Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: critics, fanboys and trolls

In case you missed it, the last few days have been full of drama for fans anticipating the latest Batman movie by Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises. And the movie hasn't even come out yet.

Eminent critic Roger Ebert complained that reviews for the film were embargoed until Sunday at midnight when press screenings were not even going to take place until Tuesday morning. He discovered that critics in Los Angeles and New York received early screenings, while others accepted being flown in to a press junket. Based in Chicago, he was not pleased.

Late Saturday night, a troll named Adrian Chen who apparently writes for Gawker and edits for The New Inquiry tweeted a supposed major spoiler. He followed it up with a disguised tweet claiming to be a picture of something else but in fact was a picture of the spoiler written as text. He followed this up with retweets of angry responses and repeats of the picture. More likely than not, he didn't see the film and was just being a dick. He delighted in the aggravation he caused, tweeting "lololol I think I reached peak troll with that. It was a good day."

Monday came along and the reviews finally started appearing. Some contained spoilers, which upset some readers. Most were very positive but as soon as one negative one appeared by Marshall Fine, all hell broke loose. Fine was inundated with vitriol and death threats, and his website crashed from all the traffic. His review comment page on Rotten Tomatoes was flooded with over 800 comments, many of them quite nasty and hateful. Some have since been removed.

To top everything off, yesterday evening film critic Eric D. Snider took it upon himself to troll the trolls by posting a purposely snarky negative blurb on Rotten Tomatoes: "The Dark Knight Rises is easily the most disappointing Batman movie so far – and I'm including Schumacher's Batman and Robin in that statement." The link, however, went not to Film.com but to his personal blog and the "review" was a message "Just Kidding! I haven't seen The Dark Knight Rises yet. It's probably very good! I just wanted to post a negative quote on Rotten Tomatoes and see how many idiots would type angry words at me without actually clicking the link to read the review. Given that Rotten Tomatoes commenters are the worst human beings on the planet, I suspect the number will be large."

This stunt angered not only the fanboys but Rotten Tomatoes. Editor-in-Chief Matt Atchity posted an article dealing with both the Marshall Fine and the Eric D. Snider situation. He defended Fine as a critic and his right to have a negative opinion on movies (you would think that should go without saying).

But with Snider, they decided to drop him from their roster of critics whose opinions count towards the Rotten Tomatoes score. They pointed to Snider's history and the fact that he did this exact same thing with The Dark Knight four years ago. Atchity said "Snider has abused our trust" and "if a critic doesn't take their reputation seriously, then neither will we." Snider sarcastically apologized by tweeting "I apologize to those I offended who like to respond angrily to reviews they've only read one sentence of, of movies they haven't seen."

Atchity ended his post with a plea "don't be a dick. Even if you think someone else is being a dick." However, by the end of the day, he had to disable comments on The Dark Knight Rises altogether, at least for a few days.

None of these shenanigans reflect particularly well on anybody. Obviously commenters can be terrible people, but I doubt that those on Rotten Tomatoes are demonstrably worse than on Youtube.com or any political message board. Something about anonymity beings out the worst in people.

I didn't read Fine's review carefully as I understood there were spoilers and I wanted to avoid those (not having seen the film yet) but some of the complaints in the comments seemed justifiable inasmuch as he seemed predisposed to disliking it. But so what? Many fans are predisposed to liking something even if there are a great many flaws.

As for Snider, it strikes me that he had a valid point but made it in a very hypocritical way – by being a troll himself. His defence was that the "only people who got "trolled" were those who reacted to RT quote w/out clicking the link and seeing context, i.e., dummies." But this is false. I often read just the snippets from a number of critics to get a sense of the range of opinions and to see what people like and don't like about the same thing. Even for people who did click to his "review" he cannot assume that they weren't annoyed. I get annoyed all the time by newspapers with headlines that misrepresent the article itself. Being misled is not nice.

Some people defended Snider by pointing out that Rotten Tomatoes is hardly a purveyor of serious film discourse, and I agree this is true. But it does serve a purpose if you know how to use it and I think Atchity did the right thing under the circumstances. And his advice to everyone should be attached in bold letters on the monitors of anybody who ever uses the internet.

Don't be a dick.

[UPDATE: 10pm] *sigh* It seems some people didn't get the "don't be a dick" memo. Now Eric D. Snider has received a direct death threat. People! It's only a movie!

1 comment:

  1. RT were right to give Snider the boot. There are thousands of bloggers writing quality film reviews who deserve to be featured on RT more than someone who just wants to pull stunts.