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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

Paramount hand-picks critics it thinks will like ‘G.I. Joe’

Oh, this is just precious:

LOS ANGELES – It’s the biggest movie of the summer that practically no one has seen.

“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” opens Friday, but Paramount Pictures isn’t screening the blockbuster for critics beforehand. Only a select few writers from blogs and movie Web sites have seen it for review — such as Harry Knowles, the self-professed “Head Geek” from Ain’t It Cool News — and their opinions have been mostly positive.

Who else has seen it? I mentioned yesterday that I didn’t think the movie had screened for critics, just for junketeers, but it seems I was wrong:

Devin Faraci from the film Web site CHUD.com is one of the few writers who have seen it for review purposes, and not just for junket interviews. He’s among the critics who’ve contributed to the movie’s 88-percent positive rating as tabulated by Rotten Tomatoes, saying: “If I was 10 years old, `G.I. Joe’ would be one of the best movies I had ever seen.”

Faraci said he was in Toronto recently when he received a phone call at 8:30 a.m. Los Angeles time, asking if he could come to the Paramount lot that day for a “G.I. Joe” screening. He flew back, got off the plane and headed right over.

First off, the next time anyone suggests to me that “Flick Filosopher” is kind of a silly name for a Web site, I’m gonna point to fuckin’ CHUD.com and note that this is one of the most popular movie sites out there. I mean no disrespect to CHUD.com, but clearly, a goofy name is no barrier to success.

Second, talk about no barrier! For all those people who’ve asked me — in comments and in email — why it is that some reviewers appear not to be bound by embargoes while others are, or why it is that some critics are allowed to see films earlier than other critics, here’s your answer: The studios actively court certain reviewers, at least some of the time, hoping (and probably with good reason) that they’re going to get a positive result from that courting.

Clearly, at least in the case of Rise of Cobra, it’s bullshit to suggest that Paramount doesn’t care about reviews or about the negative buzz that comes from not screening a film for critics. If that were true, they would have simply not screened the film for any critics at all. But let me tell you their evil plan: They screen the film for a hand-picked group of critics they’re pretty sure will be sympathetic to the film — and eliminating those they’re pretty sure won’t be — and bingo! A high freshness rating at Rotten Tomatoes, at least until Friday morning, when Paramount can no longer prevent all us other Tomatometer critics from seeing the film.

(The one review currently posted at the more selective — and far less visited — Metacritic is negative. It’s from what could certainly be characterized as a “geek” outlet, the U.K.’s Empire, but perhaps a more discriminating one than CHUD.com or Ain’t It Cool News.)

And look: it’s working. I’m talking about Rise of Cobra again, and I haven’t even seen it yet.



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  • Mathias

    Ingenius.

    But since it won’t last until Friday morning, what’s the point?

  • Dave_in_EH

    C’mon… if they’re cherry-picking the “critics” who see it, are they really picking critics? That said, alot of traditional newspaper critics don’t “get it,” esp. with things like science fiction or comic => movie projects.

    Pick your poison.

  • Mathias

    That’s a pretty interesting thing to discuss.

    If nerdy movie review sites like CHUD or BloodyDisgusting are more in line with your taste in films, are you gonna be angry that Roger Ebert and Peter Travers didn’t get early screenings?

  • Good call Mary. I am surprised how high the Tomato Meter is for GI Joe, and now I understand why. I can’t wait to see GI drop from 82 percent and stagnate as a rotten film.

  • misterb

    Selecting critics is a short-term solution. Once discerning consumers of criticism catch on that some critics can be bought, those critics’ credibility will be shot. If all the discerning consumers of criticism stop going to their films, the major studios will lose a tiny percentage of their audience.

  • RogerBW

    Selecting critics is the quick fix for the problem that everyone with a net connection now knows what “not screened for critics” signifies.

    Of course it can’t do anything about word of mouth…

  • MaryAnn

    I think everyone with a net connection also knows what it means when a hot new movie has only 8 reviews at Rotten Tomatoes on the day it opens. :->

  • First off, the next time anyone suggests to me that “Flick Filosopher” is kind of a silly name for a Web site, I’m gonna point to fuckin’ CHUD.com and note that this is one of the most popular movie sites out there. I mean no disrespect to CHUD.com, but clearly, a goofy name is no barrier to success.

