David Cronenberg, director of culty arthouse classics like Videodrome, The Fly and A History of Violence, says film criticism is no longer "effective." And he blames sites like Rotten Tomatoes, that offer aggregate opinions rather than reasoned ideas.

Photo by charles taylor via Shutterstock

A movie critic's job is to offer informed analysis of a film, based on an understanding of the medium's history as a popular art form. Usually this involves judging whether the movie succeeds in a number of ways, from storytelling and acting to sheer aesthetic beauty. A good critic usually has a nuanced enough view of a movie that it might be hard to reduce the entire thing to "thumbs up" or "thumbs down." That's why even the famous thumb reviewers, Siskel and Ebert, worked together. That way, you were guaranteed multiple perspectives โ€” reminding you that sometimes you get a thumbs up and a thumbs down and you just have to live with that ambiguity.

Advertisement

But sites like Rotten Tomatoes have trained people to think of reviews as "reflecting the opinions of the masses" rather than the analytical insights of a few movie nerds who spend a lot of time thinking about this shit. And that's what filmmaker Cronenberg lamented the other day.

Cronenberg told CBC News:

Even now if you go to Rotten Tomatoes, you have critics and then you have 'Top Critics', and what that really means is that there are legitimate critics who have actually paid their dues and worked hard and are in a legitimate website connected perhaps with a newspaper or perhaps not. Then there are all these other people who just say they're critics and you read their writing and they can't write, or they can write and their writing reveals that they're quite stupid and ignorant. ... Some voices have emerged that are actually quite good who never would have emerged before, so that's the upside of that. But I think it means that it's diluted the effective critics.

Advertisement

Certainly there's a good reason why you might want to know, in aggregate, whether everybody on the internet thinks a movie is good or not. But pop culture isn't like a computer โ€” you can't benchmark it to see whether it actually goes as fast as advertised. Your mileage may vary. Which is why we need critical analysis of movies that goes beyond the good/bad binary. Sometimes a movie succeeds in one way, but fails in another.