SDCC '18: I Told Leonard Maltin He Was Wrong, and He Gleefully Accepted the Assault

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500 Comic-Con attendees were awarded the opportunity to attack Leonard Maltin for his opinions, and the result was a lovely conversation celebrating cinema.

It takes guts to sit in front of a Comic-Con crowd and tell them that The Dark Knight is simply not a good movie. Well, correct that, it takes guts to sit in front of a Comic-Con crowd and get attacked for a review you wrote a decade earlier. Ladies and gentlemen, Leonard Maltin, has more fortitude than most.

On day one of the world’s largest and arguably most successful pop culture gathering, Maltin and his daughter Jessie hosted a panel titled “You’re Wrong Leonard Maltin.” The idea being that social media has transformed everyone into a critic, but rather than anonymously snipe your gripes from Twitter, the Maltin on Movies duo were willing to have a face-to-face confrontation, or better yet, a conversation.

Leonard set the rules before inviting a herd of zealous opinions to spew into the mic. This was not an excuse to get mean. Kindness was the word of the hour. He was happy to accept our challenges but did not want this experiment to evolve into a rage-war. Film is subjective after all, and an opinion is just that. Like assholes, we all got ‘em, but let’s keep them presentable if we’re going to parade them out in public.

Before shots got fired, Leonard started the proceedings by quoting the recently passed Harlan Ellison, “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” If you’re going to open your mouth, make sure you’ve done your research. Back your arguments with thought, prick up your ears and allow yourself to listen to the opposing view.

Speak your passion, exorcise your demons, and move on. There is no reason to transform The Last Jedi into a lifetime caught in combat. Cinema is not a battlefield; it’s a dialogue offered to the audience. While it is easy to let that discourse run wild, the trick is remembering that enthusiasm originally stemmed from a joyful station.

The first confrontation certainly tested the audience’s ability to remain civil. Friend of the family, and co-host of the Film Threat podcast, Anthony Bench gripped the microphone as if he was about to launch into an epic rock opera. He complemented Leonard on his wealth of knowledge, but then brought up “the one issue I have with you, sir. Your two-star review of The Dark Knight.

A roar of boos erupted from the crowd. Yeah, yeah, yeah, art is subjective and all that, but we’re talking The Dark Knight here. The Christopher Nolan film is universally regarded as a pinnacle in superhero cinema. Comparisons to The Godfather and Michael Mann’s Heat are frequently uttered alongside Christian Bale’s caped crusader, and few would contest its placement within the hallowed halls of the San Diego Convention Center.

Leonard is not one to let the consensus sway him. He smiled at the barrage of disgust directed his way and gave a little chuckle. Then he dropped the second bomb, “I find, in general, I don’t like Christopher Nolan. I respect him enormously; he’s an incredibly skilled filmmaker. No question about that…I find him too self-serious and ponderous.”

Jessie reminded him that he had called the Joker a terrorist after his first watch of the The Dark Knight, and that wasn’t a version of the character he wanted to live with for two plus hours. Leonard misses the Adam West iteration, that’s his jam. So, knowing this, the two-starred review aligns with his review.

The audience listened, many shook their head, but Leonard Maltin survived his most controversial hot take of the day. I took confidence in this exchange. Comic-Con is not the faceless void of the Internet. Here we can come to debate face-to-face.

The time had come to make my case for John Carpenter’s The Thing, another much-beloved film that received a Maltin shrug of two stars. With a modern era edition of the Leonard Maltin Movie Guide latched into my hand, I approached the mic with confidence. I assured him that “My comments come from a place of love,” and despite his objections for comparing one film review against another (you disliked The Dark Knight, but you loved Ant-Man and the Wasp???), I came packing both the ’82 review and the 2011 two-and-half-stars review of The Thing prequel.

The heart of my question could be boiled down to

Here is our exchange:

What brought the prequel that half a star up from the original film?

Leonard: I’m going to be completely honest with you. I don’t remember.

Can I refresh? I have both reviews here.

Jessie: Yeah, read the book.

Your original review of The Thing ends with ‘it’s more faithful to the original short story (by John W. Campbell), but a nonstop parade of slimy, repulsive special effects turns this into a freak show and drowns most of the suspense.’ Then in the prequel review, it states, ‘conceived as a prequel to the 1982 version, this isn’t completely unsuccessful, but the plentiful CGI visual effects can’t compare to the graphic horrors of the ’82 movie.’

Leonard: I think the real case there is a mea culpa. Bad editing. As you surely know, I did not write every review. I always had a team of writers on the book…I think, in this case, I wrote the review of the remake, and the late Bill Warren, the vastly respected genre specialist wrote the review of the prequel, but I should have looked at them side by side. Obviously, that slipped me.

Jessie: Do you feel better?

I feel great.

And I do! Maybe that was not the debate I was expecting to have, but how can you not appreciate Leonard’s level of honesty. The man has made a business out of his opinion, and he has gathered a loyal fan base that looks to his point of view for direction.

Leonard is a trusted voice. More importantly, he does not create borders around that voice. Sitting at the front of Room 24ABC in San Diego, Leonard prostrated before us, accepting our jabs and reveling in the resulting conversation. His opinion is no more valid or important than yours, but it may be more informed.

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Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.