(Yes, it's been a while since I posted here, and this post is why. Huh? Well, actually, I'd entered this entire thing when some kind of browser problem made it appear that I'd lost the thing. Seemingly it was gone for good. Very frustrating, and not exactly an incentive to post here. Blogger, by comparison, seemed much more graceful in the way it auto-saved posts and recovered from almost any kind of crash or disconnect). But lo, I finally came back today to post something else, and LiveJournal asks me if I wanted to recover the post. So, I guess their software IS more forgiving of problems than I thought. It's just hidden a little more. So here's my old, unposted, post, and new stuff will follow.
Yes, there really is a function for crap-ass movies like Babylon A.D. (OK, I confess I haven't seen it, but there's a great probability that a zillion critics and viewer reviews might just be right). They help uncover a category of bottom feeder I call the "kiss-ass critic."
These are the folks, often working for second tier and smaller-city newspapers and TV stations, who provide many of the glowing pull-quotes that accompany ads for even the worst of movies, and in turn are rewarded with studio-paid gifts, press junkets, and other rewards.
Of course, not all good quotes for bad movies come from these guys (and gals).
First of all, there are some honest differences of opinion. I have to admit, there are some famously reviled movies that I've liked, or at least, liked at the time. I didn't, for instance, have a terrible time watching "Howard the Duck," because I saw it at a bargain show, in a good mood, and with low expectations. No, it hasn't held up well on repeat viewings (that animatronic duck suit looks worse every time), but Jeffrey Jones (best known as nemesis Ed Rooney from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off") is always fun to watch, and this was during Lea Thompson's full-on-babe period. And Tim Robbins is in there too, looking amazingly as though he'd been drawn by definitive"Howard" comic book artist Gene Colan. So no, I didn't find it to be a total loss.
That will happen with most any film that has any merits at all. It's going to push someone's personal buttons, or they'll detect some virtue in it that nobody else sees.
But from all reports, "Babylon A.D." isn't a film that should be used too close to the word "virtue." In fact, that last sentence is probably a violation of international law. Let's just look at some typical review headlines, culled at random from Google News:Babylon as violent as it is stupid
'Babylon AD' is mindless violence, and that's about all
Future looks grim
"Babylon AD" a futuristic mess
Babylon AD: Yet Another Scifi Flick About the Virgin Mary
Movie review: Violence, chaos leave "Babylon" in ruins
Diesel gets lost in 'Babylon'
Diesel can’t pump life into grim ‘Babylon’
Even the film's director has disowned it. Yeah, it's apparently that bad.
But then we find this review from a newspaper in an unnamed-to-protect-the-guilty east-coast city newspaper.
'Babylon A.D.' looked like future schlock, but is quite fine
Oh, really? Well, most everyone agrees with the first part anyway.
Now, it's possible, vaguely possible anyway, that this is an honest case of "difference of opinion," which is part of why I'm not naming the critic or the newspaper. But reading the review, I've got to say it's highly suspicious. Let's pull a few more quotes, shall we?
"Talk about exceeding expectations. Babylon A.D.
, which had all the cauliflower earmarks of a trashy action throwaway, turns out instead to be a disturbing, wonderfully executed vision of the future, the equal of last year's well-received Children of Men
"Children of Men," which was nominated for three Oscars? Which according to IMDB
won 17 other awards (including the Hugo Award for best motion picture, science-fiction's highest honor, the Saturn Award for best science fiction film, the Online Film Critic's Society award for best screenplay) and received 24 nominations? "Children of Men," which has a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.com
and 8.1 stars out of ten on IMDB? ("Babylon A.D." on the other hand, has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 4%.)
It's that good, huh?
Of course, it isn't fair to damn a critic on the basis of one possibly-botched review. Everybody has their off-days. Possibly something has burst in their brain, or their pain medication is having adverse side-effects today. But if it was my city and my newspaper, I'd have to wonder. I'd have to start looking closely at the reviews of other widely panned movies, looking for a pattern.
Years ago, when I lived in the Seattle area, there was a film critic on the staff of a third-string suburban newspaper that I often read, who was dependably wrong on just about everything, at least, based on my personal taste. I could pretty well depend on it. If he hated a film, my wife and I would love it. If he loved a film, it was to be avoided like the proverbial plague. This rule was accurate to the point that his reviews were actually useful, in their back-handed way.
But while I lived there, it never occurred to me to wonder why
his taste was skewed the way it was. Only after I moved to Oregon, and began to notice his quotes turning up in national ads for schlock-film after schlock-film did I start to reexamine his work for the paper. In retrospect, I realized that he was frequently doing on-set interviews with stars or directors, jetting off to film-festivals, attending premiers, all stuff that his small-city newspaper should never have been able to afford.
I mentioned this in front of an industry insider one day, and they just laughed and told me how the world really works in some circles. Of course his paper couldn't afford to pay for any of those things. And they didn't.
And the negative reviews for popular films? Well, in reality, his press-agent friends didn't actually care what he wrote about those films. Good quotes from major media outlets were there for the taking, and no-way his small-circulation paper was going to hurt their box-office. He had to write bad reviews about something,
or he'd look like the fraud he was, so popular and/or critically acclaimed films were safe targets.
Several decades later, I don't see many signs that things have changed.
"Seamless in its execution, the movie plays out like a grittier version of The Fifth Element
. Babylon A.D.
is a savage fairy tale, a tad overburdened with symbolism, but gripping nonetheless."
I rest my case.