by Bill Gibron

23 November 2010

Word of mouth is not guaranteed to be a better gauge of a film's quality than a critic's view. Similarly, a critic has only an opinion, not a God given mandate to determine what is good or bad.
cover art


Director: The Brothers Strause
Cast: Eric Balfour, Donald Faison, Brittany Daniel, Scottie Thompson, Crystal Reed, David Zayas

US theatrical: 12 Nov 2010
UK theatrical: 12 Nov 2010

So, the producers of the abhorrent alien invasion film Skyline are now taking on the media, complaining that the bad reviews they’ve received for their dreadful little genre effort are hurting their film’s commercial chances (or one would argue hurt - since the movie has made a tepid $16 million to date at the box office). With a Rotten Tomatoes score currently hovering around 14% approval and a reputation among the all important membership of Messageboard Nation of being a royal waste of time, it’s definitely an uphill battle. But in an exclusive to friendly ear Scott Weinberg, the Cinematical interview finds Liam O’Donnell and Joshua Cordes pleading their case, sounding shockingly like Kevin Smith with their ‘journalists are a joke’ denouncement.

Of course, no one expects the makers of a particular movie, especially a uniformly dismissed bad one, to take up the cause of those who’ve just finished eviscerating it, and in a small, indiscernible way, O’Donnell and Cordes have a point (Shock! Horror!). There is a great deal of self-aggrandizing and soap boxing in the current media, especially in the anonymous realm of the web. It used to be that only John Bloom - aka Joe Bob Briggs - put on a persona to defend/destroy cinematic schlock. Now, every genre-oriented site has a ‘Grim Ripper’ or a ‘Mistress Sardonicus’ laying into the latest releases. Moreover, the unending need for internet content has created a kind of monster - the arrogant novice who understands that controversy equals comments…and comments means readers (and page hits, and unique visitors, etc.).
But to state that the reason Skyline was not better received is that it is being misunderstood is completely bogus. No bad movie is good except for the perception of the viewer. No flawed work is every acceptable if the flaws are obvious and interfere with the final product. O’Donnell and Cordes even admit their film’s less than perfect status, but then pass off said sentiment as being part of the work’s ‘b-movie mentality’. All throughout the interview its excuses, misunderstandings and blame…blame… BLAME - almost all of it aimed squarely at the set-in-its-ways working press. As they grasp for cinematic straws, as they refer to Skyline as “Night of the Living Dead with aliens instead of zombies,” the producers provide enough ammunition for their own self-assassination.

Still, in a world which constantly cannibalizes itself, which struggles above a flawed business plans to be provocative and profitable, the desire to go ballistic when tearing down a disappoint is infectious. It’s like head lice - once someone in the online grade school community catches it, everyone become part of the plague. It used to be that fairness ruled the day. Now, if you can shock and sensationalize with a single headline or a series of slanderous retorts, it’s a lot better than crafted some creative analysis. Granted, bad movies are still the outcome of a lot of individual effort, and talent can always lose out to overall incompetence. But when you blame someone else for your own mess, it’s a reflection on you, not them.

Kevin Smith can’t seem to learn this either. Never a mainstream moviemaker, his incredible cult of personality has made his unique and often insular movies sing within a certain demo. He never makes blockbusters, but he’s clearly bankable (he’s more of a savings bond than a whirlwind weekend at the roulette table). It’s all a matter of degrees.  Yet ever since a post-Knocked Up Seth Rogen failed to repeat said turnstile tendencies with Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Smith has been looking for a scapegoat, and apparently, the dyed-in-the-wool film media establishment are it. He’s even gone so far as to suggest that 500 Twitter followers be invited to his next film, their “guaranteed” word of mouth destined to drive up business that would have otherwise bristled after potential viewers read a ‘legitimate’ review.

Again, this is where Smith - and Skyline‘s producers - have it 100% wrong. Word of mouth is not guaranteed to be a better gauge of a film’s quality than a critic’s view. Similarly, a critic has only an opinion, not a God given mandate to determine what is good or bad. If Skyline were some sensational bit of wrongly undermined genius, audiences would be lining up to see it. Friends would tell friends and so on. It would be making all the money, not some famed boy wizard of a CG criminal mastermind. Instead, O’Donnell and Cordes produced something wholly mediocre (and that’s being generous) and the buzz has been just that. Some love it. Others loathe it. Many state simply that, in three months, they can rent it from redbox so who really cares.

Indeed, the reason behind Skyline‘s poor performance has more to do with sell-through and windows of availability rather than obnoxious critical rants. If word of mouth is not glowing, then the general consensus is to sit it out and wait for another format - DVD, streaming, on demand (or even worse, an illegal download) - to provide the practical opportunity. With the constant barrage of issues a typical moviegoer faces, from price to unnecessary audience “participation”, ‘boring’ is not a legitimate reason to fork over some dough. Similarly, had critics been up in arms over how shockingly brilliant Skyline was, there’d be no appreciable difference in the outcome. If their views mattered or could really make a difference, movies like Let Me In and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World would have been huge.

No, the problem here sits in every frame of O’Donnell and Cordes middling mess, whether they agree or not. They can’t wish away the bad acting, the sloppy stereotypes within the script, or the laughable, head scratcher of an ending. Instead, it’s time to argue their case - and they don’t do a very good job of that, either. In fact, one of them mentions how they “wish” the film had been screened for the press. Part of the problem, they deduce, is that entitled members of the Fourth Estate turn testy when their own money is involved. If they have to pay, they are far more ‘critical.’ Free previews equal free minds, supposedly. Those voting with their own hard earned greenbacks are equally rejecting what Skyline has to offer. What O’Donnell and Cordes need to realize is a bad movie is a bad movie, no matter the price - or the public perception.

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