The Death of the Print Critic

It’s official. The print film critic is dead. It has to be true because I read about it in Variety, or rather ironically so, on their web site.

Of course what Variety’s Anne Thompson doesn’t point out is that this has been a long time coming. In fact, some may argue that the print film critic has been dead for years, just no one has acknowledged it yet.

Over the past few months, dozens of critics from major outlets have retired or been let go. This happens largely because they can’t justify their own salaries, not when people can read 300 reviews for the same movie indexed through RottenTomatoes.com for free.

What I find hilarious about this tide of events is that Thompson is bemoaning the fact that the respectable newspaper critics can no longer push movies like Citizen Kane, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Psycho to success. (She seemed to miss the fact that these movies’ successes were from being damn good films.)

Another huge goof on Thompson’s part is to insinuate that great independent films won’t receive attention without the local print critics’ attention. This shows colossal ignorance to how films are made and marketed today. Last time I checked, the internet was the home of independent film.

In fact, internet critics have more power in getting the word out for a quality independent film than anyone else on the planet. Ever hear of this little movie called Juno? FSR’s own Neil Miller was quoted on the Fox Searchlight page for this one.

Like the dinosaur anchors on the nightly news who aren’t respected like Walter Cronkite was, print critics are whining about how no one respects their expertise and opinion. The reality is that it is their egos and pompous nature, their ability to overanalyze the cinematic and cultural significance of film that makes them out of touch with the viewing public, and the print critics are feeling it hard.

As long as there are newspapers and magazines in this world, they will run film reviews. But much of these will come from wire services and syndication. Of course, one of these days, these print outlets might just start contracting with a large review indexing site like RottenTomatoes.com to reprint their reviews. That day is probably not that far off.

After all, I can’t count how many times I hear or read someone reference RottenTomatoes as a source for online reviews. On the flip side, I can’t remember the last time I spoke with someone in town who casually reads, let alone seeks out, the opinion of our local paper’s film critic.

While web sites like Film School Rejects receive a certain amount of random traffic from odd search strings, the vast majority of our readers are not like that of a print outlet. People look at newspapers for everything from politics to gardening. Hell, some read them for the comics alone.

Film web sites exist to be about movies…. reviews, interviews, commentary, news. I doubt people looking for a better way to rid their lawn of crab grass are going to even bother with our site. That is what makes online sources for movie reviews so powerful. For example, I would bet that more people read uber-critic Roger Ebert’s reviews on RogerEbert.com than even pick up a copy of the Chicago sun Times.

The internet is not ideal for everything, but it is ideal for movie reviews. And it’s that way for two main reasons: currency and relevancy.

Hollywood will withhold screenings of movies from print critics, and they won’t be able to run a review until the Monday following the release, if at all. However, an internet critic like myself can see the film at its first showing on Friday morning (in the Eastern time zone, no less) and have the review live on the web and indexed through RottenTomatoes before anyone sees it in Los Angeles. That’s currency’s real power. And it scares the crap out of Hollywood.

Relevancy is also critical. Say you read a review in your local paper for Iron Man. You might be able to remember what the guy said about similar movies like Spider-Man and Batman Begins, but unless you are a constant reader of his work, you don’t know what he thinks about other films that you like.

The internet critic is a different story. When you read my review of Iron Man, you can index all of my reviews, relevant or not. You find out what I thought of Superman Returns, or you can see what I thought of the director’s other works, like Zathura. And even if an internet writer’s reviews aren’t all indexed on one site, a simple Google search can get that information in seconds.

It’s not that people don’t want film expertise. They just don’t want stuffy old farts telling us that we’re stupid for liking popcorn movies. In this day and age, anyone with an internet connection and a blogspot account can be a film critic, and that’s actually a good thing. That’s why we, who haven’t been properly educated in film like the dinosaurs that are drowning in the tar pits of the big dailies, are reaching an audience. We’re just a bunch of average folks who love movies and like to talk about them to anyone who will read us…

…which appears to be quite a lot of people.


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