    Well, first of all, Devin hates everything, so his positive review of GI JOE is not only unexpected, but actually speaks well of the film (as I mentioned elsewhere). I find it highly unlikely, given his track record, that the folks behind GI JOE would have let him see it early unless they were very proud of it. And besides, let’s be honest… the majority of critics out there are against this sort of movie on principle. I don’t see any benefit for the studios to allow open season before it opens wide. It might benefit the general audience… but as we’ve seen, they’re not too discriminating anyway.

    Second, CHUD isn’t a goofy name, it’s a GEEKY name. You take a badass acronym from Geek Filmatism and re-purpose it as the name of a website and change what the acronym stands for… instant clever geekery if you ask me. It certainly isn’t any sillier than Flick Filosopher. They both make for creative, memorable URLs. :)

  • MaryAnn

    You’re contradicting yourself, Newbs. If Devin hates everything AND “the majority of critics out there are against this sort of movie on principle,” then why would Paramount show the film to ONE critic who’d be likely to trash it but not others, if the assumption is that it’s going to be trashed?

    If Paramount were “very proud” of the film, they’d show it to all critics.

    And I think you’re wrong about the majority of critics. Critics don’t like BAD movies, on principle. When “this sort of movie” is good, it gets good reviews.

  • Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself… I am large, I contain multitudes. :)

    Admittedly, I’m just speculating… and I still harbor very significant doubts about this movie. But Paramount being proud of the film doesn’t correspond to a high RT rating. And I’m not referring to “bad” movies… just the ones that are mostly all right. Like Transformers 2 or Terminator Salvation. Your own ranking system has only one “good” rating, out of 3 possible. A movie that ranks 2/3 gets a “wait for the DVD” which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. That’s not a criticism at all, by the way, just stating the facts.

    Mathias (Tue Aug 04 09, 5:43PM):

    If nerdy movie review sites like CHUD or BloodyDisgusting are more in line with your taste in films, are you gonna be angry that Roger Ebert and Peter Travers didn’t get early screenings?

    Mathias has it right here… and while I say Devin hates “everything” that’s of course just hyperbole — the films he likes I tend to like a lot, and the films he dislikes tend to be kinda okay (to me). And the ones he absolutely hates tend to be supremely awful. A lot like MaryAnn, actually… I can usually get a good sense of how I’ll feel about a movie after I read his review and yours.

    But the bottom line is, if this is a summer blockbuster film that has action sequences that are easy to follow and well-staged, it gets a 5pt bonus (on a score of ten) just for that. It’s been so long since we’ve been able to tell who is hitting whom in action movies. Bourne, Bond, all those guys… it’s getting ridiculous.

  • AJP

    Newbs, I think you are assuming quite a bit when you assume that the rating system MaryAnn uses requires that the three possible results be somehow rated equally. It is easily possible that the three tier system would (if translated to school type percentile grades) be something like “0-25% skip, 26-50% wait, 51-100% see it.” Or the reverse.

  • Red, Yellow, Green. That’s three.

    Sure, the reviews themselves give you a rough estimate what percentage score they might get on a scale of 100, but that’s hardly an exact science. By which I mean it’s kinda arbitrary (and subjective).

    However, the only person assuming anything here is you, since you seem to think I’m criticizing MaryAnn when I’m not. I even said so in that same exact paragraph, using those exact words.

    I really like how MaryAnn does it, actually — the broadness of her scoring system ensures you actually read the review (which is, of course, the point) and also gives her the leeway to recommend a film she didn’t enjoy, yet feels is important for us to watch, for example: Expelled.

  • The idea that the studio would “court” Devin Faraci because they knew he’d give a positive review in response is absolutely ridiculous. He’s been a public doubter of the film for a while now.

  • The probable reason it didn’t screen widely was as punishment to reviewers for the horrendous reviews we gave to Transformers 2.

    What’s odd about it though is that lousy reviews didn’t stop that movie from making $400MM in the U.S.. It’s definitely a bit odd, but the folks who saw the film early (with the exception of AICN, who is a lot more forgiving of this sort of film) are guys that I know don’t kowtow to the studios and speak their mind.

