Thursday, May 19, 2016

How to Prejudge a Film

The Angry Video Game Nerd (James Rolfe) over at Cinemassacre recently released a video, passionately explaining his reasoning for not watching or reviewing the new "Ghostbusters" reboot.  On the one hand, this strikes me as pretty foolhardy - what if the movie turns out to be good?  On the other hand, I admire him for recognizing his biases.  We all have them, after all, and they do play a big part in our reactions to any film.  Whether Rolfe's particular biases reflect a troubling element of fan culture or other, more problematic issues, is something I  leave for other commentators to pick apart.  And plenty of them have.  My problem with Rolfe's stance has to do with his role as a critic.

First, let's talk about the act of prejudging films.  Pretty much everyone does this without a thought, and it's expected to some extent.  We don't expect the teenage male audience to flock to rom-coms, and we don't expect the over-60 set to have much interest in superhero flicks.  I happily ignore the vast majority of modern comedies, particularly those starring Adam Sandler and Kevin James.  I also accept the consequences of this: I can't speak to the quality of the films I haven't seen and thus have limited grounds to criticize Sandler's artistic bona fides more broadly.  I can say he makes comedies I don't tend to like, but I can't bash "The Ridiculous Six," because I haven't seen it and know very little about its particulars.  I've essentially excluded myself from any critical conversation related to the film.

And I'm okay with this.  I consider myself a pop culture and media blogger, and a critic to some extent, but not the kind of critic who writes up formal reviews on every new release and has a comprehensive knowledge of every piece of the current film landscape.  I don't have the resources for that, and frankly, it's not my job.   I have a huge amount of respect for the critics who do subject themselves to every single mainstream film, but I've found that I can write my little analysis pieces and totally avoid the conversation about the CGI "Alvin & the Chipmunks" films or the Andrew Garfield "Spider-man" films or any other features that I decide aren't worth my time.  I don't need to have an opinion on them, so my prejudging them doesn't matter one way or another.  I spend one post at the beginning of each year whining about My Least Anticipated Films that I'm never going to see, to get it all out of my system and have a little fun.  However, I also play fair and ignore them for the rest of the year.

The problem with James Rolfe's approach is that he clearly wants to stay part of this particular cultural moment.  Instead of a review of the new movie, he's delivered a "non-review," a position statement accompanied by a slew of speculation about all the ways the film seems to be going wrong.  In other circumstances this wouldn't be a problem, but in this particular case, it reflects really badly on him.  The move looks more attention-seeking than anything else and his "non-review" clearly signals that he has already taken a position on the reboot that I'm not sure he's informed enough to take.  Rolfe is supposed to be a professional critic, even though his usual subject matter is video games.  If he's going to be part of the continuing conversation about the new "Ghostbusters" - and it's already a doozy - we expect him to be informed.  Not watching the movie means that he's obligated to recuse himself from the impending debate and passing judgment on its merits.

I sympathize with Rolfe.  I really do.  I had a very similar reaction when "Avatar" was reaching peak hype levels, and decided that I was tired of all the fuss and was going to put my foot down.  And it wasn't enough that I didn't want to see the movie, but I felt that I needed to take a firm position publicly, and very seriously make my case for not seeing the movie.  Of course, I made this stand on a movie BBS forum that I frequented with other movie nerds, where I was rightly called out for just being dramatic.  And, of course, I did end up seeing "Avatar" shortly afterwards on a date.  And I was glad, because I really enjoyed talking about the film and its impact, even though I thought "Avatar" was pretty meh.

I'm not saying that James Rolfe should see the new "Ghostbusters" movie.  I'm saying that once he made this decision to not see it, he really should have just kept it to himself and stayed out of the fight.  And frankly, that goes for everyone else too.


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