Today, we broach a topic I myself struggle with.
See, we live in an era of constant film news. It’s seems there are thousands of websites churning out information on various aspects of a film’s development. If you are excited about a film that’s coming out next year, chances are you can find pages strewn across the Internet detailing everything from choosing the director, script development, greenlighting, casting, spy set photos, official production stills, set visits and post-production diaries, all available months before the film is released.
I’m the type of guy who eats this kind of information up. I love following the various steps my favorite flicks take on their way to the big screen. I can still remember gleefully hopping on the Internet at my college over a decade ago and following the casting of Ewan MacGregor and Natalie Portman in Star Wars: Episode I more than a decade ago. Being in the know is a fun, film-geeky thing to do, right?
Well, I’m becoming less certain.
It started for me last year with the release of Green Lantern. That character and the Flash are my favorite DC Universe characters so I was excited to see ring-slinging on the big screen. Martin Campbell? Good choice. Ryan Reynolds? Perfect for the heroic bravura of Hal Jordan. Mark Strong as Sinestro? Good god yes.
Then the first trailer came out. And sites started reporting that the special effects were a problem and they were releasing things before they should. And the script has problems. And the studio is interfering.
Finally, the film is released and the consensus? It sucked. Mark Strong is great. Ryan Reynolds does his best, but… The effects are terrible and the script needed work.
Now, the reality for me was I thought it was okay. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t the crime against humanity that some made it out to be.
My bigger concern though was I was starting to see the narrative of how good or bad a film was months before it was released. And the reviews seemed to confirm all of the things people were hearing.
I feel like we are seeing this more and more. Earlier this year, the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer released a longform trailer for their ambitious time–spanning drama Cloud Atlas. While some seemed to like it, the general consensus was it seemed too long and Tom Hanks looked weird in parts.
Lo and behold, when the film was released, it received a similar criticism. Most cited its length as a problem, while the similarly long The Dark Knight Rises seemed immune to that criticism (we’ll have to see about Django Unchained next week).
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey followed a similar pattern as Green Lantern. Excitement over casting. Mixed reaction to Peter Jackson stepping back into Middle Earth after Guillermo del Toro dropped out. Early complaints about 48 frames per second presentations. Concern about stretching one book and the Tolkien appendices into not two, but three films.
Then the reviews follow that. Martin Freeman is a perfect Bilbo. Jackson is not doing anything new. High frame rate projection is distracting. It’s bloated and stretched out.
The questions I struggle with are: when does the review start for writers? Does it begin when they walk into a theater? Are they carrying expectations into a theater based on the word of mouth and looking for the moments that justify what they’ve heard going in? Or is it more the case that the early reporting, the excitement or trepidation, is accurate and the film ultimately reflects that.
What say you readers? You follow this and a number of other blogs. How much do marketing and film culture shape the narrative of what a film is before the release? How much of a review is written either consciously or subconsciously before the writer ever sets foot in a theater? Are news and reviews inextricably linked at this point? And does it even matter?