Baywatch, Pirates 5, and Blaming Critics for Failure

As studios reportedly blame Rotten Tomatoes for the low turn-outs, we look at whether critics have a case to answer...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Look, the last thing we want to do is get on the wrong side of The Rock. The wrestler turned Hollywood star, better known these days as Dwayne Johnson, has already fought everything from a giant electric eel (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) to Vin Diesel’s ego (the Fast & Furious franchise), and he’d probably hammer us into the ground like a tent peg.

Over the past few days, though, the reaction to his latest film, the action comedy remake of ’90s TV series Baywatch, appears to have made movie critics the target of his anger. “Fans LOVE the movie. Critics HATE it,” Johnson wrote on Twitter. “What a disconnect. People just want to laugh and have fun.”

Johnson isn’t the first Hollywood actor to say they made their movie “for the fans” – Ben Affleck said the same thing about Batman V Superman last year – but it seems that movie stars aren’t the only ones annoyed with film critics of late, either. As Baywatch and, in particular, the expensive action sequel Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales debuted to disappointing numbers at the box-office, Deadline reported that “Insiders close to both films blamed Rotten Tomatoes” for their respective performances.

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Pirates 5 received a less-than-glowing 32 percent score based on aggregated critics’ reviews, while Baywatch fared even more dismally, with a score of 19 percent. With both films doing worse than expended financially, there’s even talk among studios – again, according to Deadline – of either delaying screenings for critics until as late as possible, or perhaps even getting rid of them altogether.

Put all this together, and what do we have? Arguably, the perception of two competing forces: mass audiences on one hand, and snobby critics on the other. Were it not for the latter, muddying the waters with poor reviews, which in turn get compressed awkwardly into a binary score (either Fresh or not, per Rotten Tomatoes’ system), the ticket-buying public would flock to see movies like Baywatch or Pirates 9: The Legend Of Curly’s Gold.

The problem is, the modern cultural eco-system is far more complex than the “critics versus fans” mentality suggests. First, critics aren’t a Borg-like hive mind, even if sites like Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes tend to distill thousands of words of opinion and thought into a single figure or binary score. Film critics, beneath all the worldly cynicism, are just fans of the medium like everyone else; they may see things a little differently, on account of having sat in a darkened cinema watching things for a living for years on end, but the best film critics love what they do. Despite what you may have heard about studios bribing critics with promises of helicopters and private islands, the job isn’t generally well-paid or particularly glamorous. For the most part, people watch films and then write about them because they love to do so – and in many cases, couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Bear this in mind, then, when actors or even entire studios begin glowering at critics for writing negative things about their latest movie project.

Rotten Tomatoes, meanwhile, is something of a blunt instrument, but it at least serves a purpose. These days, with social media and web advertising as well as ads on TV and in the cinema, Hollywood’s biggest movies are just about ubiquitous in the run-up to release. And if you only looked at the trailers and posters, with their dramatic imagery, slogans, and star ratings, you might be forgiven for thinking that all of them are immediate classics. With the price of movie tickets being so high – and positively crippling when you think about the price of popcorn, gas, babysitters and so forth – movie-goers at least need some kind of help in choosing what to watch. Personally, I tend to seek out the reviews written by critics I trust rather than look at a fresh or rotten tomato, but I can see why simply glancing at the figures on an aggregate website can be useful when you’re in a hurry.

What movie producers may be in the process of discovering, then, is that it’s getting increasingly difficult to sell tickets to movies that are mediocre or even just a bit average. In the past, studios used all kinds of methods to attempt to control the narrative surrounding their big movies, and they’ll no doubt continue to do so – even if that means culling poster quotes from a users on Instagram, as happened with Batman V Supermans marketing last year.

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But thanks to social media, it’s becoming ever more difficult to hide negative reviews from the public gaze. Even if studios do cease screening their latest would-be blockbusters for critics – which, let’s face it, doesn’t seem likely – they still won’t be able to control audience reactions for long. Sure, they might sell a few more tickets on an all-important opening day, but if a movie isn’t all it could have been, then people are soon going to talk about it on Twitter and Facebook; reviews will still filter onto Rotten Tomatoes (albeit belatedly), and the aggregate scores will appear regardless.

On the flip-side, look at what can happen when audiences on either side of the critical fence rally around a new movie. As The Playlist points out, the glowing, early reviews for Wonder Woman are sure to get otherwise cautious movie-goers out of their armchairs and down to the local cinema. A positive reaction, whether it’s from the keyboard of a critic or an excited film fan’s smartphone, can turn a relatively small film like Get Out into a massive success. Critics have also been known to come out to bat for films that are otherwise somewhat maligned.

Maybe it’s time, then, for studios to stop wondering how they can keep critics away from their less accomplished films, and begin looking again at the projects they greenlight and how much money they spend on making them. The web means it’s easier than ever to learn about great films, whether they’re major ones, like Wonder Woman, or tiny ones, like the one-of-a-kind indie kaiju flick, Colossal. Unfortunately for studios, it’s also easier to figure out which films are best saved for DVD or maybe a sleepy watch on Sunday afternoon television. In short: if a film’s a dud, then one way or another, the truth will out.