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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Dark Knight' mob attacks defenseless film critic

Darkknight Not that it matters of course, when it comes to a pop-culture tsunami like "The Dark Knight," but so far most of America's much-maligned film critics have embraced the Christopher Nolan-directed film, which is due to set all sorts of obscure box-office records this weekend. (Is there, for example, a record for biggest July opening during a presidential campaign year?) But there's always a skunk at every wedding. When it comes to "Dark Knight" fans, the skunk is New York magazine critic David Edelstein, who had the temerity to slag off the new Batman film, calling it "noisy, jumbled and sadistic."

And that was just the beginning: Edelstein hooted at the action scenes ("spectacularly incoherent"), the director ("Nolan appears to have no clue how to stage or shoot action") and the movie in general ("it's all fits and starts, fitfully suspenseful, fitfully scary... with jolts of brutality to keep you revved up"). "Dark Knight" loyalists did not take this lying down. Edelstein has been bombarded with so much e-mail abuse since his review posted that he felt obligated to respond to the vitriol. (The New Yorker's David Denby didn't like the movie much either, but he's somehow escaped being tarred and feathered by the angry mob, perhaps because everyone was more enraged by the Obama cartoon on the cover of this week's magazine.)

I'm not going to get in the middle of this maelstrom, since sadly, I'm such a cultural slacker that I haven't seen the movie yet. But I feel a pang of sympathy for Edelstein, who notes that the Batman fanboys seem to want to have it both ways--calling him a snob for taking the movie seriously, then mocking his pretentiousness for offering more than a "Wow!" as a critical response. The ranting and name-calling all takes us back to the primal question of today's moviegoing age: Do critics still matter?

You should read Edelstein's entire response, but here, in a nutshell, is his argument, which is worth pondering:

"There has been a lot of chatter in the last few years that criticism is a dying profession, having been supplanted by the democratic voices of the Web. Not to get all Lee Siegel on you, but the Internet has a mob mentality that can overwhelm serious criticism. There is superb writing in blogs and discussion groups ... but there are also thousands of semi-literate tirades that actually reinforce the Hollywood status quo, that say: 'If you do not like "The Dark Knight,'" you should be fired because you do not speak for the people.' Well, the people don't need to be spoken for. And a critic's job is not only to steer you to movies you might not have heard of or that died at the box-office. It's also to bring a different, much-needed perspective on blockbusters like 'The Dark Knight.' " 

Photo of Christian Bale as Batman in "The Dark Knight" from Warner Bros.

 
Comments () | Archives (78)

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With a movie as popular and positively reivewed as TDK, I wonder if some critics don't intentionally write contrarian reviews just to get their words read and not get lost in a tidal wave of favorable reviews.

A critic taking umbrage over criticism?

Hrmm.

Having seen some of the comments sent to some of the negative critics, I would agree that many are nasty, illiterate, and out of bounds.

But this is the business you have chosen, Mr. Edelstein.

Post your honest opinions, and then take your criticism like a man--just as you expect filmmakers to do.

Can we get somebody to stage a "funeral" for the word "Fanboy?" I'm tired of reading that damn word in every other article/review about any film not titled "Sex and the City." I know that the "funeral for a word" concept didn't really work for Rick Rubin and "Def," nor did it work for Kwame Kilpatrick and the "N-word," but still... something needs to be done...

"What the mob won't admit to is that their primary interest is to see Mr. Ledger's performance to determine if he was on drugs during the shoot."

Nope,moron, clearly your career as a troll is at an end!

the one thing that is missed here is that Edelstein isn't a CRITIC. He is a movie reviewer. His strongets made points were about the direction and the action sequences. Not to emntion the tone had "everyone liked this, so i am gonna hate it" attitude. It wa sbad writing and it was amovie review not a crticism. A criticism is soemthing much deeper, and after seeing it at a midnight show i will say this. Take off the batman costume and any refrence to comic books and this is a darker verison of films liek The Deaparted. It's as comic book camp at The Untouchables with the dark crime of The Deaparted.

