Let’s be honest for a second – it’s not that we got quoted because our writing was outstanding. That’s clearly not the case since they just post between one and ten words of it. We get quoted because we create words that sell movies. Sometimes, our excitement gets the better of it and we just wordgasm all over our keyboards. Fred Topel at CraveOnline wrote of Apollo 18: This film will shock you to your core. You won’t believe that a found footage movie can be just as exciting as a sci-fi classic. The last ten minutes are the most exciting of any summer movie, and without motion capture effects.
The first sentence of that appeared on the box-art, which is a big deal in the quote world. Apollo 18 has 5 out of 10 stars on IMDb. Sometimes we’re alone in our excitement. I fucking loved The Losers, which has a 6 out of 10 on IMDb and was panned by most of my colleagues. Yet I wordgushed it was the perfect mix of laughs and action and the studio put that on a TV commercial. I still get made fun of that by my friends to this day, some of whom couldn’t even make it through the entire movie. But I fucking loved it.
Now, I’m taking the time to stress that sometimes, a lot of the times, we critics really do love the movies we’re talking about. Getting quoted is a bonus. But studios do ask for quotes and we, sometimes, write purposefully to attract studio attention. I am more than happy to plead guilty to saying something like Finally Friday the 13th is frightening again! in my review of the Platinum Dunes remake, because how awesome would it have been to be quoted on a movie from the franchise I’ve loved growing up? I also got quoted on some online ad for The Change-Up calling it the funniest film of the year. No exclamation point. In my defense, I think it was February and I hadn’t seen anything funny yet.
I bring this up because I’m not pointing a finger at anyone who wrote an example I’ve used above. In fact, I’ve used examples mostly from people I know, like, or trust. This isn’t about quote whores like Harry Knowles, Pete Hammond, Jeffrey Lyons, Shawn Edwards, or Paul Fischer, people who will call just about every turd they see a “masterpiece” and often find themselves on posters, billboards, and trailers.
Hyperbole goes both ways. People will seize upon bad movies and call them “the worst.” I was recently on a podcast with Fatguy at the Movie Kevin Carr, where he and I finished talking about all the hyperbole in movie reviews, which he immediately followed up by saying Project X was literally the worst film he ever saw.
Listen, until you’ve seen Night of the Leben Tod or Terror Toons you haven’t seen the worst film ever.
If it made it into theaters, it probably can’t possibly come close to being called the worst film ever. But those are attention getting. Sure, we don’t get put on the DVD cover art for calling a film a massive, stinking, pile of excrement, but we attract readers with flashy headlines and black or white stances films. It’s either great or it’s shit. It’s the best or the worst. It’s the scariest or the fucking stupidest.
V/H/S, the upcoming horror anthology, when it first filmed, was widely called the “scariest” or best and was said to be this, that, and the other thing. I held my breath and waited for more people to see it, and sure enough, things eventually leveled out. But the first words when people ran out of the theater need to be THE BEST or IT STINKS to get the most attention. No one really wants to read a review that screams It was pretty good for the most part or I didn’t like it much because it was slow in the middle!
Words like best, greatest, scariest and their ilk are powerful. They are meant to denote the absolute. The top. Not even the top 1%. They basically represent the top 0%, because there is nothing better when you use words like this.
We need to back away from hyperbole, from black and white, and accept the gray. Not all movies are perfect, in fact, the vast majority are not. There is nothing wrong with being good. Being good is the same as being cute. Being cute is not being beautiful, sexy, or stunning, but I’m more than happy to spend an evening with a cute girl. I’ll even take her home to mom, sometimes.
I would have enjoyed The Raid: Redemption a lot more if I had gone in with normalized expectations. Seeing and getting excited for trailers is normal. Hearing positive reviews is normal. Hearing a variety of views is normal. Expecting things from a great director is normal. All of these things can heighten our expectations to naturally high levels. That is normal.
What is not normal is the poetic and hyperbolic license that has become the norm in movie reviewing. Every month there is a new best or scariest. Either filmmaking is rapidly growing and become better and better with every movie released, or something has gone wrong in the world of review.
Personally, I’m backing off of trailers and reviews of movies I want to see. I no longer want to go in with heightened expectations. I want to go watch a movie, not judge a movie to see if it lives up to the hype. If, after a few weeks of release, the positivity is still there, then we know the movie is something special. However, as it will likely fade and normalize to an average review, we’ll know there was unnecessary, attention grabbing hype around it.
So to anyone who has ever read one of the few examples of my writing, which I pointed out above, where I let a desire for a quote drive my writing to excess, I apologize. I readily admit to on at least the Friday the 13th occasion that I went hunting for the quote. I don’t normally. Sometimes it happens, most often it doesn’t. When a film gets us excited, we should use a lot of great words to describe it – but we need to be sure those words are measured and true.
Often it’s necessary to take a minute and relax. Let the movie gestate. Think on it a bit more before you instantize your reaction to the internet. Words have power. We’re abusing that power. We’re pounding average films into the ground on one hand, calling them utter shit, while elevating different average-to-good films to paragon status. Let’s take a chill pill. Every time I go to see the next greatest and get disappointed, I go past my boiling point because, in general, someone stretched the truth and magnified their opinion, be it for quotes, recognition, or just to play the game. I’m okay with average. I’m okay with good. Things should be as they are. Let’s cut out the hyperbolic nonsense, people.