A judge has finalised a settlement in which film studio Sony will pay $1.5m (£850,000) to film fans after using a fake critic to praise its movies.Sony did something enormously stupid. Their fictional cinema critic was just one Google search away from being exposed and still they went ahead. But the legal aspect of the outcome is interesting. So, if I saw the movie and retained the theater stub I'm eligible for a $5 pay-out. The judge thinks that it's appropriate the studio compensate half of the ticket price for cheating its audience. And 'cheating' here means misleading the common man by a fake positive review. I think the judge was legally bound to compensate the viewer somehow. But does it make common sense?
In 2001, ads for films including Hollow Man and A Knight's Tale quoted praise from a reviewer called David Manning, who was exposed as being invented.
He supposedly called Heath Ledger "this year's hottest new star" for his role in A Knight's Tale, said The Animal was "another winner" and Hollow Man was "one hell of a scary ride".
People who saw the films in the US can now get a $5 (£2.80) refund from Sony's pay-out, lawyer Norman Blumenthal said.
Shouldn't the audience who claim their $5 back be asked to prove that they saw the cinema only because of the fake review by the fake critic? No, because it's logically undecidable. This leads me to another question - how many cinema goers go to a specific cinema because their favorite critic recommended it? Before the internet, whatever newspaper/weekly you subscribed to and whatever critic worked for that publisher played a role. But now everyone has access to every cinema pundits' bytes. Rottentomatoes pools together reviews of popular critics. And IMDb has its rating for every movie - voted by the general public.
At the beginning of this decade, when my interest in cinema was at its peak, I devoured every review from every pundit. There was a phase where I allowed the critics to dictate what I should think about the movie. Wag the Dog is an example - I thought it was bland and predictable, but critics loved it. I read them all and taught myself to love it. This primarily came from the insecurity that I don't know enough, not mature enough, not culturally acclimatized enough to appreciate the product. It took a while for me to realize that I'll always be, heck, even some cinema pundits will be, inadequate and not always get the director's vision. Sometimes, it's just a cheap writer/director conveying something unworthy of serious interrogation. Sometimes a truly serious message is lost on me. But either way there's no need for me to hide my real thoughts.
I saw '2012' last week after reading Roger Ebert's review. For those who don't know much about film critics he's their equivalent of Brad Pitt. He won the 1st Pulitzer for film criticism (of only 2) and most of the times my likes and dislikes are in agreement with his. The cinema was such a disaster that I wanted to punch my fist through the screen (as if there weren't enough holes in the movie). If that's his only review some reads they'll think he has an IQ of the director of 2012. Since I've followed him over the years I know that's his guilty pleasure. He recommends some crazy products from time to time.
Now that I have rambled let me try to connect the dots and conjure a few points. Most people don't listen to critics. They have their favorite actors, directors, writers to decide if they should go to a movie. Those who read/listen to critics always take that with a pinch of salt. And they gradually educate if the taste of their critic matches theirs. But nobody I know ever respects blurbs behind DVD cases or newspaper ads. Those short sentences always have to be 'Brilliantly directed' or as in this case 'Another Winner'. Sony had to pay for something nobody would anyway have based their movie-going decision on and that's just dumb.