The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Amazing shrinking critics

Lyssa Beyer

The print media world has been going through some radical changes recently. The Capital Times, a daily newspaper out of Madison, recently went to an all online format and shut down printing of their newspaper for six out of the seven days in a week. Advertising is being taken away from newspapers by the Internet. And the one trend that has rocked my world – newspaper movie critics are being laid off.

Recently, The Village Voice laid off two of its movie critics, including the popular Nathan Lee. Shortly thereafter, long time Newsweek magazine movie critic David Ansen was bought out and offered a severance package in exchange for his departure at the end of 2008.

It is not a shock that when revenue for a newspaper is low, the first to go are the Arts and Entertainment type of writers and editors. They are not essential to the newspaper business, more of an added plus to those who read the paper and are interested in that topic. And although I disagree with the decision of The Village Voice and Newsweek to do away with their movie critics, I understand the logic behind it.

The fact is movie critics are no longer important in the print media world. Or I should say the majority of the movie critics we have now are not important in the print media world. The problem is the majority of movie critics are bent on watching and reviewing movies based upon the standards they set for movies when they first became employed as a movie critic. But movies have changed, and along with that, critics need to do the same.

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You would think the average movie critic would already understand the Internet and its threat. Not only does it threaten their newspaper as a whole, but it threatens movie critics specifically because it allows anyone who wants to write a movie review to do so.

What this provides surfers of the Web to do is to read the opinion of an average Joe and find out what that person felt about the film. Because the person reading the review is an average Joe, and the person writing it is an average Joe, the reader is more able to judge how they will like the film, which is what a reviewer should do.

But print media movie critics seem to forget this. They slam virtually any sequel that doesn’t have Matt Damon in it, but pretty much will love anything that runs over three hours in length and stars Tom Hanks. Movies these days aren’t anything like “Casablanca,” but really those who go to a film don’t expect that type of an experience either.

One movie critic you can be sure won’t get fired or laid off is Roger Ebert. I feel confident in saying he will be with the Chicago Sun-Times until he chooses to retire. The reason for this is because he has established credibility. And he established credibility because he knows what the average person attending a movie wants. In his 1993 review of “Jurassic Park” for example, Ebert said “Because the movie delivers on the bottom line, I’m giving it three stars. You want great dinosaurs, you got great dinosaurs . On the monster movie level, the movie works and is entertaining.”

This type of thinking is something more movie critics need to take on, and I don’t think Ebert being the only movie critic to ever receive a Pulitzer Prize is a coincidence. Because so many critics lack this thinking and continuously bash movies because they aren’t exactly American Film Institute top 100 movies of all time material, they grow further and further apart from their audience. Readers will take a second out of their day to seek the opinion of someone they know understands them and what they want and can tell them if a film will deliver that to them.

If this trend continues, then the critics will face possibly an even bigger problem than losing their jobs, and that’s their inability to promote movies that otherwise would get lost. Independent films such as “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Juno” have become popular over the past couple of years because of movie critics. Without critics, these types of movies won’t be able to emerge and as a result won’t even get consideration from studios to get made. This will cause nearly every movie that is released either being a sequel or something becoming a two hour long chase sequence with Tom Cruise on a motorcycle. And even without a job, I’m sure the once employed critics would like to take in cinema events that aren’t entirely made up of action sequences.

So what do I suggest critics do in order to get in touch with their audience and save the world of the independent movie? To me, it’s simple. Critics need to be like Ebert and sometimes consider what a film is setting out to do. I can’t wait until “Iron Man” shows tonight for the first time, and is hailed by fan boys around the world because of how awesome the Iron Man vs. jet scenes are. But I can pretty much guarantee on Friday after nearly every critic in the country will hate “Iron Man.” But the critics won’t take into account that people who go to it want to see Iron Man face off against jets, and if it does that, shouldn’t it count for something?

Hansen is a sophomore print journalism major and chief copy editor of The Spectator.

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Amazing shrinking critics