By Brian Harris, Staff Writer
It’s hard for many to believe, but there was a time before the internet.
We rely on it for so much of our day to day lives, that the thought of living without it is to many born before the 90’s more like a horror film than fifty-year-old history. And while this dependence has its pros and cons, frankly I don’t care about all that.
I’m a nerd, and I care about things nerds care about: Video games, comic books, and film. And in the modern era, these things have flourished. Their arrival into the mainstream of consumer entertainment is in many ways due to the internet itself. Its widespread wealth of information allowing previously impenetrable hobbies and passions to come to light and gain millions of new fans and followers. But to blindly praise the arrival of the “world wide web” is to miss one of its most glaring flaws in this realm of pop culture. Specifically, I’m referring to what websites like Rotten Tomatoes have done to the film industry.
Now look, when used correctly, Rotten Tomatoes can be an invaluable tool for any cinephile, I’ll gladly admit that. It clumps potentially hundreds of professional film reviews into one hub page, and it’s especially useful for discovering smaller indies. But let’s face it, it seems like much of its audience use it to avoid lower rated films.
And I get that, too. How many times in the past have people paid to see terrible films on the big screen? With Rotten Tomatoes, now you don’t have to! Being able to glance at a percentage to let you know if this one movie is worth that precious 11 bucks is to many a miracle of modern technology. But, at the same time, what if you would have enjoyed that movie you just avoided like the plague? Sure, it may have, say, a 20 percent approval rating, but how do you know you’re not in that 20 percent without watching it for yourself?
As a self-appointed nerd, I find the greatest thing about pop culture, whether it’s television, movies, video games, whatever it is, is talking about it afterward. Movies aren’t disposable; they’re conversation pieces, arguments. Like any good art form, they’re not made to be thrown away after one look. The remarkable thing about art is that everyone will have a different opinion. No one person looks at 2001: A Space Odyssey the same exact way.
And yet, let’s look at Rotten Tomatoes. Kubrick’s film scores a 94 percent approval rating based off 79 reviews. Now if you understand how the site works, that the percentage is simply that, a percentage of people who enjoyed the film versus people who did not, then that’s fantastic information to have. “Wow” you might say to yourself, “94 percent approval rating? This must be fantastic I can’t wait to watch it!” And that’s awesome. One of the best things about not just Rotten Tomatoes, but word of mouth in general, is that it might draw lesser known movies to your attention. Good reviews and a high percentage score will inevitably bring more viewers, and often times the films that score high deserve the spotlight the site gives them.
But I don’t worry about all that. That’s all great, but I worry about the people who see that score and now assume that its fantastic without seeing it, or let that score color their opinions of the film when they do eventually give it a look. I’ve seen a lot of people try to like films they hate, or hate on movies they obviously enjoyed themselves, simply because of word of mouth, or other people’s opinions.
And that, to me is not only a terrible mindset to have, but harmful to the film industry. Pop culture lives and dies on opinions, and due to the internet, people are often scared to have one. The concept of Groupthink has begun to creep into cinema, and it’s a threat to it as an art form.
Funnily enough, I personally rarely disagree with Rotten Tomatoes’ percentages. In my opinion, they’re generally spot on, with exceptions of course. But that’s just it, I don’t hate Rotten Tomatoes, nor the internet. In fact, I love them. They’ve allowed small indies a stage alongside the blockbusters, and have made it so much easier to be able to talk with and discuss movies with a literal worldwide audience and community. The internet has allowed the film industry and its fans to grow to millions across the globe. Its additions are invaluable. I only fear that if we’re not careful, its damages will become more and more apparent, and people will stop having their own opinions about films.