It’s always a tough one to discuss, the subject of critical objectivity. In an ideal world every film critic, every viewer even, would be completely objective when watching a film. But alas, there are always external forces working against us, influencing us, bringing out our subjective views. We all have likes and loathes, and we’ve all had different experiences watching movies on screens big and small.
I can’t deny that I’ve been guilty of making up my mind about certain films long before their release. I, like many others, hated THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2. I’d more-or-less decided that I wasn’t going to be on board with it months beforehand. I wasn’t bowled over by the first AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, in fact I thought it had several serious problems. Then Sony’s aggressive marketing campaign began, and I got a feeling for how excessive, cynically profiteering and soulless the whole affair was. I still hadn’t seen the film from start to finish, but I felt obliged to dislike it because of what it seemed to stand for – crass commercialism and the artificial delay of plot revelations in order to trick audiences into coming back again. Once I finally watched the film, very little changed. Would my final opinion be noticeably different if I’d lived in a bubble, ignored the bombardment of clips released to the public in addition to all news that emerged about the sub-par story Marc Webb was creating?
The same could be said for another of my most hated films of the past few years, WORLD WAR Z. I was prepared to hate it, chiefly due to the behind-the-scenes horror stories that emerged over the film’s production. It was reported that there were massive fallouts between director Marc Forster, studio executives, cast and crew, and the script was re-shaped, cut and mangled by numerous writers while the cameras were rolling. I was prepared to hate it, and I did. Would I have been able to bypass the lazy, disjointed and audience-disrespecting filmmaking completely dominated by Brad Pitt’s ego if I wasn’t aware that it wasn’t all smooth sailing on set?
On the opposite end of the scale, I heard similar bad things from the set of THE LONE RANGER. Delays and ridiculous budget escalation caused Disney to shut production down completely at one point, and the script was subject to extensive re-writes. The end product wasn’t good, but it was…fine. American critics seem to have received this particular one far worse than us Brits, and I can’t really defend Gore Verbinsky/Johnny Depp’s end product with any real passion. It was an energetic romp, and nowhere near as bad on a technical level as some across the pond made it out to be, but it was culturally insensitive and for a family film, thematically offensive. I might have been more forgiving, less determined to spot the flaws if I wasn’t expecting something dreadful, but I was still pleased to just not be bored, and to be able to enjoy the indulgent, truly ridiculous action sequences.
Sometimes you are pleasantly surprised precisely because a film receives a critical panning, or you hear of production problems like last-minute recasting and rewrites, studio interference and bad blood behind the camera. Going back a fair way, some films considered the greatest ever made (like APOCALYPSE NOW) seemed like a mess right up until release. But then again, before the turn of the 21st Century, we didn’t live in a world driven and dominated by multimedia. We will never again live in a world where secrets don’t leak from sets and studio meetings, though JJ Abrams is certainly trying to make it that way (and not making friends among journalists or audiences while he’s at it).
I guess if we’re determined to rip apart a movie long before seeing it, actively resisting being swept up in a story for one or more reasons, then your opinion can be warped. At the same time, if you prepare for the worst, you’ll rarely be disappointed, and when something surprises you it can be unexpected and wonderful. Personally, I’m probably a bit too nice to be a film critic. Apart from the examples above, I try my utmost to not condemn a film before I see it, I try to remain open-minded wherever possible. For my money, there are far more middle-of-the road films than outright good or bad ones, but when I like a film I tend to adore it, and when I dislike a film, I tend to detest it.
Having a preemptive opinion about something shouldn’t – if you’re a balanced and fair critic, at least – seal the fate of a film in your eyes. It might colour your final perspective, but it makes unexpectedly good viewing experiences all the better, and allows you to be all the more smug about your ability to read the signs when something turns out to be just as bad, or worse, than you imagined. SSP