Saturday, February 25, 2006

Woe Is Us: Critics Lament Absence Of Critics' Screenings

Lou Lumenick of the New York Post has a semi-interesting article about the rapidly increasing studio practice of hiding movies from the critics. It used to be that only the absolute cinematic dregs were held back, prompting the inevitable "Well, if they didn't show it to critics you know what that means..." argument. That's really no longer the case. It's a change that began happening last fall with "Aeon Flux." The Charlize Theron vehicle was certainly a bad movie, but it was hardly the kind of reprehensible debacle to require the studio to hide it from critics. Already this year, we've had such unscreened classics as "Grandma's Boy," "When a Stranger Calls" and, this weekend, "Madea's Family Reunion." On those movies, the studios determined that whatever audience the movies were going to have, those potential viewers didn't give a hoot what Roger Ebert, Kenneth Turan or poor Lou Lemenick had to say. It's tough to argue. If you look, you'll see that only "Grandma's Boy" wasn't an unqualified hit.

Unfortunately, Lumenick undermines his entire point with this sentence " 'Doogal' and 'Madea' are joining a growing number of wide releases that are skipping the customary critics' screenings, much to the dismay of consumers looking for opening-day guidance."

Yes. I know the guy has to justify his reason for existing (and, if I'm being honest, my own reason for existing), but if you're going to claim consumer dismay, you've really gotta find a "consumer" willing to go on the record to express the unbridled confusion that the absence of a "Doogal" review caused in their life. Oh those poor consumers!

You'll notice, interestingly, that despite the absence of critics' screenings, I had my "Grandma's Boy," "Stranger" and "Madea" reviews up the morning of the movies' release anyway. The trick is although studios have learned that reviews just aren't good press for some movies, celebrity puff pieces are always decent publicity. Those three films all had limited junkets and the movies were screened for reporters before the junkets. The duality of my job is that I'm willing to do the necessary profiles and features when I go to a junket, but I also review the movies. They're different hats, but I need the Critic Hat to stay sane if I'm also wearing the Junketeer Hat.

Anyway, expect the absence of critics' screenings to be an ongoing trend. Sigh.

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