THE POPCORN REEL EDITOR'S DESK - a weekly word about the movies                      

Monday, July 24, 2006


Just how much of an influence do film critics have on moviegoers?  In the case of two recent films, perhaps not too much.  "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" was given a generally lukewarm reception by American film critics, but so far audiences in this country and around the world have ignored the critical boo-birds.  As of this writing the Gore Verbinski-directed sequel has passed the $320 million mark after only two and a half weeks of release in North America.  The other film where audiences ignored the film critics was "The Da Vinci Code", which was a smash hit worldwide.  In the United States the Ron Howard film starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou crossed the $200 million mark within five weeks.  Much was made of the controversy regarding the way the Catholic Church was portrayed; and the critics decried the film's languid pace among other things. 

But audiences led with their wallets and pocketbooks.  This is a good thing.

The question however, is, what is the role of a film critic anyway?  To sway audiences with their opinion, or to just give an opinion?  As this film critic will tell you, it is both. 

Film critics will give an opinion -- that's obviously a given.  But the power to sway a potential viewer towards, or away from, the big screen with a movie review via a media source (online, newspaper, radio or television) reaps extra reward for both the movie critic (and his or her ego -- particularly if that critic is established and/or has a large following) and potentially for the studio money-wise, if the film is lauded by the most popular and reputable film critics in this and other countries.

The thing is, many film critics review movies with very specific checklists and ideas (story, dialogue, pacing, effects, acting) and although there is no one way to review a movie, critics generally include all the aforementioned elements (and others) in their reviews.  Audiences however, aren't necessarily looking for all of these elements to be intact when watching a film.  For example, when watching a horror film, the principal concern on an average moviegoer's mind is whether the film is scary or not.  Unless the viewer is a discerning filmgoer, the chances of watching for a checklist of criteria during a gore-fest like "Hostel" is very remote.  (The opposing point of view to counteract this argument would be the horror film "28 Days Later".  Released in 2002, it was dubbed by several film critics as "the thinking person's horror movie.")

Still, there are two films this year where audiences followed the movie critics' advice and stayed home: "Basic Instinct 2" (which was written about last week in this space), and "The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift."  Neither of these films stuck around in American theaters for more than a month before virtually disappearing in a cloud of smoke.

One other factor to be considered is that some filmgoers don't even read reviews before seeing their film of choice.  One possible reason is that they don't want to know what takes place in the film.  Some critics put spoilers  -- important information that happens in the film -- in the movie they are reviewing.  At the same time however, many potential audience members do, and want guidance from film critics before spending $7, $8, $9, or $10.50 (in some New York City theaters) on a film that may well be a turkey.

In the final analysis, critics may have power, but audiences have the cash -- and the greater numbers -- to speak loudly and vote with their wallets and pocketbooks.

Word of mouth, more than a esteemed film critic's stellar review or pan, will indeed be the final word.


Omar P.L. Moore
The Popcorn Reel