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Do Critics Matter?

Do Critics Matter?

With all the 2006 hullabaloo about how film criticism was going the way of the dodo, it’s somewhat surprising that no one’s really discussing what could possibly be read as a late-year victory for the form: the successful nationwide expansion of the heavily lauded Children of Men. When J. Hoberman reviewed the film in the Village Voice he opened thusly:

”History repeats itself: 11 Decembers ago, Universal had the season’s strongest movie—a downbeat sci-fi flick freely adapted from a well-known source by a name director. With a bare minimum of advance screenings and a total absence of hype, the studio dumped it. This year, they’ve done it again.”

He’s talking about Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys (the film eventually went on to gross something like $57 million, not exactly chump change for the day), which hit theatres much wider on 1/7/96 than the 17 screens reported for the 12/25/06 open of Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. It certainly looked and sounded like a classic studio rush job—the trailer pushed to laughable excess by sloppy inclusion of Sigur Ros, a half-hearted poster, no Clive Owen appearance on The View, no TV ads anywhere in sight.

Except that, buoyed by extremely solid opening numbers, the film was on 1200 screens by its second week, and, as of yesterday, was the third-highest grossing film in the country, even though the two movies ahead of it, Night at the Museum and The Pursuit of Happyness were both showing on far more screens. A few hundred more locations have been added for this weekend, and it seems likely that Children will remain in the Top Ten. During last week’s The Office I even saw a few TV spots. Compared to the average Universal Studios release, this isn’t huge, but when most of the other well-reviewed films of 2006 have petered out (let’s look back in a few weeks and then contrast this expansion to something like Babel’s flameout), there’s a lot of room for this film to run.

Who’s responsible? I suppose critics who championed the film in those early markets could feel pretty pleased with themselves, except for the fact that Universal may well have used them all like patsies. Patsies for a good cause, but in the end, most likely played like fiddles with Universal dropping a play-action fake, no, better—a phony field-goal attempt run in for a touchdown on the wings of hyperbolic critical outrage (whether expressly voiced or sublimated into acclaim) over the injustice done to a terrific film by evil corporate masters. At least that’s my somewhat cynical take. It’ll be interesting to see how Children of Men fares over the next few weeks—there’s certainly nothing in the marketplace right now with same look and feel, and certainly nothing playing wide with as many positive reviews (84 score on metacritic.com).

Oh, we reviewed some movies over at indieWIRE, too: Coffee Date, Abduction, and God Grew Tired of Us. Check ‘em out.

For the record, I’m taking: Eagles, Chargers, Bears, and Ravens

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