There is usually a discrepancy between what critics think of a movie, versus what the general audiences think of the same movie. This phenomenon seems to be increasingly true. Are film critics out of touch, or are movie audiences too easily amused?
According to RottenTomatoes.com, Only 32% of critics who saw “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” liked the movie. The audience percentage was more than twice that, at 67%. Beginning the Memorial Day weekend, “The Hangover 2” was getting 33% from critics, but a whopping 94% from the general public.
“Tree of Life” just won the Palme D’Or, the highest honor bestowed at the Cannes Film Festival. Yet Entertainment Weekly reported that it was booed by the audience. Why such a disconnect?
Film critics, as a rule, are those who have been college-educated in film theory and cinematic technique. When such people see a film, they are evaluating it based on aesthetically, and academically accepted conventions such as cinematography, story, acting, continuity, pacing, and other technical aspects.
When I began film school in the Fall of 2010, my views towards films were forever altered. I can no longer just go to a movie to enjoy it, because I’m being trained to focus on lighting, shot composition, and things of that nature. I’ve noticed that the movie reviews I published before film school are a lot less brutal than those I’ve published as a film student. I didn’t use to pick up continuity mistakes as often before, but I see them all the time now.
It’s two different modes: critic mode, and moviegoer mode. People who know me understand that Johnny Depp, and Captain Jack Sparrow in particular, can do no wrong in my eyes. I’ll willingly see any film of that franchise. However, the first time I saw “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” I shredded it in my movie blog. When I went back to see it again the next day with my 7-year-old, I loved it because I wasn’t there to review it, and was free to just enjoy it. That’s the main difference between the critics and the general movie-going audience.
It is doubtful that anyone goes to a film like “The Hangover 2” because they want to bask in its profound meaning, or its cinematic brilliance. We go to that one to laugh our asses off. It depends on why you’re going to the movies. Do you go to be entertained, artistically enriched, disturbed or provoked?
The viewpoints that emerge from critic mode and moviegoer mode are sometimes difficult to negotiate. My advice is, take three to five recent movies you absolutely loved, and read multiple critical reviews of those films, and see if you can notice a trend that reveals reviewers you agree with most often. Two critics I frequently agree with are Peter Travers and Roger Ebert (though, Ebert has mellowed significantly in recent years).
If you want to rely on professional film reviews, go to the reviewers whose opinions you’ve found match yours most often. If you’re someone who doesn’t care a lot about actual technique as a film school person might, seek the opinions of friends, family, or more informal movie blogs.
In any case, it’s not that film critics are out of touch. It’s that there is a separate list of rules they are operating under, which most people don’t think about when they’re going to theaters primarily for entertainment. Audience standards tend to be more in line with whether we got enough entertainment for our money.