Time's current issue focuses on "fanboy" culture, the defining role of
the typically geeky 16-to-34-year-old male (though there are some fangirls) whose slavish devotion to a pop-culture subject, like a comic-book character or a video game, drives him to blog, podcast, chat, share YouTube videos, go to comic-book conventions and, once in a while, see a movie on the subject of his obsession.
They're the new tastemakers," says Avi Arad, a producer behind this summer's Spider-Man 3 and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. "Hard-core fans represent a small piece of the viewing public, but they influence geek culture, journalists, Wall Street. You don't want them to trash your project." If these fans embrace a project, as they did 300 and Heroes, they can kick-start a hit.
Time movie critic Richard Corliss responds with a essay headlined "Don't Read this Column." It may be, as Variety editor Peter Bart notes, that critics have little impact on ticket-buyers for movies like "Norbit" and "Wild Hogs." Bart suggests that critics "take 'a sabbatical until September,' when Hollywood starts releasing artsy films in the pre-Oscar blitz." (Irony alert: Bart as editor presumably approves of his publication's critic Justin Chang, who recently called "The Reaping" "almost riveting in its silliness" and said of box office smash "Night at the Museum," "Rarely has so much production value yielded so little in terms of audience engagement.") Corliss says:
Implicit in Bart's argument is that a popular film is a good film, and vice versa. If critics can't validate that tautology, we're useless. That's why studios screen fewer and fewer of their films early, and if they do, they invite everyone but critics. Until the fall, that is, when they want their prestige releases on 10 Best lists. Those citations sell tickets and tip off the awards folks. In that sense, Hollywood uses us as heralds to our own constituency. We're the fanboy brigade for Oscar films.
Hollywood's marketers have become tremendously efficient at getting their core audience to see their big movies. They don't need critics for that. But critics have a larger utility: to put films in context, to offer an informed perspective, to educate, outrage, entertain. We're just trying to do what every other writer is doing: making sense of one part of your world.
So, dear reader: If our opinions on a movie don't coincide, I don't care, and neither should you. I'm not telling you what to think. I'm just asking that you do think.