Brett Ratner thinks Rotten Tomatoes is chiefly to blame for what he hyperbolically described as the “destruction” of the movie business.
Speaking at recently at the the Sun Valley festival, the sometimes-director went on to bemoan what he sees as the lack of intelligent film criticism, and the fact that bad reviews surprisingly stop people from seeing crap 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 that just doesn’t exist any more. Now it’s just a number. A compound number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’ 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. People don’t realise what goes into making a movie like that. It’s mind-blowing. It’s just insane, it’s hurting the business, it’s get people to not see a movie. In Middle America it’s, ‘Oh, it’s got a low Rotten Tomatoes score so I’m not going to go see it because it must suck.’ But that number is an aggregate and one that nobody can figure out exactly what it means, and it’s not always correct. I’ve seen some great movies with really abysmal Rotten Tomatoes scores. What’s sad is film criticism has disappeared. It’s really sad.”
Before I go any further, I feel like I should point out that Brett Ratner – though a prolific producer – has a long history of making crap movies. While he is responsible for directing Rush Hour in 1998, which is something of a guilty pleasure of mine, the other entries in his filmography leave a lot to be desired. X-Men: Last Stand, Tower Heist, Movie 43, and one of the two Hercules movies in 2014… he’s not exactly known as a cinematic visionary. Unsurprisingly, his Rotten Tomatoes scores are… not great… so maybe this little tantrum was a long time coming.
In fairness to Ratner, though, he does (accidentally, I’m sure) raise some interesting points with regards to modern film criticism, especially the nature of review scores. Personally, I dislike giving a score at the end of a review, because I believe a complex opinion can’t be conveyed by a number. That being said, I do see why they exist – not everyone likes or has time for long-form reviews, many just want to know whether they should see a movie or not. That, fundamentally, is the point of films reviews. Now, review scores have their own problems, but they do have value and play an important role in people deciding whether or not they want to part with their hard earned money. That’s as it should be.
However, it’s important to remember that the ‘Tomatometer Score’ that Rotten Tomatoes uses is not a review score – I feel that this is a concept that Ratner doesn’t quite understand. In their own words, a Rotten Tomatoes score is “the percentage of positive reviews published by professional critics” – meaning that, if a movie has a low score, it’s because the majority of professional movie critics think the film is crap. Now, what the movie-goer does with that information is entirely up to them, obviously, but given that actually going to see a film can be an expensive proposition these days (more on that in a minute) – you can’t really fault people for being cautious and discerning about what they go and see.
As far as the ‘destruction of the film business’ goes, Hollywood seems to be accomplishing that perfectly well on its own. To label Rotten Tomatoes as ‘the worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture’ is both wilfully ignorant and intellectually dishonest. Ever spiralling production budgets for mediocre shite, cinemas closing around the world, DVD and Blu-Ray sales and ticket sales dropping, insane ticket prices that pass the cost of studio inefficiency onto the consumer, the rise of on-demand streaming services, the apparent total lack of new ideas, the bloated dictatorial studio system stocked with nameless suits who care nothing for art or the creative process – these things are contributing to the ‘destruction’ of the movie industry. To blame it all on a review aggregation site is ridiculous – but this hardly the first time that miffed directors have tried to accuse critics for their failings.
This externalisation of blame is actually annoyingly common, both from movie fan-boys and directors. While I doubt that anyone actually saw this movie, you may remember only a last year the Gods of Egypt director, Alex Proyas, railing against reviewers for killing his magnum opus… conveniently ignoring the fact that his great work was objectively awful. Or you may have heard of Uwe Boll – the notoriously terrible director of such masterpieces as Blubberella and House of the Dead – who challenged critics who didn’t like his work to a boxing match for some reason. Even more recently, the director and most of the cast of the genuinely inept Batman v Superman dismissed the terrible critical reaction to that colossal pile of shite by claiming that they were making the movie ‘for the fans’, whatever that means. But as Ratner says – making a movie is really hard, guys, so maybe don’t be such big meanies…
Speaking of Batman v Superman, the fact that a film makes money isn’t an indication that it’s a good movie – and it certainly doesn’t mean that it deserves some form of respect. Suicide Squad was an incoherent mess of a film, but it made a load of money. The Twilight and Fifty Shades of Gray movies (and books, for that matter) are terribly written and have extremely questionable underlying messages, but they have made a shit-tonne of cash. They are still making Transformers films… ! Quality and box office returns are not mutually inclusive, because if they were, then Gone with the Wind would be the greatest movie ever made.
Look… I get it… I can appreciate that it can sometimes be difficult to separate one’s self from one’s art. If you truly believe in what you’re doing, and pour your blood, sweat and tears into producing something, having someone call it rubbish is obviously a bit of a blow. But you have to at least entertain the possibility that you and your ego are part of the problem – and that can be a difficult thing to do. Taking (constructive) criticism on board is a vital part of the creative process, and provides the fuel for an artist to develop and grow and improve. You need to learn from it. And yes, we can all appreciate that making movies is probably a difficult thing to do – but that in no way absolves the film-maker for their sins, and certainly doesn’t mean that their work should be given special treatment.
The main message that I’m getting from Ratner’s little outburst is that Rotten Tomatoes stops people from watching bad movies, which presumably makes it harder for him to make money. The galling thing is that he is trying to paint himself (and film-makers like him) as the victims. Truth is, they’ve got no one to blame but themselves.
Bottom line: if you want people to go see your films, don’t make shit movies.