Earlier this week, I found myself browsing the comments section of the link to the RottenTomatoes score of the new Baywatch movie and instantly regretted my decision. It still shocks me that despite RottenTomatoes existing since 1998, people still don’t understand how the site works. It is merely a collection of critical reviews that are then tallied into “Fresh” and “Rotten” scores, which provides an aggregate of what percentage of critics enjoyed the film. The 18% score for Baywatch did nothing but draw the ire of moviegoers, who lambasted the entire profession of film criticism. The usual barbs of film critics being “out of touch” and “only liking pretentious dramas” finally got to me, as I went on a mad tirade explaining how idiotic such assertions sounded. If the movie scores an 18%, then that means 18% of the critics that reviewed the film would recommend it (23 critics in total, in this case). So, if all film critics are such stuck up snobs, why is it that almost one fifth of them liked Baywatch? It’s almost as if they’re human beings with opinions of their own, perish the thought.
While there is just an element of failing to grasp the concept of RottenTomatoes at play here, the way in which general audiences choose to treat film critics demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of two things: 1. What purpose they serve and 2. Why they have to be as analytical as they are. First, I’d like to dispel the myth that film critics are magical gatekeepers to the fountain of film knowledge. They’re not old sages that hold some secret formula to understanding film on a level so deep that your brain will explode just thinking about it. A film critic is nothing more than another person with an opinion, an opinion that they are entitled to just like everybody else. The “Us Vs. Them” mentality that so many have towards film critics is problematic in that you’re essentially throwing an entire profession under the bus; a profession that has inspired many to look a little deeper into the films they enjoy and engage with them on a whole new level. The likes of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert weren’t elitists that dictated their opinions to the masses as if their word were gospel. They were national treasures who were beloved by millions, with a TV show that truly helped people to make a decision on what they wanted to see at the movies that week.
The hostility towards critics may very well stem from a form of bitterness. Many reviewers will have attended film school and engaged with the medium at an academic level, which will grant them with at least a slightly more informed opinion than your average film fan, like it or not. This doesn’t mean they’re better than you and it doesn’t stop you from enjoying the movies you like. Film critics can certainly enjoy a dumb blockbuster, if you don’t believe me, then look at the RottenTomatoes scores for Fast Five or Jurassic World. Most critics merely have a mentality of assessing what a film is trying to accomplish and whether or not it achieves that goal in a satisfying way. While film is completely subjective, if one has studied the language of film and is familiar with strong plot structure, writing, direction and the like, then I’m far more likely to listen to them over someone who just owns a lot of Blu-Rays.
This brings me onto the purpose a film critic serves, as apparently it’s a useless practice according to the people whose favourite films were savaged by someone that watches movies for a living. The fact of the matter is that for every one person that doesn’t listen to a film critic, there are multiple people who do. Just think about this logically, if nobody cared about what critics had to say, then the job wouldn’t exist. They provide a service to people who don’t consider themselves to be film savvy enough to research a movie for themselves. I work in a cinema and meet people every day who ask me what kind of reviews the film they’re going to see has received. The answer I give them often allows me to gauge what kind of expectations they then set for the film. In this exchange, I effectively become a middle man, offloading the product of a critical evaluation to a consumer, who is now more aware of what kind of a film they’re going to be watching. This is the kind of importance that a film critic serves.
But the most important thing to remember about how a critic’s opinion is formed is simple: It’s their job. A lot of people seem to forget that they have the freedom to see a movie and then say whatever they like about it without fear of repercussions. A film critic doesn’t have such a luxury. Their job is on the line every time they review a new release, they’re assessed by a superior just like everybody else. If a review is shoddily written or doesn’t provide an in-depth analysis, a critic surrenders themselves to the wrath of their editor. If a critic has established that a certain level of quality is to be expected from their work, then they stand to lose readers from a following that they have spent years of their life building up. These are people who have worked their way up the cutthroat world of journalism to get to where they are. They’ve most likely written for free on many occasions, or worked for peanuts as an unknown freelancer. Now, they find themselves in a position where their opinion is valued by thousands, if they screw up, they could be out of a job. If you don’t perform your job to an acceptable standard, then you know there’s a chance of being fired, a film critic is no different. Whether you agree with a review or not, insulting somebody’s craft is nothing short of plain disrespectful. They’re only trying to put food on the table, same as all of us, so please try to have a little perspective.