Director Brett Ratner Says Rotten Tomatoes Is the ‘Destruction’ of the Movie Business, Criticism Is Dead
With the rise of digital platforms and social media, the state of writing that originated in print was bound to change. We don’t pick up a newspaper anymore to look for movie showtimes, and we certainly don’t wait till the Sunday edition drops on our doorstep to read the latest reviews. Most American audiences want immediate, digestible analyses of the art they consume, and nowadays that means checking a movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score before forking out cash. For director and producer Brett Ratner though, the review aggregation website is biggest evil in the entertainment industry.
There are a lot of problems in Hollywood, but for the Rush Hour director Rotten Tomatoes is the worst of all. Ratner sat down with Entertainment Weekly at the Sun Valley Film Festival recently to share his thoughts on the state of film criticism and called the website the “destruction” of the movie business. “The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes,” he said. But Ratner disapproval didn’t just include the website itself, but the entire state of movie criticism. According to him, real criticism is dead:
I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s about a number. A compounded number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’ And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on Batman v Superman I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful. […] What’s sad is film criticism has disappeared. It’s really sad.”
That’s a totally valid stance to have – many audiences depend on a red tomato or a green splat to tell them what movie to go see. It’s an unfortunate part of the digital age that we now choose numbers over insightful writing to inform our decision-making and analysis of art. But what’s wrong with Ratner’s comment is how it dismisses the fact that those Rotten Tomatoes scores come from reviews written by smart and talented critics, writers who care about cinema and have devoted their careers to discussing it.
Critics don’t just mindlessly select ‘Fresh’ or ‘Rotten’ when adding their opinions to the website, they upload quotes and links to their reviews. If audiences do want to read insightful analyses of movies – if they’re curious why something has an abysmal score, or why it’s a nearly perfect 100 percent – then they can go read the full-length reviews. As a Rotten Tomatoes rep told EW, the website is “just a starting point for them to begin discussing, debating and sharing their own opinions.”
So it’s totally understandable why Ratner is frustrated. Heck, sometimes it even frustrates me that audiences discount a film based on a percentage and fail to read the words behind the numbers. Like he says, the Tomatometer can lead audiences to discount a movie, and even some bad movies are worthy of further discussion. But blaming all critics for that isn’t exactly fair. If Ratner takes issue with anything, it should be how the internet has impacted the ways we consume longform writing and art criticism, and our increasing need for bite-sized, truncated analysis that makes up our minds for us. When you really think about it, the Tomatometer is just the internet’s modernized version of At the Movies. Many audiences used to make their movie-going decisions based on a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Now they look for a score, but that score also gives them access to hundreds of reviews.
Criticism didn’t end with Pauline Kael. The entire art form didn’t poof after we lost Roger Ebert. Though it may not be the same and consumed in the same ways, film criticism is still very alive and kicking. Next time you check the Tomatometer, make it a goal to read at least one or two of the reviews behind the score.