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Does Sharing Early Screening Reactions Devalue Critics?

Does Sharing Early Screening Reactions Devalue Critics?

It’s not uncommon to hear ecstatic reactions out of any early screening of a major film, but there’s arguably a downside to giving it much notice. HitFix’s Kristopher Tapley reported early reactions on Paul Thomas Anderson’s much-anticipated "Inherent Vice" from those who have already seen it, all of which were highly favorable. The Film Stage then picked up the report in a news roundup and, naturally, sent it out on Twitter. But film critic David Ehrlich had two cents to throw in on why maybe it’s not such a great idea to share.

I’m of two minds on this: on one hand, I have a lot of respect for HitFix and The Film Stage in general and Tapley in particular, and as overheated as a lot of Oscar prognostication gets, it’s hardly out of the question to devote some space to it. And while I’m more eager to listen to writers I respect than the general public or Hollywood insiders, ignoring those groups completely risks cultural myopia.

On the other hand, first reactions to screenings of highly anticipated films usually verge on the rapturous, whether it’s "Django Unchained," "Saving Mr. Banks" or "Guardians of the Galaxy." Some of these can’t be helped: Scour any message board on reddit for more than a few negative opinions on new superhero movies and you’ll be looking all day. It’s when we get to ostensibly serious films that the rush to get any scoop on whether the film’s critical, audience or Oscar chances are good becomes counterproductive.

The value of critics is that they help shape conversations about new movies into something constructive, beyond mere pronouncements of "good" and "bad" and into more thoughtful evaluations from other writers and audiences. The best reviews, even at their most effusive, avoid hyperbole and evaluate what the film says in isolation, in a director’s career, in relation to other films that year, and so on. By contrast, random screening reactions are all hyperbole, "it’s one of the films I’ve seen in years" or "I’ve never seen anything like it." It starts a conversation before anything meaningful can be said about the work, and all of the sudden the question isn’t whether or not the film is good or what it’s about, but that it’s a masterpiece right out of the gate or and it’s going to earn x Oscar nominations (which always goes well). Suddenly any actual questions about the film are marginalized.

So maybe it’s best to err on the side of temperance when it comes to taking heed of any of these. Or maybe this is all just me getting in a huff that there are people who have already seen the new Paul Thomas Anderson movie, the stupid jerks.

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Just as film reviewers are frequently guilty of gassing up middling efforts due to partiality toward a director, relief at a film being superficially different (pace, tone, texture, aesthetic) from common blockbusters or whatever, many random internet people are fully capable of giving an intuitive opinion about the value of a film without the ghouls of pretension or professional timidity directing their response down certain avenues. That's to say, some anonymous person on IMDB or whatever might watch something like The Master and appreciate its visual merits and certain aspects of its performances, but feel a fundamental lack of engagement due to the rickety overall conception of the film, and because they feel no compunction about giving an indifferent or negative response to a work by an acclaimed filmmaker, offer an immediate and more judicious evaluation than your average LAFCA member. Their writing may not be up to any decent standard, but let's not pretend most film critics aren't generally themselves nearer to internet commentators in penetration and insight than to a still non-existent Kael/Bordwell-hybrid who actually evaluates rather than just describes.


"The value of critics is that they help shape conversations about new movies into something constructive, beyond mere pronouncements of "good" and "bad" and into more thoughtful evaluations from other writers and audiences."

This assumes that people are unwilling to develop their own thoughts on a particular film. If people would like to seek out these "thoughtful evaluation from other writers and audiences then chances are phrases like "I've never seen anything like" will not satisfy their needs for an intelligent discussion about the film.


The problem with most awards prognostication is that people fail to acknowledge where a particular film or performance fits into the larger race. Like the article you linked to (Gold Derby's 7 Oscar noms for Rush), the general public and critics alike tend to see something they like and because it has awards merits feel the need to say that it abolsutely 100% without a doubt will garner the nominations. Rush is a GREAT example of something that could have scored some key nominations had the 2013/14 race not been so packed.

Likewise, writers/critics/the early screening public have to take into consideration where something like Inherent Vice will fit into the 2014/15 season. If it's a little "wacky" and "weird," do we really think that The Academy will give a slot to more than one film of this type–assuming that Birdman and Big Eyes are contenders in the same categories as Inherent Vice and have just as much chance of being wacky and weird.


Fanboys like those guys just pick up on every little whisper from the corners of the internet. Reeks of desperation.

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