In the words of Jigsaw: “I want to play a game. Do you have Kerplunk?” No, the game we’re playing is guess which movie these genuine reviews are referring to: “One of the decade’s best in the genre.” “Scariest movie of the decade.” “The greatest horror classic in a decade.” No, it’s not Diana. It is of course The Conjuring. What does that even mean? We were only three years in to the decade at this point, how could you make such an implausibly bold claim? It can’t possibly be that they believe it, because they can’t predict the future. Which means it must be one of two possibilities: Either they’re stupid and don’t understand how time works, or they’re cynical and will say anything to get a quote onto the movie poster.
Every movie poster now is emblazoned with some hyperbolic quote or other. And I’m not talking about the film’s own claims (see right), that’s just the movie PR people doing their job. What I really object to is quotes from professional critics, which read like they’re in the pay of the film company. No matter how much you like The Conjuring for some reason, calling it the “scariest movie of the decade” is so ridiculous it can only be for the purpose of poster-baiting or headline-grabbing. Because it works.
But it’s not just horror films. This poster for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is still plastered all over the London underground, seemingly just to piss me off:
The problem is when reviews stop being insightful opinion and start being sweeping statements, such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is “the new Forrest Gump.” Because, quite simply, it’s not. I’ve not seen either film, but it’s not, is it? Forrest Gump is a Best Picture Oscar winner, while Walter Mitty is a moderately well-received Ben Stiller movie. Not that the Academy Awards mean a goddamn thing, but whatever your opinion of Forrest Gump, it is a “classic”. And the quote isn’t from some crappy WordPress site, it’s from Empire, “the world’s leading movie magazine.” Mind you, that’s them saying that so it’s basically bollocks.
The brilliant Mark Kermode has recently written about the problem with posters using quotes from random Twitter users, as they’re unaccountable. But at least they’re not getting paid for their stupid opinions. As a professional critic, you surely have a responsibility to not make such dumb statements. No one pays us here at Screen Goblin, so we can say whatever absurd stuff we like. Although if anyone wants to pay us, we will say anything you want. Anything.
The thing is, it’s easy to be hyperbolic about films. We’ve all come out of a movie that’s completely blown us away, and declared “that was the best film ever” or “Arnold Schwarzenegger deserves an Oscar” or whatever. But before you write any old crap, it’s probably worth asking yourself a few questions, such as: Will this film be remembered ten years down the line? And the answer is generally no. Who knows, maybe The Secret Life of Walter Mitty will be, and maybe it will become the new Forrest Gump. It won’t, but either way, we need some time before we can make statements which veer so far from the safety of opinion. “It’s wonderful” is fine, but “the new Forrest Gump” seems too close to a claim about a film’s importance, a claim it seems irresponsible to make right now.
You can see why critics make these kinds of statements, because if they get lucky and the film they inexplicably called the “scariest movie of the decade” does become a classic in the future, they can say they knew it from the very beginning. And if they’re wrong and the film is forgotten along with 99% of them, it doesn’t matter because no one will remember their quote on the poster. It’s win-win. Well not anymore. Let’s make sure to remember these idiots and their non-opinions, so we can shame them when they’re wrong just as we praise them when they’re right. When you make a claim that can be proved wrong or right, it’s not an opinion, and it can come back to haunt you worse than The Conjuring ever did. These people have the best job in the world, so let’s make sure they do it properly.