The Disconnect Between Audiences and Critics in Modern Cinema

By: Darius Thornton

Picture this: you have a movie you’ve been wanting to see for months. Whether the trailers intrigued you, an actor you like stars in the film, whatever the case, you wanted to go to the theater to watch it. Though, for some reason or another, you are not quite sure about it and decide to look up what critics had to say about said movie to see if it’s worth your time and money, after all, tickets are quite expensive. When you do, you find that the vast majority of them didn’t have very many good things to say about the movie and gave it bad, to downright horrible reviews. This is somewhat concerning, but you decide to trust your gut and go see it anyway, your expectations considerably lowered. Then, something strange happens: you thoroughly enjoy the movie, and, leaving the theater after two hours or so, you say to yourself, “That was pretty good, what were those critics talking about?”

This is a common occurrence, but why? This drastic difference in perspective between film critics and general audiences is nothing new. For example, Stanely Kubrick’s The Shining was panned by many critics upon its release in 1980. The film was criticized for straying too far from the brilliant source material from Stephen King’s original novel and becoming a standard, predictable horror movie that adds little to the genre. An excerpt from an original 1979 review from Variety states, “With everything to work with, director Stanley Kubrick and Jack Nicholson team up to destroy all that was so terrifying about Stephen King’s bestseller.” Despite this, audiences generally received the film well, and today, it stands as a true classic and one of the most iconic and influential horror films of all time, revered by fans and critics alike. Sometimes films are simply ahead of their time and require a few years or decades to be fully appreciated.

For a more recent example of disagreements between critics and the audience, Godzilla: King of the Monsters took to the big screen in May of this year. Rotten Tomatoes, is an online resource that gives film two scores based on composite reviews from critics and audiences alike. The critical score of a measly 41%, while the audience score stands at 83 percent. One can already tell, something isn’t adding up here. Many critics attacked the film for lacking a complex, well thought out story and relying solely on its actions scenes.”It feels like overkill,” Mike Mcgranaghan writes in his review, which gave the film two stars out of four .Too many under-developed characters populate the story, too many plot points are crammed in, the special effects are bludgeoning.” On the other side, audiences seemed to adore the film for its engaging action and visuals among the monsters, seldom even mentioning the film’s human characters or the plot.“This is a one concept plot line and on that front, it fails. When it comes to action and special effects, this film delivers,” a user, of Brendan N. ,writes in his 3.5 out of 5-star review. This sentiment is echoed by many fans, who agree that it hardly spends time building much of a plot or developing characters but argue the superb action more than makes up for that. In fact, some go as far as to say that this is what they expected and hoped for from a Godzilla film, as opposed to an abundance of screen time for human characters and a convoluted story with forced in, half-baked social commentary. Many of these, “classic monster movies” follow a similar pattern, in which the main focus and “draw” of the movie is the monster or monsters that populate, not the humans or a  compelling story. So why do critics slam films for simply sticking to the conventions of their genre and giving most of the audience, what they wanted to see?

The answer to this question may lie in the title of the job itself, “film critic”. Critics are meant to critique films as films, as opposed to spectacles. To gauge how well made they are, through storytelling, acting, visuals, narrative focus, are only a few components of what makes a film in their eyes. Sometimes, when a film seems to purposely neglect one of these factors, in favor of focusing on only a few, critics tend to review said film, harshly. Godzilla: King of the Monsters, in all its fire-breathing, lightning-shooting glory is far more concerned with being an entertaining spectacle than a truly thought-provoking, groundbreaking work of art. The vast majority of audiences expected and even actively wanted this, while critics seemed to want it to be the Citizen Kane of monster movies instead. When a movie like this September’s Rambo: Last Blood comes around with objectively awful dialogue, an all too familiar plot and mindless violence straight out of a first-person shooter, best believe critics will hate it, meanwhile audiences familiar with the Rambo series and older action movies in general, elect to “turn their brains off for a few hours” and just enjoy the gory violence that awaits, for what it is. That’s all any of this is: differing perspectives on what makes a film “great” or even “good”. If a film succeeds in what it’s trying to do, be that telling an engaging story, or giving the audience a few thrills, doesn’t that make it a good movie? It does in my book. But then again, I’m not paid to watch movies for a living.

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