question of the day: Are you suspicious when a studio tailors screening access to a film, as has happened with ‘Inception’?

We’re all familiar with this kind of situation: A studio has a stinker on its hands, so it frontloads the critical response by showing the film, weeks before it opens, to quote whores, entertainment “journalists” who aren’t critics but get their subsequently rapturous reactions splashed across posters and TV ads anyway. You know, they’re the ones who call a movie “the best film of the year!!” in January. By the time actual critics check in mere days before opening and the critical tide turns, the positive reactions have been out there for far longer, influencing potential ticket buyers.

That’s not what has happened with Inception, the long-awaited, highly anticipated new film from Christopher Nolan. Warner Bros. screened the film for a handful of carefully chosen film critics in Los Angeles recently, and their reviews started appearing this week. The critics include only one quote whote — Pete Hammond — and span a wide variety of publications, from industry press such as Variety and The Hollywood Reporter to online outlets including JoBlo.com and CHUD. The usual sort of objections online critics here when we ask for early screenings is that the studio doesn’t want spoilers getting out and ruining the film before it has even opened (there’s still a perception that the Internet = spoilers even though there are plenty of fair, honest critics only). And that would have been a legitimate reason to withhold Inception from critics, because it certainly has been sold, so far, on the mystery of what it’s even about.
But obviously that was not a consideration when it came to whom Warner Bros. decided to invite to its early screening of Inception. The logic behind it is so mysterious that it prompted Josh Tyler at CinemaBlend to note:

[T]he early praise for Inception is so universal, so effusive, that it’s somewhat unbelievable that the studio didn’t simply screen the film for everyone all at once, to eliminate any lingering doubts of its greatness. Reading through the dozen or so reviews which have been posted you’ll discover it most often being compared to the works of Kubrick as it’s hailed as one of the best movies of the decade and definitely of the year.

(Tyler complained in that post of a few days ago that CinemaBlend would not have a review up this week, but it does now have one posted, by Katey Rich, whom I know is based in New York. So for some reason Rich was given the opportunity to see the film prior to the all-media screening next Tuesday that I will attend, and that I was under the impression was the only screening in New York.)

Other observers are worried, too. Trey Smith at Projected Reviews fears that fanboy expectations will be raised too high by these glowing early reviews:

I plea with people who read this to take my words into consideration while wading through the early reviews for the film, don’t let your expectations soar too high, keep them in check and let the film speak for itself. It is natural to let positive reviews send your excitement for a highly anticipated upcoming film into the stratosphere, but letting hyperbole statements such as, “In terms of sheer originality, ambition and achievement, Inception is the movie of the summer, the movie of the year and the movie of our dreams.”, from Box Office Magazine’s review, take it to heights that may not be reachable, you stand a chance at actually enjoying the film less than you would have had you not read such grandstanding claims.

And Patrick Goldstein at The Big Picture fears that we latecoming critics will be tempted to be less kind to the film than we might have:

When the critics start building a film up like this, it only inspires other critics to assert their independence from the overwhelming groupthink by taking pot shots at the movie sooner rather than later. At this rate, the “Inception” backlash could begin before the film even plays Peoria.

I think both of those worries are a bit hyperbolic themselves, but something weird does seem to be afoot.

Are you suspicious when a studio tailors screening access to a film, as has happened with Inception?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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