Love them or hate them, list making is the back bone of pretty much any entertainment magazine you care to mention, and many a nerdy pub discussion beside. It fills dead space, it kills time, and as the pastime of idle till jockeys has been pretty accurately been lampooned by High Fidelity.
But while geeks can rail each other with the ridiculous subjectivity of their own list of picadillos, the grander readershi- wide polls conducted by publications of size, if not repute, always makes for a worthwhile perusal. Britain’s own colossus of cinema, Empire magazine chose to recently query their readership about what they consider the worst films of all time. While the list doesn’t throw up any shocking revelations (The Room! Battlefield Earth! Batman and Robin!) the fact that a wedge of all the films charted scored three stars out of five, with another slice taking two starts in the very same magazine begs a few questions. The fact that every entry is bookended with a stinker of a quote from other critics as to just how bad the film really is, makes you wonder if Empire has an iota of self awareness about what they’re doing. Maybe a bit of analysis and a pie chart of the worst films’ collected scores could help:
A few of the three star reviews fall in the definite category of stark personal/cult/delusional favourites, with titles such as Howard the Duck, Southland Tales, Dreamcatcher and Heavens Gate making up their number. Widely panned commercial failures, these are films who have their ardent defenders, and Empire has the doggedly all knowing trash expert Kim Newman on staff to tackle the flood of direct-to-video films they get in every month. While Lindsey Lohan’s universally abhorred I Know Who Killed Me failed to get distribution in the UK, Newman was there to argue its corner when it came out on DVD. He’s a unique voice and greatly valued for it.
The other plethora of three stars fall into the dangerous category of the over inflated blockbuster sequel, and number the pitiful Spider-Man 3, Matrix Revolutions, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and the beyond pitiful Speed 2. A cynic might scoff at how easily a magazine got subsumed by hype, if not the questionable trading of favourable scores for big name exclusives. While the practice hasn’t been widely covered in film PR, the dastardly deeds of gaming’s PR folk has been better covered by more vocal critics than me, and it would be naïve to think it doesn’t go on behind the scenes at the big movie magazines/websites/review shows.
But then again doesn’t that just reflect Empire’s remit for espousing the undying fan’s idoltry for all things big brash and Hollywood, where the packaging and the hype are enjoyed just as much as the film itself? As a lad I got absolutely wrapped up in all things Jurassic Park before its release, bought all the special edition magazines I could get hold of and read them to rags. Spoilers be damned, I wanted beyond full disclosure before I went in. During the film I still managed to have the living daylights knocked out of me, but coming out of it I was none the less disappointed that there were no Baryonyx in the film, as that had been on the map in the Official Souvenir Studio-Authorized Magazine that I’d read so closely. Yes, that’s exactly how much of a geek I was.
Thankfully Jurassic Park is, was, always will be a superb film, but when a bit older and wiser I could appreciate the Matrix Revolutions for the absolute travesty it is. It took me the whole of Matrix Reloaded to learn the bitter lesson of hype vs reality to appreciate that. Roll around Spider-Man 3 and I knew better than to go and see it sober. So it goes.
To be generous to the films and the magazine you have to take these films with a degree disbelief suspended, and for a lot of the featured films the experience can be a lot more enjoyable if you just go with the hype. I already take Empire’s scores with a hefty dose of salt, but I guess it’s a small comfort to know that I’m far from the only reader who is able to, if only occasionally, pull back and challenge the hyperbole machine. If only the reviews were a little less by committee and a little more individual then we could just take them and debate them as the subjective reflections they are.