens. Three of them won’t screen for critics at all… and this one, the fourth, won’t screen for a large portion of the critical audience till just before it opens. I foresee a day when no films are screened for critics. What the hell good are we, anyway? All we do is bitch, bitch, bitch…

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  • I would normally say that it’s an indicator of a bad movie that it’s not screening until mere hours before its release, but the early buzz I’ve heard (and, to be honest, my own fanboy-ish tendencies) make me think that this isn’t a quality issue.

    Rather, this movie has been veiled in secrecy ever since they started development back in 2003. They’ve purposely left the plot vague and kept the trailers somewhat disjointed in terms of plot points – I know I really don’t have any idea how all the disparate elements tie together in the story. The movie actually wasn’t officially confirmed as finished, I hear, until a few weeks ago – according to Matt Groening, the first real trailer that was released was comprised of roughly 75% material that isn’t in the final movie. The final, most recent trailer, is apparently more representative of the finished movie.

    I choose, based on an utter lack of evidence, to take this eleventh-hour wrangling and secrecy as a sign that they were trying to perfect the script and get the movie just right. With a roughly four-year development time already, I think that’s kind of wonderful.

    So far, the trailers and preview clips have made me giggle, so here’s hoping.

  • Moe

    This movie should have been made 10 years ago when there was still some creativity and intelligence behind the Simpsons.

  • What changes could they possibly make to the final product at this late stage? I always assumed that, with the opening date just a few weeks away, the final film was in the can and they were just trying to get it shipped out. Could they really make any changes to it now?

  • MaryAnn

    Some onliner critics are suggesting that Fox has it in for onliners, that we’re all being punished because of the Memphis projectionist who has been posting reviews of movies on Ain’t It Cool News for a while. Which does have the ring of truth to it. Unfortunately, some of the studios don’t seem to be able to differentiate between legitimate, professional onliners (like, I daresay, me) and guys like the Memphis projectionist, who isn’t a professional critic. Prohibit THAT guy from seeing films early — don’t punish us all.

    (Oh, and I do make a distinction — in case any of my publicist acquaintances are reading — between studio honchos who hand down these decrees and the frontline publicists who have to implement them. The problem continues to be that the studios at the top level seem resolutely unable to understand the Internet.)

  • I concur. The problems I have encountered with screenings feel much more like a mater of corporate policy and much less like a given publicist failing to understand the cold hard realities of 21st-century media.

    Studios want to maximize their profits, which means controlling as much of the promotion and publicity as they can. The internet simply doesn’t fit into that scheme. It defies that control by its very nature. In their view ciritcs serve as alternate means of promotion. That is our only function in their world. And as long as we adhere to that function – whether because we genuinely love the movie they’re pushing or because we’ve been bought, sold, and paid for – they’ll let us play in their sandbox. It’s when we start behaving in ways detrimental to the bottom line – like evincing the opinion that their magnificant new blockbuster is actually a piece of shit – that they get cranky.

    The mainstream media, paradoxically, has both more and less clout when it comes to demanding earlier screenings. More clout because of the organizations backing them up, which can deny a studio promotional opportunities if they wish. Less clout because studios can influence them with ad revenues (and in too many cases, are part of the same corporate entity anyway).

    Online critics worry them because we’re divorced of that structure. We can do and say as we please because we’re not beholden to revenue streams or pressure from higher-ups. On the other hand, we also lack the clout of belonging to a larger structure. So they can use things like press screenings to push us around, or at least try to limit the impact of what we say. They have a point when it comes to less professional outlets, and “amateurs” who catch an early screening. But as M-A said, it serves no purpose to lump us all in together. They need first to understand that they can’t control the internet the way they clearly want to; that there will always be voices which they can’t silence or buy off, and that word of mouth will spread fastaer than they can bottle up. Secondly, they need to make the distinction between those of us who adhere to professional behavior (and by professional, I refer to conduct and approach to the task rather than drawing a paycheck), and those who don’t. As things stand, they lack sufficient interest in doing either. They’d rather just lump us all together, issue asinie fiats about when the movies are screened and be done with it.

    Ironically, that doesn’t bother me much. Even if they cut off press screenings entirely, they’re only delaying our reviews by a few hours at the most, and while that has an impact on readership, it certainly can’t stop us from moving forward. Screenings are courtesy, and they’re much appreciate, but most of us out here don’t require them to do our jobs. The sooner they figure that out, the sooner they can formulate a more reasonable and professional policy towards access to their films.

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