I’m going to apologize in advance for a small rant I’ve had brewing for a little while, and which finally came to a head with the new Mortal Instruments movie (which I have yet to see, but doesn’t matter for this post).
I’ve always liked Rotten Tomatoes. Since its earliest days I’ve checked out movie ratings there to see if something was worth watching – my time is valuable to me, and I don’t want to spend it on something I’ll find mediocre. It started out as simply a review aggregation site, summarizing the general consensus of professional critics. At some point they added a social component, that works for movies similar to how Goodreads does for books.
More and more lately I’ve found myself paying more attention to the audience rating than the critic rating as a measure of how much I’m likely to enjoy a movie. I’d often find there was a discrepancy between the two, and I tended to agree more with the audience’s view.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones came out today, and there are already plenty of ratings up on the site for it, from both critics and audience. As of writing this, this is how it looks:
Which is a little shocking to me. Not necessarily that the critics are being so negative – that’s disappointing, but expected – but that there is such a HUGE gap between what the critics think and what the audience thinks.
The explanation, I think, is an easy one: the critics are not the movie’s target audience. I would be willing to hedge that many, if not the majority, of them are men in their 30s or 40s or 50s. The movie, meanwhile, and the series of books off which it’s based, are both primarily targeted to teen girls. I doubt there are many teen girls among the professional reviewers.
And yet, this simple fact seems to be lost to reviewers. My sister sent me this link to a review of the movie in which the reviewer comments that the story has many of the familiar tropes that appeal to teen readers (girl discovers one day that she’s had special powers that have been hidden her whole life and she’s actually part of some strange and wonderful new world and something terrible is happening and only she can save the day) as demonstrated by similarities in other successful teen movies (his examples: Harry Potter, Twilight, Percy Jackson).
And then he goes on to grouch on the movie and how unoriginal it is, picking apart all the cliches and tired themes. At the end he gives it a rating of 2.5 out of 5. And I was like, Dude – did you even listen to yourself at the start? You just finished saying how it was the sort of thing that appeals to teens. Which are, it just so happens, the target audience, not grown men like you. Why are you rating the movie based on how it appealed to you, when you’re not who it was made for?
Meanwhile, as of my screenshot, 83% of the over 18,000 people who’d rated it liked it. Probably a lot of them were teen girls. The same things the reviewer picked on as being unoriginal would’ve been the things that made the story so appealing to the target market. After all, the same thing happens with, say, action films, or superhero films – I’m not the target audience, and I think a lot of them are starting to feel tiredly familiar. I wasn’t that impressed with Pacific Rim – all fancy CGI and hero-saves-the-day and not much supporting story, I felt. But critics gave it 72% – probably because most of them are among the target audience. The sorts of people who like fancy CGI and hero-saves-the-day and will overlook lack of story if these things are done well.
I think it’s unfair of professional critics to review movies (or any other media – this same thing goes for book reviewers, or video game reviewers, for instance) for which they’re clearly not the target audience. Their review ends up saying less about the movie and more about their own place in the market. Their reviews would carry the most weight if they stuck to the ones that fit their interests and preferences – then you’d truly know whether a movie was well-done or not.