Let’s do a quick poll, shall we? How many of you base your decision to watch a movie at a theatre or catch a film on TV based on movie reviews? Most certainly, many of you. If the movie isn’t something as keenly anticipated as Spiderman (one of cinema history’s top grossing films) or as highly publicized (The Social Network) you would take a minute to surf your favorite film review site and check out what the critic and audience communities have to say on the next blockbuster or the latest Friday Release.
While we have veterans such as A.O. Scott from N.Y. Times giving us an unhurried view of the big screen flick, digital culture has shifted the axis of power and influence in the hands of online voters. The majority users of film review sites prefer Voting, Polls, Percentile Response, Star Ratings, Facebook Likes and the iconic thumbs up or thumbs down sign? It’s quick, doesn’t take effort or deeper analysis on the part of the audience reviewer, and breaks down the movie going experience to something quite simple – either you liked a film or you didn’t! It’s not rocket science!
It’s not big deal really, unless you think of the long term consequences of entire generations of movie going audience in the future basing their decisions to see a film based on a Facebook Like percentile graphic or a rate-o-meter poll. Simply put, no film, no matter how well-crafted, star-studded or technically proficient enough to win an Oscar can satisfy all sections of the movie-going masses. There will be elements within each film which doesn’t meet the approval of many cinema-goers. Background score might disappoint in a movie with an otherwise brilliant star cast, cinematography and director. How do you coalesce all these complicated and technical details and reduce it to a simple ‘Like’?
I guess what the academicians are saying about ‘shorter attention spans on the Internet’ is true (Excellent articles on short attention spans on Time magazine and BBC Online). When there is so much to catch up with – news, views, information, breaking news, opinion and editorial pieces, feature articles, commentaries, video interviews, analytical and research documents, where is the time to read a six-column NYTimes-page sized movie review?
It doesn’t bode too well for those of us who are trying to make a career out of writing thesis-length reviews on lifestyle, trends, technology, fashion or art. If it’s all going to boil down to a thumbs up or down, or random users choosing three, four or five stars for the contents of the article and its object of opinion, why would a review matter in the long run? If the overpowering public opinion sinks a film to 20% popular, why would anyone be curious to click and see a detailed review?
Of course, the same can’t be said for all opinion pieces or analysis. Although our attention spans are getting shorter, features and commentaries keep getting produced and pressed at alarmingly large numbers. So, the more net users flit from one article to the next, never fully appropriating the essence of theories and analysis purported therein, the more news reams get produced in a knee-jerk syndrome to capture more eyeballs. Ironic? It’s cyberculture.
Would you hold stock in my hypothesis? When was the last time you took time out to read a film review and pursue a cinematic experience based on that? Would love to hear from you film lovers!
– Nilofar Ansher