Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. IMDb. When we’re considering going to a movie, we make a beeline to certain websites to see our fellow moviegoers’ opinions. Not too long ago, however, we depended on the reviews of a select few critics with editorially-sanctioned authority to proclaim a movie “good” or “bad.”
In 2008, when blogs and the internet were starting to disrupt the art of the film critique, journal Cinéaste gathered a panel of critics to talk about the future of film reviewing as a profession in the age of the internet. Most were surprisingly gracious about the potential of online bloggers as valid movie critics, while nonetheless admitting to an anxiety about the future of their jobs, and maintaining the distinction between a blogger and a critic.
The critics grudgingly admitted that there was room for democratization of film review, and that the internet presented a new and exciting way to reach audiences and engage in dialogue. Blogs and websites allowed for a freedom of expression, voices, and opinions that weren’t beholden to editorial standards, reader expectations, or advertisers’ interests.
The critics also derided bloggers for some of the very traits that made blogs popular. As the Village Voice‘s J. Hoberman summarized: “The strengths and weaknesses are identical—wild enthusiasm, outrageous rhetoric, ad hominem attacks.”
Though these online film writers had a lower barrier to entry, that didn’t mean they were automatically discounted by professional critics. But this acceptance was by no means universal. Some critics were candid about their disdain, like Variety‘s Robert Koehler, who said, “There are more hacks among bloggers than there are fish in the sea.”
Some of this bitterness is perhaps understandable, when one considers that the critics were worried about their job security. “For every print critic who gets the axe, another dozen bloggers appear, many of them arguably more passionate and knowledgeable than the professionals they threaten to supplant (or at least render irrelevant),” said Mike D’Angelo, a movie columnist for Esquire.
Karina Longworth, one of the pioneering film bloggers, was also interviewed. She understood—and regretted—the tension between hobbyist film bloggers and professionals, but highlighted that “professional” reviewers often catered to niches, leaving out significant audiences. She saw a future defined by coexistence: “The best hope of the online film community is not to replace traditional film criticism, but to eventually earn enough respect from that establishment to be seen not as upstarts, not as a nuisance, not as threat, but as partners in the common goal of keeping a public conversation about cinema alive.”
Esquire‘s D’Angelo seemed to agree, predicting today’s reliance on the tomato-meter, saying, “I do foresee a future in which the most gifted critics will wind up preaching primarily to a small, self- selected choir, while the average filmgoer—to the extent that he or she consults criticism at all—will simply check the aggregate results available on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.”