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Do We Need Film Critics?

First off, this article is written by a film critic - so there's obviously a frame of reference and a certain slant that you may need to take into account when reading this opinion piece. In this day and age, you've got to question everything you read in terms of where it's coming from, who it's written by and what they're asking of you. So please by all means, be on the alert and don't stop here. Get that magnifying glass out when reading or watching anything!

So back to the title 'Do We Need Film Critics?'. *Spoiler alert* Whether you love or hate them - we do! You'd probably expect something like we need film critics because they watch a lot of movies, have cinema street smarts and serve as film barometers when it comes to getting a level of consistency in terms of opinion. That they help keep filmmakers honest, prevent the slow rot of check box filmmaking, cater for more sophisticated palates, review the non-blockbuster stuff and give indie films much-needed coverage and support when everyone's looking to the juggernaut remake, reboots and fandom empire expansions of the box office.

Do We Need Film Critics?

Okay, all of those things are actually great reasons. The problem is that the concept of a film critic has become a bit stale and has been proliferated by the rise of the sentiment that "everyone's a movie critic". The demographic of your average film critic has not changed with the times and in a word, movie pundits have become a bit irrelevant... an overhang from another era. The stereotypical movie critic is an older white guy who's lost touch with the Average Joe(y) and has developed a special kind of film snobbery that sets him apart from the audience, set far far away in his own lofty farming-on-the-inside-of-a-ping-pong-ball kingdom.

Print media has lost a great many of these toffee-nosed tyrants who were able to expound their pretentious film views without being answerable to anyone other than their overworked editor. Being primarily published in newspapers or magazines, the readership was forced to endure whatever came from up on high and without the Internet... there was very little in the way of competition to reference or sharpen one's own views by way of contrast.

The glorious Interweb brought with it a wave of information, making it possible to get varying opinions quickly and opening up the floodgates to anyone willing to unleash their thoughts upon the world. Blogs, chat rooms, social media... while algorithms are becoming the new gatekeeper, it's so much easier to get your opinion out there... to reach consensus by way of mass rating systems and search.

While this awakening has opened a sea of possibilities when it comes to getting an opinion and minimising the inky power of the traditional critic, it's also created its own set of unique problems. Getting a percentage on Rotten Tomatoes or a rating on IMDb is all good and well but what started as a useful gauge is becoming somewhat problematic.

These meters were prized in the early days but now that they've been institutionalised, the Internet's all-access freedom is actually becoming a hinderance and limitation. Nowadays with these ratings and percentages becoming so powerful and valuable especially in the wake of a film release, the system is open to corruption. The ideals of the earliest days of the Internet expected everyone to be a good neighbour and didn't account for trolls or click farms.

Nowadays these kinds of consensus ratings actually have to devise clever ways to bypass or counter fake ratings and reviews. Having a system where every film is acknowledged and ranked publicly is a problem because users start to use their rating as a corrective tool rather than an objective analysis in order to swing their vote. Seeing the results and being able to easily manipulate them without much accountability, it's no wonder these platforms are being manipulated for giggles, popularity, capital or vigilantism.

Every film is political in nature but becomes even more of a pawn when users are trying to determine it's overall standing against the Top 250 films of all-time according to the Independent Movie Database, especially if it shows much promise. There's no verification to prove you've seen the movie but as a registered user you can vote irrespectively.

Some filmmakers get their cast, crew and family to ratchet up votes in the earliest days of a film's release and even plant amazing reviews. Looking at the breakdown of an aggregated rating, you'll see 10/10 and 1/10 ratings for almost every film. Ranging from well wishes to petty trolling, it's actually the middle range ratings that should eventually hold the most weight since most films fall between a worthless 1 and a timeless 10 if you're working with the SPL!NG-O-METER.

Giving the masses the deciding factor is problematic in determining a film's intrinsic value. If we allowed mainstream audiences to rule absolutely, we'd see even more "roller-coaster" superhero and muscle car speedster movies ad nauseum. This would obviously infuriate and frustrate some high-end directors but if they were honest they'd at the very least admit to it being "a necessary evil". Don't worry, some of them are just jealous.

This isn't a bad thing because these films do have their own level of magic in getting audiences and fans excited about the spectacle of film and even rescuing the very institutions designed to screen the more artful stuff. They rake in millions at the box office and while some directors may question their artistic value in pandering to fan service and satisfaction, they do have merit and their place even if the creative process is more geared around the audience than the artist.

So, while the Internet has created a hive mind... a place where thousands upon millions can have their say... it's also created a lot of clutter. This noise is a mix of agendas and misinformation, which has forced the pure to work even harder and clouded the voice of integrity in the middle. Opening up the floor has made it very quick, convenient and easy to get an opinion. The problem is that there are too many opinionistas in the kitchen.

Having crested on this wave of unlimited information, it's once again settling to the point that real movie pundits or people who have written about the subject long enough are getting more recognition. Countries like China are realising how critical it is to regulate information, especially in light of medicine and science following the Covid-19 pandemic. There are now moves to verify credentials before people are able to shout their mouth off.

This may seem like it's clamping down on freedom of expression but on the flip side having too much freedom can be just as detrimental if bad information is weaponised. This is a pretty dramatic thing to talk about as relates to film but the underlying sentiment should carry... we should give more precedence to the experts.

While movie critics are famously used as an example of people not taking the mantle of creativity but heckling from the sidelines, they are generally more knowledgeable and passionate about the medium and their opinions should naturally carry more weight. Nowadays with a film critic on just about every possible media platform, it does seem as though filmgoers are spoiled for choice.

Opening up the space to everyone with an Internet connection means that anyone is able to cultivate their opinion when it comes to the magic of cinema. This is fantastic news in terms of garnering widespread sentiment and more voices as to what constitutes a great film. Slowly losing the traditional financial model of film critics attached to fixed print publications means that many reviewers are actually in it for love more than the money.

So before you dismiss movie critics as irrelevant, consider all the stuff in the second paragraph and look at them through the lens of the digital age. There are dinosaurs of course but lets hope that the place of the film critic, much like the role of critics and whistleblowers in any industry or realm even, remains robust and steadfast enough to keep our society self-aware and honest enough to constantly aim for greatness.