You'd be hard pressed to find anyone willing to spend their time or money on a bad movie. Most of us haven't got much of either, which makes opting for quality productions the natural choice. This is where Rotten Tomatoes — the wildly popular film review aggregator so many of us mortals hinge our movie-watching experiences on — comes in. The website earns its crust doling out scores on every new addition to the big screen with a playful scoring system of "fresh" and "rotten," represented respectively by images of a tomato and green slime. The result for moviegoers is a split-second determination on whether or not a movie is worth watching.
Backing up the score is an aggregate of professional film reviews — leaving the impression that if all these fine people believe a film to be good or not so good, it must be so. Upon further inspection, cracks in the system start to form and the question arises: Is the almighty Tomatometer really the best way of figuring out if a movie is watchable or not? Lately, I'm starting to believe the answer to that is no.
The Tomatometer Isn't Always Accurate
As it stands right now, 2017's #GhostInTheShell has a feeble Rotten Tomatoes score of 46 percent. Out of the 206 professional reviews accumulated on the site for the film, 95 are tagged fresh, which is where we get the 46 percent rating. One issue with this numeration is how cut and dry it appears. How exactly do we break down the quality of the movie if most of us won't sift through each of the reviews? Failing to do so leaves little to no room for nuance or understanding, which makes trusting the score a leap of faith. Does a tally of 46 percent mean the film generally scored a 4.6 out of 10 among reviewers? Or that 46 out of 100 people relatively enjoyed it?
This is the conundrum that arises when aggregates are used so authoritatively. They simply aren't accurate enough and, due to the subjectivity of art, won't ever be. How enjoyable any movie will be is up for questioning and, more importantly, up to you to decide.
There may have been other, more political reasons for Ghost in the Shell's poor rating and it's important to acknowledge them. The lack of diverse casting within its most central characters undoubtedly played a role in many of the negative reviews, and I would be remiss to ignore that. There is a growing backlash against Hollywood's revolving door of white actors taking on minority roles and it's something the industry can no longer turn a blind eye to. It's impossible for me to say if fear of penning a positive review of such a controversial film played a role in the minds of critics, but if the race question was removed from the equation, we might have seen a very different outcome as far as critiques were concerned.
Whether or not Ghost in the Shell deserved the score it received, it certainly isn't the only movie fated to be dismissed by critics that I took pleasure in watching. I can say the very same thing about a number of releases, and it goes to show just how immaterial a Rotten Tomatoes score can be. In fact, in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, director and producer Brett Ratner declared that Rotten Tomatoes was ruining movies:
"The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes."
"I think it’s the destruction of our business. 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."
Seeking A Good Score May Result In More Generic Movies Being Made
While Ratner's harsh words may be looked at as an exaggeration because he's a Hollywood insider, there may be some truth behind them. If a movie like #BatmanvSuperman can go on to make $900 million dollars at the global box office but still only be recalled for how bad a Rotten Tomatoes score it received, a hesitation on the part of movie makers and studios to take creative chances on other movies may be the result. Though the dollar will always be king as far as studio executives are concerned, big productions like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and others run the risk of becoming generic if what is sought after is a good number on the Tomatometer.
Blockbusters play a large part in the making of less-hyped films since revenue is chiefly how studios put together new productions. No one wants to see the same cookie-cutter movies fans deplore, but they may become the norm if creative departures will be so famously panned. The answer isn't for reviewers to give movies a free pass, but it also isn't for reviews to become bigger than the movie itself.
Ultimately, The Problem Is Us
Fear of missing out on something may be the defining quality of millennials. We have a habit of constantly looking over our shoulders for something better to ensure we're experiencing the very best of everything at all times. While this may seem wise on the surface, it leaves out a huge part of life: risk taking. It's necessary to be open to new things if you want to learn and grow and that includes bad movies.
Rotten Tomatoes has a place in the zeitgeist — an important one at that — but our dependence on it has reached a critical point and it's time to take a few steps back. A universally panned film could have the best joke ever told and we'd never know because it didn't reach our self-imposed standard of acceptable scoring. Or, it could just be a terrible film all around with no merits to speak of and that's OK. Less than stellar experiences are a part of life and make the truly spectacular ones all the better.
What are your thoughts on Rotten Tomatoes? Let me know in the comments!
(Source: Entertainment Weekly)