THR's chief film critic on reviewing in the Internet Age


During the 2006 Festival de Cannes, I had a jolting epiphany.

For the first time, the fest's opening-night film, "The Da Vinci Code," screened a night early. I strolled back to the hotel afterward, thinking about the film and even making notes in my room for the considered review I'd write the next day. At 3 a.m., a call came from my editor in Los Angeles. Reviews were all over the Internet. Wide awake now, I dashed off my opinion and filed in record time.

Welcome to the Internet Age of movie reviewing.

It's not just studio tentpoles and fanboy pics that receive instant analysis anymore; the conversation about any and every movie begins on the Internet immediately after a first public showing.

Nowadays, my preparations to review a film often include studying the best routes home and double-checking the e-mail address of the editor staying up late to post my review.

Studio publicists cling to the quaint notion of "embargoes" on film reviews, but that memo never seems to reach the outer limits of the Web. Few embargoes go unbroken these days.

The era of reviews penned after much reflection and possibly even after other critics have weighed in -- being first was not always a badge of honor -- is long gone.

Don't get me wrong: I actually enjoy the white heat of working out my thoughts over a laptop while the movie still plays in my head, and I certainly don't object to the Web bringing my early endorsement of a great film to all corners of the world.

But the new age of instant reportage is a challenge to us all. Anyone -- established critics, bloggers and other commentators -- caught up in the game of instant analysis tends to fall back on hyperbole, stridency and imperiousness. Writing in the moment, without historical perspective or aesthetic context, encourages snap judgments: A particular movie is either a masterpiece or dog meat.

Woe to the reviewer who seeks balance or nuance. Instant reviews, especially strongly worded critiques pro and con, drive Web traffic. But what often goes missing is any considered discussion of the merits of a film or the aims of the filmmaker.

If something is worth talking about, then a range of opinions should be welcome -- even within the same review. I can only hope the pressure to be the first and snarkiest reviewer doesn't ultimately damage the pleasures of critical debate.