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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

reviews of ‘Watchmen’ embargoed! or not!

Dunno if you’ve heard, but apparently there’s a little superhero movie opening all over the world this Friday name of Watchmen. You’d think teh Interwebs was nutso over comic book movies or sumthin’, cuz everyone’s falling all over themselves to be the first geek to post a review of the movie.

If you’re a geek and you’re lucky enough to have already seen the film, and you haven’t already posted your review: tough luck. The so-called “legitimate” “mainstream” press beat you to it, when Time’s blog Nerd World ran a review of the film on February 16, written by Matt Selman, an executive producer of The Simpsons (and possibly a friend of director Zack Snyder, David Poland suggests).

Oh, Selman tries to wriggle out of the embargo Warner Bros. has slapped on Watchmen (as it slaps on all its films):

There is a press blackout on reviewing the Watchmen movie until March 6. However, I’ve seen the movie, and I’m not press.

Sorry, Matt, but if you’re blogging at Time, you’re press.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to write a review of Watchmen. What I am going to write about is the emotional experience of seeing a piece of literature with which I have an intense personal connection LITERALLY COME TO LIFE. It’s a serious freak-out.

How cute, that Selman thinks that’s not the beginning of a review, which he goes on to write. How cute, too, that Time is owned by the same corporate parent as Warner Bros., and that critics who might write negative reviews are still muzzled by the embargo.

Except… wait… Not everyone is honoring that embargo. As of this writing, Watchmen has already garnered 30 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, where it’s currently at 79 percent Fresh. Some of these reviews are from UK critics — the film premiered in London on February 23 — but not all of them.

On February 24, Ben Child at the Guardian’s Film blog was already rounding up early reviews. On that same day, Harry Knowles at Ain’t It Cool News posted his review, which begins:

Harry Watches The WATCHMEN And Can Remain Silent Not One More Second!

How nice for him, that he feels not in the least bound by Warner Bros.’ embargo either.

I will repeat this, because it’s important: Warner Bros. supposedly has a flat embargo on all its releases — no reviews may be posted until the day of a film’s release. Now, I’m not a fan of embargoes, but I respect them as part of the price one has to pay in order to gain access to early screenings of films. (And just FYI, the only screening of Watchmen I was invited to is on Tuesday, March 3, so I haven’t even seen the film yet. Not that I’m at all bitter about that. Not at all.) And yet it seems that, as much as the studios complain about how it’s “online critics” who are always breaking embargoes, that’s not who is breaking this embargo, for the most part — Time is far from the only corporate outlet, in this instance, to have posted an embargo-busting review.

And onliners are noticing. Devin Faraci at CHUD howled loudly at the Selman review (though he posted his review just days later, also on February 24, almost two weeks before the film’s release.) Spout, Rope of Silicon, and CanMag have all covered Warner Bros.’ mysterious hypocrisy when it comes to the embargo on reviews of Watchman, to varying degress of puzzlement.

We could stop being puzzled by Warner Bros.’s selective enforcement of its embargo if we recognize this: Geeks are now a desirable demographic. We are the audience Warner Bros. is after, and if that means that Harry Knowles gets to break an embargo in order to preach to the choir, no problem. Geekdom is now a bandwagon — hell, when Time is trying to get in on it, you know you should simply ignore most of the hype… even if it’s a positive review of something we geeks are looking forward to. Nerd Blog is suspiciously rah-rah and promotional, focusing on pushing corporately produced stuff geeks “should” be buying and not caring if its bloggers don’t sound very nerdy — what sort of nerd “barely knows a kilogram from a kilometer”?

Review embargoes are just an attempt by those corporate producers to control the conversation. And look: here we are doing their job for them again, but talking about how we’re not supposed to be talking about something.


Meanwhile, though, Entertainment Weekly keeps on pushing its six different “collector’s” Watchmen covers. There are never any embargoes on unfettered, unabashed promotion.

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