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The Cricket: Calling out bad movie fans — and bad journalism

Published July 20, 2012 1:17 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Apparently, I'm not enough of a movie fan.

Real Movie Fans, in the Internet age, don't just go to movies and like them. They obsess about movies before they're made. They speculate on who would be the perfect actor for a role, the perfect director for a movie, even before those people are hired. They rev themselves up with anticipation for the biggest summer blockbusters and read movie-review websites carefully for hints that the critics will love their object of desire as much as they do.

And if some critic doesn't share that enthusiasm, Real Movie Fans unload a heaping helping of scorn, insults and even threats — usually with more spelling and grammatical errors in one sentence than a middling high-school student records in a year of essay assignments.

This weekend, Real Movie Fans (let's call them RMFs) are waiting impatiently for what has been hyped as the summer's biggest movie, "The Dark Knight Rises," the final chapter in Christopher Nolan's "Batman" trilogy. And the RMFs have let out their wrath at anyone likely to rain on their Bat-parade.

All seemed to be going well for the RMFs. The first reviews of "The Dark Knight Rises" were raves, and the popular aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes was scoring the film at a perfect 100 percent — meaning that every critic rated it "fresh" (or positive) and no one gave it a "rotten."

Enter Marshall Fine, well-respected movie critic and proprietor of the blog Hollywood & Fine. Fine broke the "fresh" streak, calling "The Dark Knight Rises" the weakest of the trilogy. "Its potential is such that it ultimately disappoints, thanks to Nolan's decision to go big, bigger, biggest," Fine wrote.

When his review was posted on Rotten Tomatoes on July 16, the RMFs lunged at it. So many people clicked from the Rotten Tomatoes site to Fine's blog that it crashed Fine's server. And among the hundreds of comments left at Rotten Tomatoes, the level of vitriol, death threats and hate speech was ridiculously high.

Matt Atchity, editor-in-chief of Rotten Tomatoes, wrote an open letter admonishing commenters for taking things too far. But the warning apparently was insufficient (notably, when the AP's Christy Lemire's "rotten" review was later posted — and the comments were not only nasty but sexist), and the site suspended all comments for "The Dark Knight Rises" for a few days. The site is also contemplating switching its comments over to a Facebook-based system, which would remove commenters' anonymity.

Obviously, the RMFs' zealotry is way out of hand. So is the RMFs' absurd obsession with maintaining a movie's perfect rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

But for one old friend of The Cricket, the method for demonstrating that absurdity was as out of line as the RMFs' behavior.

Eric D. Snider, a freelance critic living in Portland, Ore., decided to post a fake review of "The Dark Knight Rises" on his website, Snide Remarks. It began with a negative line about the movie, attributed on Rotten Tomatoes to Snider as a writer for the website Film.com, with a link to the rest of the "review."

Only when readers click from Rotten Tomatoes to Snider's site (not to Film.com) would they read a big "Just kidding!" and an admission that Snider had not yet seen the movie and was trying to goad RMFs.

"I just wanted to post a negative quote on Rotten Tomatoes and see how many idiots would type angry words at me without actually clicking the link to read the review," Snider wrote.

Snider said he was trying to make a point with his stunt. "It doesn't matter if a movie you love doesn't get a 100 [percent] RT score," Snider wrote. " 'You ruined this movie's RT score!' is a dumb complaint that is only made by dumb people."

No matter how valid Snider's point was, his effort to make it violated what is really the only rule of journalism: Don't lie.

Alas, this isn't a new issue for Snider. He lost his job at Provo's The Daily Herald because of it. He wrote an article in 2003 about a local theater group that had rewritten a Neil Simon play to remove the swear words, and someone had reported the bowdlerizing to Neil Simon's license holder. What Snider didn't write was that he, Snider, was that mysterious someone.

As a freelancer, he landed afoul of a movie studio in 2007 when he accepted a trip for a movie junket (including airfare, hotel and food) without telling the studio he planned to write about the junket experience. (I played a minor role in his story, because I attended the same junket, though The Tribune paid my airfare and I didn't stay long enough to need a hotel room.) For some time after that, the studio's marketing rep in Portland blackballed Snider from all its screenings (not just for that one studio).

Now Snider is paying consequences for his actions. Atchity, in his same open letter, wrote that "Snider has abused our trust, and therefore, his reviews will no longer apply to the Tomatometer." For a movie critic, especially one whose livelihood depends on web traffic, that's a shunning of the highest order.

I don't know how Film.com is going to react to having its name dragged into all this. (I sought an email response from Film.com, but haven't heard back. Let me add, in the interest of full disclosure, that more than a decade ago I wrote reviews for Film.com — though, to my knowledge, the people I worked with don't work there now.)

Snider tweeted an apology, of sorts, on Monday night: "I apologize to those I offended who like to respond angrily to reviews they've only read one sentence of, of movies they haven't seen."

As I said, I'm not enough of a movie fan to get worked up about a movie's score on Rotten Tomatoes. I am enough of a journalism fan to call foul on someone who thinks he's too clever to behave like a journalist.

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at http://www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Email him at movies@sltrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/seanpmeans.