Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hot critic-on-critic action

Yesterday Roger Ebert retracted his defense of New York Press film critic Armond White's negative review of District 9, the new Peter Jackson-produced sci-fi film that functions as an allegory for apartheid. Ebert seems to have been influenced in part by White's positive take on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which Ebert has spent weeks (though it feels like months) disparaging -- presumably with good reason, though I haven't seen it and won't.

Whatever you may think of the alien-robot flick, there's little doubt that if someone were to write a thesis on it, the writing would sound like this excerpt from White's review:
Based on the original 1980s Transformer toys by Hasbro and subsequent TV cartoons and comic books, the Transformer movies expound on this cultural plenitude. Their fascination with technology—the way common objects rearrange, expand or shrink as if having a benevolent or malicious life of their own—drives the stories.

Bay is an ideal director to realize this peculiar genre, which remakes the surfeit of adolescent commercial media as a means of multimedia gratification.These cars, trucks, motorcycles and planes—both human-friendly Autobots and dastardly Decepticons—metamorphose fast, but their transfiguration is like the mechanical toy descriptions in E.T.A. Hoffman: fantastic and uncanny.
Both White and Ebert address the real usefulness of the popular backlash against White's takedown of District 9. The incident makes it clear that Rotten Tomatoes -- which listed White's review, for a time, as the only negative one in existence -- can cultivate critical groupthink, such that dissenters are seen as willful contrarians or simply humorless grouches.

As someone whose taste is more predictable than White's, I appreciate dissent but am not always confident that calling a writer-director-producer like Jackson "intellectually juvenile," as White does, is the right way to go. Though if that's what you think, more power to you. I'm just saying ad hominem can get old for the reader, unless the reader likes the smell of blood in the air. Yet the whole mini-scandal helps Rotten Tomatoes addicts think more critically about the site, and about whether the big percentage at the top is worth paying so much attention to. And that's a good thing.


M said...

Ad hominem has never gotten old for White, unfortunately. BTW, did you read the Ebert and A.O. Scott rails last week? Obviously a lot of cranky-old-man shit going on (teenagers have been operating under herd mentality for as long as they've been an identifiable social group, Roger), but some rather excellent points in both.

Neal said...

Haven't read them, no. Link, please?

M said...