What is the point of criticism? What is the value of criticism if it doesn't make us angry, or more usefully, make us, the consumer of things to be criticized look foolish or stupid. Everything that humans set out to do is flawed, whether as a whole or individual effort, and therefore criticism is absolutely vital to the larger process of continual improvement. We cannot achieve perfection, but we can always get a little closer. Without criticism, we don't move closer and things don't get better. Just look around the world and see the difference between societies that don't have free expression and those that do.
In free societies, we understand the value of a free press to call out politicians for their failings, misstatements, screw ups and sometimes lies. The targets of criticism rarely like it, and the impact of criticism can't change things that have already passed. The payoff of criticism is it's corrective effect on future actions and events. Sometimes dramatic, but more often subtle, intelligent well crafted and well argued criticism makes a huge impact. It changes things. Tomorrow.
Criticism is also very useful in regards to consumer products, whether they be cars, food, music or lets say movies. Lots of movies are made and released to the public every year. We can't see them all, so most people rely on the critical opinions of film critics to guide us as to what's worth the money and the time to see. If movies cost only a buck, we wouldn't care too much. But since they cost ten bucks a pop, it matters.
The nature of the artistic endeavors means by definition, that a solid percentage of the body of work of a given artistic genre won't be very good. But only by trying and by taking risks does some of the effort yield works of art, true value that most, or at least a reasonable majority of the target audience can agree upon. As a whole, this rarely fails. But sometimes it does, and spectacularly.
I remember so clearly an evening way back in 1977 that could not be more demonstrative of this point. The first Star Wars movie had just been released. The film critic for what I believe was the NYC WNEW local TV new affiliate (channel 5 for those old enough to remember) completely panned the movie. I think he gave it a three out of ten. I took his word for it and never thought I'd ever go see it. Of course we know how that story worked out. The original Star Wars is a classic, and for whatever legitimate weaknesses it MIGHT have, it's still nothing less than a nine, and that's likely a disservice. The TV news critic was completely wrong, but as it turned out the VAST majority of knowledgeable and experienced and talented critics got it right, and the world kept turning.
Now I'm sure some people don't like Star Wars, or don't get it. That's cool, people are entitled to their opinions, blah, blah, blah. But certain things, certain events, certain moments simply transcend an opinion. Some things are great, and are important, and are incredible despite the fact some don't like it. There's no contradiction there folks. Over time facts and data can and do trump simple opinion, without invalidating individual points of view. Star Wars is great, it was important and is despite someones opinion. One is free to argue about whether the earth is flat or round, but it's round regardless.
Last night I went to see the latest Star Trek movie. Having heard about the plot and the concept, I was intrigued. I loved the original Star Trek series, and yes, it was one of the most important television shows ever made. This movie, unlike the string of Star Trek movies released from the late seventies on, was supposed to occur before the time of the TV series. It was supposed to show us how Kirk and company all got together and why they were who they were. Ok.
The number of film critics, many well established, well known and well regarded who thought this was a good movie was remarkable. With a line up of supporters like that, I was fairly sure I'd like it too. Generally speaking, my experience has been that if Ebert likes it, so will I.
And so I went, eager to see a new chapter of a story I've known and loved for over thirty years.
I have rarely been so disappointed in a movie. I will not go great lengths describing in detail what was wrong with this film, but I will say the problems were comprehensive, and I will say that I cannot imagine how any fan of the original series, however desperate they may be to see Star Trek as a story line continue, could possibly be satisfied with this movie. I have rarely wanted to walk out on a movie more than I did this one. I got far more value out of paying twelve bucks for a popcorn and a gallon of soda than I did paying for the movie.
What I find the most distressing and depressing is how so many critics could have gotten this so wrong, especially since they should know better and that so many of the basic components of a good movie, regardless of what kind of movie it is, were utterly absent in this two hour disgrace. And especially since the previous Star Trek movies had certainly been graded as hit or miss quite accurately over the years. Perhaps it's a case of movie payola for the critics. Tragically, because so many of us were duped into seeing this movie, you can be absolutely sure they'll make another one. Hopefully the critics will get it right the next time and we won't have to be duped by a third.
Sometimes even the majority gets it wrong, which I guess kinda sums up this soon to be passed decade pretty well.