I Tell You, I Don’t Get No Respect

I’ve been doing this job for over a decade now. In that time, I’ve served on several prominent video review sites. I pride myself on not being a quote whore – you know, the type of “critic” who writes easily-extractable sound bytes filled with fawning praise for a movie, in the hopes that the quote will be used on a movie poster, print ad, or DVD/Blu-ray cover. In other words, I’m no Jeff Craig. Still, I have to admit that it’s kind of fun to see something I’ve written used as part of a movie’s official marketing. I’m sure that most film critics get at least a secret kick out of it when that happens, even those of us who don’t actively solicit it.

By and large, video critics get quoted much less often than theatrical critics. By the time we’ve written our reviews, the movie’s theatrical run is long since over and the DVD covers have already been printed. For the most part, we’re not likely to see ourselves quoted until a re-release somewhere down the line, if anything.

As far as I’m aware, I’ve only been quoted on two DVD covers. Both were for reviews of Hong Kong action movies that I wrote during my time at DVDTalk. The first was on the Johnnie To thriller ‘Breaking News‘. A quote from my review of an HK import DVD of that movie was used on the subsequent American release. The original sentence was: “At barely 90 minutes, Breaking News is a short but tightly wound thriller, smart and action-packed.” Meanwhile, the version that got extracted for the DVD cover was: “A tightly wound thriller! Action-packed!”

It doesn’t surprise me that the phrases were pulled out of the complete sentence. I know that happens all the time. At least, in this case, I’m not going to argue that they took my words out of context or misconstrued the meaning, which does sometimes happen to big-name critics. Some print ads are so bad as to extract one or two isolated words to imply the direct opposite of what the critic actually said about the picture. For example, “This isn’t a great movie” becomes, “A great movie!”

The blurb version of the ‘Breaking News’ quote still captures my feelings for the movie (i.e. I like it). The added exclamation marks do bother me, though. They look hacky. Can someone really claim to quote you and yet change the words or grammar of what you’ve written? That seems to me to go beyond just pulling a sound byte, even pulling it out of context.

More recently, a friend alerted me that my review of an import DVD of John Woo’s ‘The Killer‘ would be quoted on the domestic DVD and Blu-ray releases from Dragon Dynasty. This is my first quote on a Blu-ray cover, to my knowledge. In this instance, only two words were pulled from the review: “Woo’s masterpiece.” That phrase is so generic that it could have come from any one of a thousand reviews of this movie. Honestly, if I hadn’t been notified of this, I doubt that I’d even recognize it as something I’d written. I would’ve assumed it came from another review that someone else on the site wrote for a different DVD edition. Especially since my name isn’t acknowledged anywhere in connection with the quote, just the site DVDTalk, which I no longer work for.

And that’s the thing that annoys me the most about both of these examples. Of late, studios have stopped referencing the names of the critics they quote. They only cite the publications. Fine, I’m not Roger Ebert; I may not be a big enough name to draw potential buyers’ attention. I get that. But in the case of ‘The Killer’, even the critics from ‘The Washington Post’ and ‘The New York Times’ are left anonymous. That just strikes me as wrong.

Whether some people want to acknowledge it or not, we film critics put a lot of hard work into our movie reviews. If you’re going to co-opt that work for your own marketing and self-promotion purposes, if you’re going to profit from it, the very least you can do is acknowledge the person who wrote the words in the first place. That just seems like common courtesy.

In the end, do I really care that I’m not named on the Blu-ray cover for ‘The Killer’? Of course not. I may have a healthy ego, but I’m not that conceited. If my quote hadn’t been used at all, I wouldn’t have given this a second thought. However, I fear that this is just the latest example of the cultural trend to devalue the profession of film criticism. Our work is being reduced to just an anonymous marketing tool. That troubles me very much.


  1. “Our work is being reduced to just an anonymous marketing tool.”

    I get why the anonymity is bothersome. And out of context, praise doesn’t really do much to inform the viewer, which is what your reviews were doing. In essence, the plug on the front of a box is taking your review and boiling it down into a few words that may not actually represent exactly what you’re trying to say.

  2. EM

    According to the blog, the blurb for “Breaking News” changed the word “thriller” to “triller”. Is the typo part of the blurb? or just part of the blog?

    That question aside, I agree that even changing the punctuation is slimy. In the case of “Breaking News”, if the original quote was going to be chopped up as much as it was (itself an ethically questionable decision), it should have appeared something like, “…a…tightly wound thriller…action-packed…” Would that really have been so terrible?

    My favorite take on these hyperbolic pull-quote blurbs comes from the movie “Airplane II: The Sequel”, from waaaaaay back in 1982. A fire has broken out in the rear of the shuttle, and the flames threaten to engulf fuel drums labeled “EXPLOSIVE”, “DYNAMITE”, “BRILLIANT”, and “A MUST SEE”. ☺

  3. Ryan

    So what was the original quotation from your review of “The Killer”? Was it, “This is definitely not Woo’s masterpiece”?

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