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

July 17, 2008 | 12:19 pm

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.

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