Is running an early review of Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo really that bad for Sony?

by Brad Sturdivant

The long standing rift between critics and Hollywood studios took an interesting turn today when respected movie critic David Denby came under fire from famed producer Scott Rudin because his publication, The New Yorker, is going to run a very early review of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO in Monday’s issue.  The Playlist has the email correspondence between the two, but basically Rudin takes a few shots at Denby’s integrity because Denby signed a waiver saying he wouldn’t post a review and Denby responds by saying it’s really all Hollywood’s fault because they release all the big Oscar movies in the last 8 days of the year.

Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

For those that aren’t aware, all critics that are part of accredited film critics societies (there are two accredited critics on the Flix66 staff) get early screenings of films.  Sometimes it’s a few days before the film’s release, sometimes it can be a few months, depending on the situation and the time of year.  As awards season draws close, more and more screeners are sent out or set up for critics to get their movies in before the end of year voting begins.  Hollywood studios set what’s called an “embargo” on reviews so they can maximize the buzz for a film within a day or two of the film’s release.  Running a review early can lead to you getting kicked out of the film critics society or being “blacklisted” from screenings.  Either of which can ruin the career of a movie critic.

Scott Rudin

But any critic or editor will tell you that the embargoes are one of the most poorly managed “rules” that exists.  Depending on what area of the country you live in, your embargo could be different.  Traditionally, critics in New York and LA have earlier embargoes than those in smaller market towns.  Why?  No one can answer that and the general response when questioned is always; that’s what the producer/studio wants, even though no one really knows what the producer/studio wants and a lot of the embargoes are set by a variety of people, including the PR firm that’s representing the film.  Studios counter by pointing out that reviews (positive or negative) are part of the marketing process and releasing a review too early can throw off the film’s campaign.  You’ll have to do your own deductive reasoning to determine which group you sympathize with.

Daniel Craig in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

My concern is that Hollywood studios should have no say so or power when it comes to when a review runs.  After all, the point of a critic is to remain objective about a film and judge it for its merits, not for any drama or favoritism that goes on behind the scenes.  But most studios know they have the critic’s livelihood in their hands because they ultimately control who does and doesn’t see an advanced screening.  And so we as movie critics suck it up and play along.  After all, the competition is too stiff amongst movie news/reviews publications to be able to survive such an extreme disadvantage as seeing a movie after your competition.

But if the Denby vs. Rudin situation does anything, hopefully it will prove that the timing of a review has little or nothing to do with how well the film performs.  If anything, wouldn’t you want people to talk about your movie in the weeks leading up to the release?  This drama alone will bring attention to the film and get people talking about it.  Perhaps studios should revisit their antiquated embargo policy and let publications run reviews when they want.  Wouldn’t it be better to release 10-20 reviews a day in the weeks leading up to a film’s release than over 1,000 reviews on the release date?  Who reads 1,000 reviews in one day?  Alright, I’ll get off my soapbox, because as it turns out, I still haven’t gotten my screening invite to THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO…

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