Every Thursday morning on 612ABC Brisbane radio, I review two new release movies in detail. It’s one of the fun parts of my week (despite having to get up at 5:50am).
The trick is making sure that I get to at least two previews prior to doing my show. Often it’s not a problem but if a few other parts of my life overlap, it can be tough.
That situation presented itself for my show on Thursday, 21 October 2010. I had planned ahead and realised there were just three new releases – Summer Coda, Life As We Know It and Paranormal Activity 2.
I’d seen Summer Coda but I wasn’t able to make the preview for Life As We Know It. This just left Paranormal Activity 2. I shot an email to Paramount in Australia to find out about preview screenings. Alas, there were none.
The friendly folk at Paramount advised that “the film makers have been super sneaky on all aspects of this film, and they have decided not to hold any media screenings prior to release to avoid any possible plot leaks.”
I’d usually be suspicious. When a film isn’t previewed for the media/critics, it’s often because it stinks and they don’t want bad press getting out. I didn’t think that was the case here. Given the success of the original film (which I loved), I understood why they might want to keep the plot under wraps.
Lucky for me, the film was opening on Wednesday night here in Brisbane. I could go along with the regular paying crowd, quickly write up a review and then be ready for my 612ABC show on Thursday morning. So I booked my tickets to a 7pm screening at Event Cinemas Chermside on 20 October 2010.
The day before the screening, I logged into the Rotten Tomatoes website to see if any early reviews had appeared. There were none. For those that don’t know, Rotten Tomatoes is a website which collates the reviews of the world’s leading film critics. Each one has to provide a quote from their review and label the movie as “fresh” or “rotten”.
On seeing no reviews, a thought went through my mind. Perhaps I could be the first person to post a review for Paranormal Activity 2. Given that (1) the film wasn’t going to be released in the U.S. until the Friday, and (2) the preview ban appeared to be worldwide, it looked like I’d have that chance.
It’s usually the popular critics like Peter Travers (Rolling Stone) who get to see films first and help spread the word. When Travers called The Social Network “the movie of the year” back in August, it nabbed our attention very, very quickly. Travers was also first out of the blocks with his big thumbs up for Inception.
I figured this would be my one-and-only chance to emulate Travers and post the first review of a movie. I’d have a monopoly on the market. :)
That’s pretty much it panned out. I posted my review at 10:20pm on Wednesday, 20 October 2010 and uploaded a quote on the Rotten Tomatoes website. I was the first. I was on the fence regarding whether the movie should be classed as “fresh” or “rotten” given there were parts I liked and parts I didn’t like. I ended up going with “rotten” as I did feel disappointed on leaving the cinema. My grading was a B- and you can read my full review by clicking here.
When I awoke the next morning just before 6am, I switched on my computer to quickly check my emails. I turns out my review had made quite an impact. It had received over 1,000 hits inside of 8 hours. It had inspired a flood of comments on the Rotten Tomatoes website. What I couldn’t believe was an email that I’d received from the site moderators at Rotten Tomatoes.
They told me that my review had “attracted an inordinate amount of scrutiny -- particularly from the people at Paramount here in the US”. They were looking to clarify my “rotten” grading. Having read the review, Paramount felt that the tone was more “fresh”. I explained my rationale above to Rotten Tomatoes (who were very polite) and they passed my feedback on to Paramount.
My first reaction was one of shock. My review had raised the attention of Paramount in the United States? Wow. It makes a compelling argument against those who think film criticism is dead. Paramount seemed worried that my “rotten” grade would affect business.
Later that day, I received an email from the Writers Guild of America. They asked that I change the names of the screenwriters in my review. I’d pulled the information from the IMDB (as I do for all my reviews) but it turns out the IMDB wasn’t up to date. There were two additional writers and I altered my review accordingly.
Once again, I couldn’t believe it. My review really was attracting an “inordinate amount of scrutiny”. I wasn’t perturbed in anyway. This was fun. I couldn’t wait to tell people at work.
