PORTLAND — A few weeks ago, I wrote some public comments for the executives at Paramount Studios.
They decided not to screen G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra for the press and — outside of a few Internet critics — let you decide about the movie without the influence of critics.
The reason had to do with the negative reviews — and sometimes even trashing — of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. And I can understand the grief it must have caused studio execs that have walked to the bank and deposited $401,485,000, and we’re not even close to the cash that will come in when it appears on DVD.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is the biggest grossing movie of the year and has far outdistanced the competition. The irony is that G.I. Joe appeals to the same crowd, 20-somethings who grew up loving TV’s animated after-school adventure. To date, it has done a respectable $146,190,000.
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When I first became a critic, most of the movies I saw were at local theaters. The reviews ran a week late. I was given a pass by what was then Cineplex-Odeon, which was bought by Act III and then by Regal Cinemas. The studio execs continue to send me a pass every year, for which I am eternally grateful because it allows me to catch the films I am not able to screen.
My first conversations with the theater reps in 1992 and 1993 when I first got going were interesting. The theaters like the reviews. They don’t care a whit if they are positive or negative. Publicity is publicity.
The theater chains also recognize that people read critics and will see the movies regardless of whether a Gary Wolcott likes it or not. Some of you can’t wait to get a ticket if I pan a movie. Others who tend to agree with me still buy tickets because they want to see for themselves and derive their own opinion of a movie.
The point being: the reviews of a critic are an important — and inexpensive, I might add — cog in the publicity scheme for any film. My column in the Tri-City Herald's A&E tab each Friday is one of the most popular and most read features in the paper. This online blog has been the most accessed link on atomictown.com.
You are reading this, but I hope the studio reps that I deal with on a regular basis read this, too and pass it on to the studio executives. And I write it post because this week there were three movies that missed the newspaper and missed this site because they were screened too late for me to write a review. Fame ran on Wednesday, the same night as the excellent Zombieland screened and I had to make a choice.
On Thursday night, both Pandorum and Surrogates were seen, also too late for me to do anything with them. They may do OK at the box office since nothing else is opening this week to give them competition, but they would do better if they had the added weight of being screened by local movie critics.
Yes, the studios make sure a Roger Ebert or the guy from Rolling Stone or the New York Times gets to see these. But how many readers of the Tri-City Herald read these publications or go to their Web sites?
Here’s another example — Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad By Myself. It was the No. 1 movie a couple of weeks ago. Perry never screens them. Though they do fairly well, they don’t do as well as they could. I Can Do Bad has taken in $37,800,000. That’s it. This is a franchise that could do triple that with more publicity.
And again, screening for local movie critics isn’t that expensive. You spend $100,000 to make several million. It’s a no-brainer.
Here’s the point. Studio execs, this Web site has value to the people of the Tri-Cities. The reviews I have done for the past 17 years mean something to the readers of this site and the newspaper. The people of the Tri-Cities want to read their own critic, not Roger Ebert. You are missing a vital and important marketing tool.
And by the way, while newspapers all over the nation are whacking down their film critic departments or eliminating them altogether, this publication has kept me and added Ed Robertson's column "The Critic of Pure Reason." We’re investing in the analysis of your products in spite of the fact that most studios and theater chains quit advertising in the paper.