Test screenings are as old as Hollywood itself, but in this age of instant reactions, that process is even more fraught for filmmakers. Before a movie is even edited or shaped by a director, a test screening can — for better or worse — create buzz about a film, even if it's not yet in the form the director intends. And you really only have to look at CinemaCon, which featured brief amounts of finished footage from upcoming films, to see the hyperbole thrown around even if it's based a small portion of the film. Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" became a worry because of it's use of 48 frames-per-second photography, while the Oscars were already being awarded to Ang Lee's "Life Of Pi." Now, one more highly anticipated movie is getting judged before well before it has been completed.
If you were on Twitter the past couple of days, you might have heard that Alfonso Cuaron's CGI-heavy, ambitious 3D sci-fi thriller "Gravity," starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, had a test screening in Los Angeles. By all accounts, there was lots of effects work still to be completed; some say nearly half the film didn't have finished visuals. And yet, opinions began to emerge anyway. "Here's something. Gravity screened in LA tonight. VERY unfinished but heard it's visually ambitious, interesting but not world-changing," Germain Lussier of /Film tweeted.
We're not sure where it emerged that "Gravity" needed to be "world-changing," and of course, even judging whether it does that or not based on a half-finished picture is ludicrous. But there are equally extreme reactions going the other way as well. " 'Gravity' is Cuaron’s masterpiece. It’s gonna be divided. Half will think it’s a self-indulgent borefest and half will think it’s amazingly brilliant," a reader enthused to Film Experience. Meanwhile, over at AICN, another reader who saw it went off about the "next level" movie, calling it a "fucking masterpiece" even though "there were lots of unrendered 3D cubes, pre-visualizations & wires."
Can we just stop the madness for a moment?
Listen, we're as stoked as the next person for "Gravity," in fact we're immensely excited, but coming down with an opinion on either side at this point is premature and a bit silly. And frankly, we just want it to be a great film — history will decide if it's a classic, a game changer, or simply just a really really good movie (and what's wrong with that?). Or maybe it won't be any of those things. However, this was a work-in-progress screening with lots of work still to be done, and who knows how the pacing, tone and shape of the movie will evolve between now and its release this fall? So maybe let's just pause until we at least get a trailer? "Gravity" arrives on November 21st and — according to the internet — it will either be the best thing ever created for human eyes in our lifetime or the worst movie ever.