How Far is Too Far When Characterizing a Film’s Intended or Actual Audience?

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Have you ever watched a movie and hated it so much you can’t imagine anyone in their right mind actually enjoying it? I’m not talking about the films we all know cater to a tightly knit audience of fans, I’m talking about those films where you simply say to yourself, Nope, that film was so bad no one could possibly like it. Or perhaps you make a side comment to a friend saying, “Unless you’re a nine-year-old shut-in and make a habit of drooling on yourself you couldn’t have possibly liked that movie.” It’s a harsh assertion, but it’s your opinion, not an all out declaration of globally accepted fact.

I bring this up because last week I posted the video you see just to the right, which is described on YouTube as a depiction of “how the next Transformers film will look.” It’s a comical mash-up of noise, explosions and CGI followed by a quote from Roger Ebert’s blog post titled “I’m a proud Brainiac” which caused a bit of a stir in the comments before I removed the video and halted comments considering it was neither the time nor the place. The quote, as depicted in the video, goes as such:

Those who think “Transformers 2” is a great or even a good film are, may I tactfully suggest, not sufficiently evolved. Film by film, I hope they climb a personal ladder into the realm of better films, until their standards improve.

Ebert’s quote continues in print adding, “Those people contain multitudes. They deserve films that refresh the parts others do not reach. They don’t need to spend a lifetime with the water only up to their toes.”

Taken in full context, and along with the additional 1,741 words in Ebert’s post, I don’t think he’s making an uninformed evaluation of the film or its audience as much as he is giving his opinion based on the facts on hand. I also don’t think those 40 words are browbeating, making fun of or the “IQ bitchslap” people were taking it to be in the comments on my post last week. However, instead of speaking on his behalf I decided to go to the source.

I emailed Roger Ebert and asked him for his thoughts on the posted comments and what he thought when it came to how far is too far when painting the picture of a film’s intended or eventual audience? He wrote back saying, “In the case of Transformers 2, those words express my sincere opinion, and I considered them carefully.”

He added, “I’ve sometimes regretted intemperate remarks I’ve made about fanboys. I think it’s important that remarks are accurate about the films themselves. As I watched Transformers 2 with dismay, I wondered what it was telling me about its audience. I believe few perceptive filmgoers could consider it well made.”

In those terms, can even the most ardent of apologists look at a film such as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen any differently? Remember, this doesn’t mean you cannot still like it despite the fact it isn’t well made. More importantly, if you liked Transformers 2 — for whatever reason you may have — does this mean you are “not sufficiently evolved”? In Ebert’s opinion you very well may not be, but is he even talking about a person’s overall being or simply their taste in film? Before jumping to conclusions perhaps read his entire post and see if you even fit into the group of people he is talking about.

Freddie Highmore voices Astro Boy in Astro Boy
Photo: Summit Entertainment

When I emailed Roger I addressed my question in the headline from a personal angle as well, as it is never my intention to leave a reader with the opinion I am personally attacking them as much as I am making a personal assessment of the film as I see it. The recent example I used was my review of Astro Boy, which I ended by writing, “Perhaps people that enjoy staring at blinking lights will get some enjoyment out of this mess, but when the light keeps blinking red even that can become annoying to the most tolerant of viewers.” Does this mean I think anyone that likes Astro Boy is actually sitting at home staring at red blinking lights?

Ebert, who was slightly more considerate toward the film, found a comparative statement in his review and reminded me he wrote, “Has market research discovered our children are all laboring with attention deficits, and can only absorb so many story elements before brightly-colored objects distract them with deafening combat?”

Both Ebert’s and my comments are opinions based on what we believe the film is saying of its audience. Keep in mind I have never met anyone that sits at home staring at blinking lights and when Ebert made known his thoughts of Transformers 2 fans he was again making that statement based on not only what the film was telling him of its audience, but comments weighed against his review. Such as the one he started his blog post with:

Roger Ebert is a moron! Transformers 2 is the best action movie ever. Don’t listem to that moron! He is only into slow boring romantic movies. That is his type of movies. Michael Bay did a great good. Roger… your an old fart! John C

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Plenty more knee-jerk assumptions and uninformed opinions are made in John C’s 43 words than are ever made in the 1,781 words Ebert uses in response. As far as the question in the headline goes I thought Ebert summed it up nicely at the end of his email saying, “That’s only my opinion. Of course, we’re in the opinion business.”

This reminds me of the old saying, “Opinions are like assholes. Everybody’s got one and everyone thinks everyone else’s stinks.” Too true, but as Ebert writes in that same blog post I have been mentioning throughout this piece, “The job of the reader is not to find his opinion applauded or seconded [in a movie review], but to evaluate another opinion against his own.”

Occasionally a film forces a film reviewer’s hand in trying to decide just who exactly a film was made for. So far this year I have delivered an “F” grade to only four films and of those four, three are so dreadful I can’t imagine anyone enjoying them — those being The Last House on the Left (review), All About Steve (review) and I Love You Beth Cooper (review). Strangely enough, Fanboys is the fourth film and it just happens to be the only one of the four that seems to not only deliver a clear cut opinion of its audience, it spends 90 minutes making fun of them. When movies resort to such tactics is it really fair to attack the people that point it out, or should we all begin directing our concerns at the responsible individuals that made the films in the first place?

NOTE: When commenting please try and refrain from insulting others. This entire exercise is an attempt to find a way to speak freely without our opinions insulting others, no matter their differences in taste.