    Vic

  • MaryAnn

    Just to be clear, I wasn’t suggesting that Devin Faraci was kowtowing to Paramount, or in Paramount’s pocket, or anything like that.

    But if Paramount was ready to invite one critic who’d been bitching about the film for a while now, why not invite all of them?

    There’s so much contradictory and inexplicable stuff going on with critics and studios at the moment. If horrendous reviews didn’t damage *Transformers 2,* then why should the studios need to punish anyone? Sure, there’s a cost involved in screening a film (renting a screening room, paying a projectionist, the time and effort of publicists, etc)… but if you’re screening a film for one critic, there’s no more cost to have another dozen critics at the same screening.

    On the other hand, if reviews really don’t matter, why do the studios bother to screen *anything*?

    If old-fogey newspaper critics have no impact on the fanboy audience, then it doesn’t matter what those critics say, even if they trash a film in advance.

    Either critics matter, or they don’t. The studios — and audiences — don’t seem to be able to make up their minds.

  • MaryAnn, this is the first time that I’ve visited your site. I followed a link on Twitter from another movie webmaster who said that you were hating on GI JOE because of the early reviews. I see that’s not really the case; you’re stating an opinion that you believe Paramount handpicked online critics to see the film to get early positive buss out there.

    I’m not in Paramount’s circle of onliners that got to see JOE but I do know some of the people that did see the film. Devin can be overbearing and condescending but he also speaks 100% from his heart. I have never known him to pull a punch because of some perceived perk issued by a studio. The same goes for Latino Review. I know that you just cleared that up but I wanted to back your statement up with my own personal experience.

    You’re right that Paramount cherry-picked which onliners could see GI JOE early. Studios have been doing this for decades. They took a gamble on whether they would get good or bad buzz back, but I bet that the publicist that handed out the online invites had a good idea as to which direction each onliner might lean towards for this movie. They gambled and they got a win.

    The problem you (and I too) have is that studios are inviting only a privileged few. That’s what happens when you write for a site that has a personal connection to the PR person and a large reach. Back in the late 90s and early 2000s when my site, Coming Attractions, was one of the top dogs on the net I got the same kind of offers. It also helps to be located in LA where the studios are based.

    If you have a site that isn’t ranked in the top 10 by a studio or you don’t have a personal relationship with a studio PR person, what do you do? You try to build your reach. Unfortunately that’s what the studios covet the most. Being a terrific writer and producing quality original content isn’t enough. And when you get to the elite list and start receiving the set visits and exclusive invites, be prepared for other sites to label you a sellout. The wheel is always turning.

  • MaryAnn

    I followed a link on Twitter from another movie webmaster who said that you were hating on GI JOE because of the early reviews.

    I’ve been hating on the film since long before there were any reviews! :->

    when you get to the elite list and start receiving the set visits and exclusive invites, be prepared for other sites to label you a sellout.

    Aha! But just because you get set invites (I’ve gotten a few) and other exclusive perks doesn’t mean you have to accept them!

  • “Aha! But just because you get set invites (I’ve gotten a few) and other exclusive perks doesn’t mean you have to accept them!”

    True. But do you think that the online reviewers that went to see GI JOE were in the wrong for accepting to see an early screening of the movie? Do you think that they wrong in releasing their reviews early? I don’t think so as long as they are being honest with their review. Advance screenings for reviewers are generally accepted without controversy for other films. What makes the GI JOE screening such a hot topic?

  • RogerBW

    The film has had a very troubled history and unanimously bad reports from everyone who’s seen anything of it during production. The word of mouth was about as bad as it could get. The sudden rush of a very small number of positive reviews looks very suspicious.

    I don’t think these critics have been “bribed” in any meaningful way, because they have a lot more to lose than to gain. I do think that they may have been encouraged to write the most positive reviews they felt comfortable with.

    Still, I guess we’ll see in a week or two or whenever the blasted thing will eventually be released.

  • RogerBW (Thu Aug 06 09, 4:26PM):

    Still, I guess we’ll see in a week or two or whenever the blasted thing will eventually be released.

    Tomorrow!

    I’ll be sure and let you kids know how it is. I’m going to the early show.

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