Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Brett Ratner says Rotten Tomatoes is killing cinema

Well, he ought to know. Ha ha ha!

Sat, Mar 25, 2017, 22:54


Over the last few days, I have had an amusing Twitter battle with fans of DC comics adaptations. Here’s what happened. Mildly impressed by the Power Rangers film, I mentioned, on that platform, that it was probably better than any recent DC release. This honestly didn’t strike me as a particularly controversial view. After all, what sentient being stands up for Batman Vs Superman or Suicide Squad? Indeed, pondering my star ratings (of which more anon) for DC releases, I discover I haven’t given any of those more than the three I awarded to Power Rangers. So, I’m not just yanking your chain. Anyway, this dragged a lot of angry trolls from their cave. The most common complaint directed against me was, bizarrely, that I was just looking for attention. The only logical response to this was: well, if so, I’m getting it — from you. Nobody else is much bothered.

I begin thus as a way of introducing another argument about Rotten Tomatoes. The DC fanatics have long argued that the review aggregator site was biased against those films and in favour of Marvel adaptations. There have even been hilarious suggestions that Disney, owner of Marvel, bribed critics. Wrapped around this paranoia, are frequent plaintiff whinges that people pay too much attention to Rotten Tomatoes. Who pays too much attention? The average moviegoer has no idea what the bloody thing is. The people who pay by far the most attention are those complaining about it. This is classic echo-chamber stuff. If Rotten Tomatoes (or reviewers in general) really affected attendances at blockbusters then the likes of Suicide Squad would open poorly and, perhaps, pick up business when word got around that the critics were crooks. The reverse happens. Such films open with huge figures and then plummet when punters reveal their true awfulness.

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Anyway, we now belatedly get to the meat. “The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes,” Brett Ratner, director of such films as Rush Hour and Red Dragon, commented. “I think it’s the destruction of our business. I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s about a number.”

Now, let’s be fair. I agree with some of what Ratner is saying here. The now ubiquitous star rating system for reviews is infuriating. Every critic will have experience of complaints that ask for explanation for a supposedly array rating. The explanation, of course, lies in the text. “So you think Allegedly Bad Film X is as good as Allegedly Good Film X, eh?” the missive will read. “Well, you gave both four-stars. So you must do.” Ten years after I gave four stars to the (in my view alone, apparently) undervalued Serendipity, some maniac brought that up in an attack on me. Jesus, dude. Let it go. I’ll give you suggestions of more recent bad writing by me if you really, really want. Brett is also right to suggest that the numerical rating on Rotten Tomatoes is a measure without nuance. It is probably of value at the top and the bottom of the scale. Scoring 99 percent, Get Out can reasonably be said to have very good reviews. Accruing just 10 percent, Bitter Harvest can be said to be doing badly with critics. And, ahem, the 27 percent rating for Batman Vs Superman surely does indicate a general distaste among the scribbling fraternity.

“Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’,” Ratner continued. “And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on Batman v Superman I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful.” Well, here’s the thing. That may have put a cloud over it within industry circles. It may have put a cloud over it within hardcore fan communities. But the wider mass of film-goers do not give a toss. That wider mass does not, for the most part, even know what Rotten Tomatoes is.

I’ll give Brett another suggestion for “the worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture”. What about the endless pandering to the devoted, unyielding fanbase of source material. Decades back, a film-maker could dare to rip a source apart and put it back together again in any order. Now they feel the need to be as faithful as were the Harry Potter films. That’s why Gone Girl lasted longer than the Vietnam War. That’s why The Hobbit is still playing  in my brain and will be until I die.

Pretending that Rotten Tomatoes registers with the wider film audience is part and parcel of the same mentality. It is useful (though fallible) as a tool for testing the critical waters. Otherwise, it should not be taken too seriously. You know what? Most people already don’t take it too seriously. Oh what’s the point.

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