When criticism becomes reverse-fanboyism

by Paul William Tenny

I'll admit that I was pretty harsh on Frank Miller for pushing crap like The Spirit and reportedly Buck Rogers rather than spending time on more deserving projects like a sequel to Sin City, to the point where more than one or two flops like this could cost him the opportunity to do that sequel at all. But never in my life have I ever sunk as low as to campaign against the guy's films or told people to stay away from his work in protest.

This is the worst kind of criticism that is the dark sibling of fanboyism.
Nothing about this film makes me want to go out and see it and John Campea has a point in that there have been no positive reviews published anywhere that I've seen. Variety and THR -- two industry mags that are virtually worthless when it comes to credibility because most of their advertising comes from the studios and the industry they cover -- jammed the movie into the blender so deep that their right arm is now missing up to the elbow.

THR's Kirk Honeycutt's principle complaint is that the film was perhaps a little bit too faithful to the comic/graphic novel format and ends up a poor imitation of the medium rather than a faithful adaptation of the story. Justin Chang writing for Variety says that Miller couldn't even get that right, saying that fans of the original material "won't warm to this ultra-stylized update, and fans of 'Sin City' will find it pretty weak sauce -- a soft-boiled PG-13 trifle to whet their appetites for 'Sin City 2' in 2010."

Only there won't be a Sin City 2 in 2010 if Miller can't produce a winner in 2009 after the damage The Spirit will do to his reputation as a rising star. Buck Rogers, rumored to be his next film, is a big budget disaster waiting to happen that is a world away from the familiar turf of graphic novels and pulp comics, and even then, The Spirit fits that mold and he can't even make that film work right now.

But that's as far as my problems with Miller and The Spirit go, that I think he's abusing his new found creative freedom to make some exceptionally poor choices. You can have a lot of creative talent and still be a poor helmer, just ask anyone that's even a moderate fan Star Trek. Rick Berman wrote some of my favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (Unification 1 & 2, Brothers), but I credit the man for running the franchise right into the ground on television and in the theaters.

The finales he wrote for DS9 and Voyager were simply awful, and the two most recent movies, Insurrection and Nemesis, were so bad that Paramount finally gave up up on the guy and pulled Trek from TV and handed the feature film franchise to J. J. Abrams.

He's a fine writer, and Frank Miller is a fine writer, but these aren't the guys who work best when left to their own devices.

All those issues aside, I'd never tell you not to go see a Frank Miller movie and I'd never tell you to boycott a Rick Berman Trek series. Most people understand at some subconscious level that the job of a marketer is to get you to spend money that you don't want to spend, on something that you don't want to have or see. They distort and lie and do whatever they have to do to make their product look like gold, that's their job, it's what they were born and are paid to do.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that marketers cherry pick or outright fabricate quotes from "critics" that make their movie sound like the odds-on favorite to win a Best Picture award. I mean actors are paid on a daily basis to go on screen and lie to you about who they are, and lie to you about products they never use. Why is it a surprise or such a big deal when a marketing firm ignores all the bad quotes and reviews and only hypes the good ones? Even doing just that, at least it's not a lie. Odds are that no matter how horrible a movie is, somebody somewhere is going to like it and give it a good review, and the marketer is well within their rights to use it to pass off a favorable impression.

The real problem with taking that line is that everybody does it without exception.

If you're going to rail against it, you've got to protest the industry practice of cherry picking quotes, not use it as a cheap excuse to attack a film maker or movie you've apparently got a personal grudge with.

I don't condone the practice and I'd fully support any protest against the practice generally, but you can't use it to mask contempt for Miller or this film -- that's just as dishonest as the practice of cherry picking critic's quotes is.

And for what it's worth, as much as I think any Buck Rogers flick from Miller is going to stink because it's an unworthy project -- for anyone -- I'd still give him the benefit of the doubt just as I would anyone, and let him develop and it and see where he and whoever is brought in to write it can go with it.

When I criticize The Spirit and Miller's choices from 2008-2009, at best it's concern trolling for his career, not because I have subjective criticism for the films.

This reminds me of a similar phenomena in television where someone will not just react negatively towards the direction a show is taking or decisions the producers make regarding certain characters that they do or don't like, they obsess as much as a fanboy would just in the opposite direction. They constantly troll fan forums and websites and complain incessantly about what a mistake such and such was, about how they are going to look so smart and so good when everyone wakes up and realizes what idiots the show's producers are, and generally make an ass of themselves.

All along the producers, if they are kind enough to indulge reverse fanboys at all, will point out that as much as these people "hate" the show or the direction or blah blah, these people watch the show with more vigor than the real fans do.

They make a career out of finding excuses to complain not because their criticism is valid (even when it is), but because they have the insatiable need to be right, or to have their thoughts justified by the only people whose thoughts actually matter: the producers and writers. Or, alternately, because they are simply attention whores.

Subjective matters of quality are one thing that I'll usually leave to better qualified and more opinionated blowhards. If you've got valid lines of criticism, then most people are happy to hear what you think, but don't invent excuses just to complain or to serve some agenda and need to tear somebody down.

The Internet has enough people doing that already and Frank Miller, regardless of what I or Campea think, is going to keep making movies for the foreseeable future whether we like it or not.
in Feature, Film


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