Brilliant . Best film of 2008 so far. Just aheda of The Visitor

It's too bad that Heath Ledger can't defend his performance, even though he shouldn't have too. As for Edelstein, hes defensless because he can't justify his opinion. If you're going to go against the curve then you better have better explanation than "spectacularly incoherent." It's truly unfortunate that he fails to see the progression that graphic novel movies have made and that the role of a critic is dead.

LAWL DEFENSLESS? STFU!

I've always disregarded the critics until reading this article. Just like every profession, in some facet it will be misunderstood by the majority(the people). Especially when most of the majority are not specialized, trained, and experienced in the field of work that they view from the outside. Inside the mind of the critic is the ability to focus on the film's blueprint which most people have less to no experience in seeing. The exoteric view of the film is less important to a critic. Its the esoteric pieces which are behind the views of mere logical, emotional content and pleasure.

I saw the movie. I loved it. I'll probably see again today. To me the movie is that good.

I believe Ed is absolutely correct:
Particularly pretentious and selfish movie critics will occasionally grandstand with deliberately contrarian views, hoping they'll stick out and someone will notice. If they see an opportunity to advance their careers (by appearing especially "cultured" and superior), they're entirely willing to abandon all responsibility and write a distorted and dishonest critique.

Although movie critics often do have a better perspective on movies as art than the "unwashed masses," they seem to have cultural undertones of snobbery and one-upmanship, and it reeks of intellectual dishonesty. When a few critics' reviews become more about proving something about their own taste than about the movie itself, their egos can utterly drown out and devalue their expertise and better artistic judgment.

Ultimately, movie critics are not entitled to paychecks merely for showing they have "better taste" than everyone else. Rather, they receive paychecks because they're supposed to be performing two honest services:
1.) First, they're supposed to serve the "mob" they so disdain by helping them decide whether they'll enjoy a movie. However, far too many critics seem completely incapable of enjoying movies based on their own merits. If a movie is trying to be mindless, fun entertainment, these critics will judge it by the standards of "high art" and tear it to shreds. Frankly, I feel like they should give out two scores: One for how *enjoyable* a movie is, and another for its depth and artistic value.
2.) Secondly, they're supposed to serve the directors, producers, etc. by giving honest feedback about their work. However, some will shirk this duty (as is the case with a few Dark Knight reviews) in favor of advancing their own ego and reputation for being nearly impossible to please. I think it's more than just that, though...a few critics seem to disdain any kind of Hollywood blockbuster, even if it has underlying artistic value (like The Dark Knight). It's as if mass appeal is some kind of disease that needs to be shunned at all costs, and they'll revile a good work simply because it's popular. Finally, some critics are so beholden to prevailing trends in culture and art (postmodernism, avant-garde, etc.) that they exhibit an irrational bias towards such "fashionably artsy" films.

For the record, I really enjoyed Batman Begins and the new seriousness and depth it brought to the franchise. I was never very interested in Batman before, but the movie and its characters moved me, if that does not seem too over-the-top. I was very enthusiastic when I first saw previews of The Dark Knight, but as time went on and the film became more and more overwhelmingly hyped up (to make it a huge moneymaker), I started to get the bad feeling it wouldn't live up to its immediate predecessor. I figured that if it equalled Batman Begins, I'd be more than satisfied. I didn't read any reviews beforehand, so I had no idea what was in store when I finally saw it last night: The film just flat-out blew me away. The joker's personality made him the most terrifying villain I ever remember seeing. My sister, who hates action movies and anything fantasy-based, said it was one of the best movies she has ever seen. I quite honestly have to agree. I won't bother writing a full review, since plenty of more qualified critics have written very accurate ones (94% on rottentomatoes). Still, I will say that the film warranted *unanimously* positive views, and any vitriol towards offending critics is well-deserved. I obviously understand that different people will have varying levels of enthusiasm, and from the perspective of serious movie critics, I'm sure The Dark Knight has its significant flaws. Still, people who see more bad than good in this movie are deceiving themselves.

Good Lord, people. Criticizing "The Dark Knight" and the stars in the movie is like criticizing President Bush. I'm sure Warner Brothers can take it, just like the President can. When the mob should be worried is when a critic goes after a small film made by a new director with unknown actors. That's when they have the power to kill talent and potential.

 
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