'Five million Journey fans can't be wrong'
Reviewers, the public and the gulf between the two
By Todd Leopold
Johnny Depp as Capt. Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."
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(CNN) -- I wouldn't want to have been a movie reviewer last weekend.
Twenty million people (who ponied up a record $135 million) went to see "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," ignoring the many reviewers who panned the film -- including Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum, whose reviews CNN.com picks up. ("Pirates" earned a 54 percent approval rating from review aggregator Rottentomatoes.com, putting it in the "rotten" category.)
But what was fascinating was how many moviegoers took the downturned thumbs personally. Entertainment Weekly allows readers to respond to reviews and articles, and readers weren't shy about doing so in the sharpest terms to Schwarzbaum's "Pirates" review -- and to her.
"I think that this critic is critically ill, and doesn't know a damned thing about entertainment," wrote Vic.
"The movie was far more entertaining than her long, boring review," Dana said.
"Considering that the first movie recieved [sic] great reviews and you didn't like it, I think it's safe to say that you're [sic] taste in movies is different from those who appreciated the first movie, and thus you're [sic] opinion is irrelevant to them (which is probably 90 percent of the moviegoing population)," wrote Mike.
Mike, your [sic] absolutely right.
But why does that matter?
Reviewers have been reviewing films almost since the first projector was flipped on. (I have a book of New York Times reviews dating back to 1913, two years before "Birth of a Nation" -- the first major long-form American theatrical feature -- came out.)
Reviewers are people, not royalty, and they aren't in the business of agreeing -- with the public, nor even with one another. They're in the business of giving you their opinion of a film. They're a guide. You can agree, you can disagree -- and you can always read somebody else.
Perhaps a small film can be damaged by bad reviews (or saved by good reviews), but a big-budget blockbuster like "Pirates" is going to do well regardless of what a critic thinks.
And yet so many readers take reviews personally, as if the reviewer impugned motherhood and not a two-hour slice of entertainment. Hey, the movie doesn't care -- it's an inanimate object, nothing more -- and as for the moviemakers, they know they're not going to please everybody.
For some reason, the idea persists that popular equals good. Popular equals popular. Few would argue that McDonald's makes the best hamburgers, or that the 1963-64 season of "The Beverly Hillbillies" is the greatest TV season of all time. They're satisfactory; they're entertaining; maybe they're good, maybe they're not.
"Good" usually lasts. The story goes that just 3,000 people bought 1967's "The Velvet Underground and Nico" when it came out, but every one of them started a band.
On the other hand, does anyone still listen to Mr. Mister's "Welcome to the Real World," one of the best-selling albums of 1986?
(Update: Naturally, the previous sentence has inspired e-mails defending Mr. Mister and its album. Duly noted.)
Finally, popular is often conflated with "right." I'm often reminded of a letter to Rolling Stone after that magazine criticized one of Journey's early-'80s albums. "Five million Journey fans can't be wrong," the letter-writer wrote. I wonder if she's still listening -- and whether she's agreed with every winning politician of the last 25 years.
If you liked "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" -- more power to you. If you didn't like it, you have plenty of company. And if you want to join the debate, you can always start a blog.
That, of course, is just my opinion.
Eye on Entertainment turns to this week.
Many years ago, I had a friend who got married. Not long after, her husband's best friend, needing a place to live, moved into their apartment. That turned out to be a sign of things to come, and within a couple of years, my friend was unhappily divorced.
"You, Me and Dupree" plays the same situation for laughs.
Owen Wilson plays Dupree, who loses his job and home and moves in with newlyweds Carl and Molly Peterson (Matt Dillon and Kate Hudson). Naturally, Dupree causes all sorts of problems, from clogging toilets to inviting Carl to guys'-night-out adventures.
Michael Douglas is also on hand as Carl's slick boss (and Molly's father), ready to add to their woes.
In real life, Molly probably would have booted Dupree -- and Carl -- within two weeks and probably filed for divorce. (And Carl would deserve it.) Since this is a movie, she's mainly a slow-burning foil. Does hilarity ensue? You be the judge.
"You, Me and Dupree" opens Friday.
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