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Aggregates Tell You Nothing

I'm not going to badmouth Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic - they're a useful resource in some respects, particularly in the uniquely nerdy desire to have everything expressed as a mathematical equation. But when it comes to it, the idea that "It got above 60% on Rotten Tomatoes!" has largely replaced "A critic I trust made it sound very interesting!" in the popular lexicon flat-out drives me up the wall.

The fact is, subjective opinions about art cannot be properly expressed in binary - if they could, I'd still be serving mixed coffee drinks and a robot would be doing this job. (In fact, isn't "Make it try to comprehend an abstract concept" one of the ways they used to make evil robots brains blow up on Star Trek?)

No matter how precisely it measures percentage points, the Tomatometer can still only perpetuate the idea that every reaction to every movie can be summed up as either positive or negative, with no room for nuance, and that's the worst possible way to approach a potential viewing choice. Knowing what percentage of critics mostly-liked a movie is nice, but it's not the same thing as reading a critical essay that (for example) ultimately pans the movie but makes the circumstances of its failings sound so fascinating you suddenly want to see it anyway.

It works in reverse, too - this week's Escape to the Movies review, Atlas Shrugged, is almost universally loathed by the critical press to such an extent that you might be given to think that it's a fun "so bad it's good" movie night waiting to happen. But it's nothing like the Showgirls-level disasterpiece you might imagine. It's simply boring.

What it comes down to is this: At the end of the day, reading/watching/listening to criticism - of film or otherwise - is less a purely informational act and more an educational one, and much like other forms of education thinking strictly in terms of short-term practicality can end up robbing you of long-term insight. A thoughtful analysis you disagree with can be infinitely more rewarding than a mere review with which you mostly agree, and treating a critic as little more than a product tester or advice columnist doesn't do either of you any favors in the grand scheme of things.

That being said - go see Hanna, if you haven't already. ;)

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.

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