The real delight came in seeing some of the comments that were posted about my review by the public on Rotten Tomatoes. When you’re the only review out there, the sharks will feed. I had over 3,000 hits (a lot for me) inside of 24 hours. A few people were critical early about why I’d given the film a B- and yet a “rotten” rating. They felt that a B- was a positive result. I thought it important to set the record straight and so I posted…
“As the reviewer, I'm happy to comment on the grade. I use a scale from A+ (equivalent to 5 stars) to C- (equivalent to 1 star). Anything from A+ to B is fresh. Anything from B- to C- is rotten. This was a marginal call (parts of the film I liked, parts I didn't like) but I went with a B- (aka rotten). Haven't gone into too much detail why in the review so as not to spoil certain plot twists.”
That only added fuel to the fire. You can read all the comments by clicking here but below is a sample of what was posted…
“Seriously, how is a "B-" considered a Negative review? Come again?”
“What the hell? This isn't a negative review. F*** you rotten tomatoes”
“How in the world can a freaking "B-" not exactly be considered at least a "good" review Jeremy? Infact it should be a great review! Wow, you're so naive! You can't deny the fact that the reviewers rating scale is completely screwed up (not to use the F word).”
“The fact that this guy uses an A-C grading scale? well, i don't think i need to explain the fact that he's 8 kinds of retarded.”
“That grading system makes no sense. Just saying. Seems like an attempt to differentiate yourself from other reviews rather than using logic. Sure - A+ = 5 stars, but a C- = 1 star?? What the heck would an F be? Negative stars”
“At no stage will it ever be OK to have a B- play the equivalent of a C grading. It is illogical, and, as someone indicated before, possibly an attempt to obtain differentiation/a niche from other reviewers.”
“That is just completely absurd as a system, like what purpose does it serve but to confuse people (not due to a lack of intellect, but a pointless deviation from accepted norms relative to grading)? Just use A - E and you won't have all the confusion and backlash. This is the first and probably only system whereby a B- is around middle-ground, and there is a very good reason for that. It's ridiculous.”
“So it looks to me that Matthew Toomey seems to be the only so called "critic" to dislike the film. Every other critic thinks differently. Hmmmm... there are only 5 reviews posted right now. FAIL! troll”
“The fact of the matter is that every other critic is hailing the film while this douche with the f*cked up rating scale thinks differently. And funny thing is that he didn't dislike it, as he pointed out above.”
It was nice to see a few coming to my defence though…
“Are we all going to sit here and argue about a score that ONE person made? seriously guys, learn to care about only your opinion but respect others.”
“You are a brave man to post on here and expose yourself to the hateful venom sure to come your way from people who haven't seen the movie yet know you are "wrong".”
“Okay this argument is really stupid. The important thing really isn't the grade, it's the review. If Matthew thought this film is "rotten" then so be it. It really doesn't matter how he grades it, whether it's a B- or a 6/10 or a 425/800, his review should speak for itself.”
“No, it's doesn't destroy the integrity of his review. His review is full of things called "words" which firmly establish his stance on the movie. The grading system is irrelevant, and only nit-picking trolls like yourself (who probably ran catering for the film, am I right) could possibly see an advantage in getting upset over it. Get a life.”
“You guys always find something to complain about. Are you happy that this is how you spend your time?”
“I just read all the comments. Sometimes I come onto Rotten Tomatoes just for this. :P”
“I wasn't surprised, not at all, to see the glut of immature posts here by a number of individuals complaining about the nuts and bolts of how this specific critic rates movies. Then they take it a step further in trying to tell this critic that he needs to change his rating system to what they want to be.
Next argument: what's the best ice cream flavor and why everyone else is wrong.”
“Rotten Tomatoes: The place where every negative review that's goes against your opinion is wrong, and every movie you like should have 100% positive approval.”
I’m not at all offended by the comments. As I hinted at above, it’s great just to see the debate. Two opinions are seldom the same and that’s why I enjoy talking about movies. The only thing better than agreeing about a movie… is disagreeing.
I realise some may find my grading scale foolish but I’ve been using it since 1996 and have no plans to change. It’s just my style. I think some of those who posted on Rotten Tomatoes are just jealous that they didn’t have me as their English teacher (with my soft grading scale). :)
For the record, Paranormal Activity 2 currently has 61% approval from the 103 critics who have posted so far on Rotten Tomatoes. Considering the original film scored 82%, it seems a few more people felt down this time around.
And that’s my two cents.