Name:
Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Laziness

I'm not sure why Roger Ebert would watch exactly 8 minutes and 5 seconds of a movie, decide that it stinks, give it a one-star rating, and then write a full review of the movie as if he's seen the entire movie, only disclosing in the last paragraph of the review that he barely watched it, and that oh, wait, this review only pertains to the first eight minutes of the movie. He even criticizes a cameo appearance, but the only reason he knows that there was a cameo appearance at all was by researching the film on IMDB (he confesses this at the end of the review).

Is this acceptable at all? Even if he uses the fact that he watched 8 minutes of a movie as a device to criticize the movie (he finds a lot of things wrong about the movie from the first 8 minutes, it seems), I think the basic assumption readers have of a critic is that they have experienced that which they criticize. That assumption informs the way the reader reads. And the way Ebert wrote the majority of the review does nothing to discourage this assumption.

In fact, his criticism of "Cameo Appearances" was not validated at all by the 8 minutes he saw, as the cameo appearance apparently takes place later in the film. In other words, he inflates his criticism of the eight minutes of the movie by criticizing a portion of the movie he never sees. This only serves to reinforce the reader's assumption that Ebert actually saw the entire movie.

Ebert posted about his own review on his blog and it has generated over 300 comments. It might be argued that the movie is just some indie film and a critic as well-known as Ebert has other movies to be concerned about. But isn't this about the biggest disservice anyone could give to a small-budget indie film? It's one thing to refuse to review an indie movie. It's another thing entirely to pretend to review it, give it a bad review, and confess that it wasn't worth your time to see more than 8 minutes of the movie.

Even if it's the worst movie ever, can you make that judgment without watching the whole movie? Ebert has sat through many other bad movies. Will he make it a habit not to sit through other ones in the future now that he's done this once?

In the comments to Ebert's blog post about his review (and yes, I understand the inherent silliness of writing a blog post about a blog post about a critical review about a movie. Luckily the movie is not about blogging or writing, as far as I know), some defenders say that a food critic would not have to sit through an entire meal to make an unfavorable review. He would not be expected to eat an unpalatable meal. Another defender argues that a movie, like copy in good marketing, should grab one's attention in the opening. I think both arguments are spurious. I could just as easily argue how horrible it would be for a Rolling Stone critic to give an album a bad review of after listening to one song. I think all those arguments (comparing movies to food, marketing and music) can be picked apart. For example, it's easily argued that my music critic comparison is different because songs on albums are so diverse; just because the first song is bad doesn't mean all the other ones are the same quality. To that argument, I argue "Nickelback."

That one-star rating also bugs me. How many people look at that graphic and don't both with reading the rest of the review? There's some kind of meta argument there, maybe, since it could be said that looking at the rating of a review and not reading the review is like sitting through 8 minutes of a movie, but I'm not going to go down that path, since I find it likely that Ebert truly did find the first 8 minutes of the movie to be horrendous. At the very least, Ebert is a Rotten Tomatoes critic, and I assume the other critics who reviewed it and gave it good or bad reviews saw the entire movie.

And if the first 8 minutes had been the best 8 minutes of film he had ever seen, would it have been excusable to stop watching and then give the movie a four-star review? I think not. While it may be improbable that the movie picked up if the first 8 minutes were that deplorable, it's not impossible. What if a particularly good character had been introduced? What if some actor that was not introduced in the first 8 minutes turned in an Oscar worthy performance? I thought the first 20 minutes of Spider-man were pretty great, but then that movie went south in a hurry. It would have been completely incorrect of me to watch those first twenty minutes and write a review as if the rest of the movie had been just as good.

Don't they teach kids not to do this in school? I was assigned to read Catcher in the Rye in 9th Grade. I despised that book. I still read the whole thing. (I read it again a couple of years later to see if I'd like it better when it wasn't part of a curriculum. Nope). I didn't read 20 pages about phonies and daddy issues and then look the rest of the plot of on the internet, and write a report as if I had read the book, only disclosing to my teacher at the end that I had not. I think that if I did, I would have gotten a failing grade.

Ebert's review isn't cute. It isn't novel. It's not the end of the world either. It's just plain lazy.