The Buzz

Dragon review slays the embargo

Categories: Movies

In the kingdom of bleary-eyed film critics, David Denby the embargo slayer is the topic of the day.

Here's what happened.

Sony arranged a special screening of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo for the New York Film Critics Circle and the critics association actually decided to postpone their awards vote, to squeeze in the much-anticipated film.

The only caveat? Hold your tongue until Dec 13th.

And so, Monday rolls around and look what shows up in the new issue of the New Yorker...A review of The (new) Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Cue, outrage.

Angry letters from Sony and producer Scott Rudin blasting Denby and his "immoral" decision.

In his defence, Denby pointed fingers at the studios for releasing "eight good movies all at once in the last five weeks of the year." In short, rather than write about The Sitter, one of the minor movies that will be put into release this week, Denby chose to dive into some of the juicy holiday offerings.

Now a bit of a reality check.

  1. The embargo on movie reviews for Dragon Tattoo is until Dec the 13th. Lisbeth and her scary sexy self don't actually hit screens until Dec 21st.
  2. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is based on the incredibly popular series by Stieg Larsson and presumably follows closely the already lauded Swedish original which has earned over a $100 million.
  3. The review is quite positive, describing director David Fincher's adaptation as mesmerizing and the lead Rooney Mara as a star in the making.

If it seems that Sony is overreacting, perhaps it's because with a movie where the source material is so well known, Denby is taking away the biggest reason to see the film. Just like the Twilight series, many of the people who go see the American adaptation will be pretty familiar with what happens to Lisbeth and Mikael. The only question is "Will it be as good?" If Denby's review says "Sure", then just a little bit of that motivation for movie-goers fades away. (Of course being FIRST will lead to a healthy amount of page views, no matter what Denby says.)

 David Denby's review of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo came out Monday, a week ahead of the embargo date. (NewYorker.com)

Studios make critics sign embargoes all the time. While many would like to see the embargoes fall, the fact is Denby did agree to the studio's terms when he sat in that theatre.

Here in Toronto, critics like myself are cramming entire month of screenings into a single week to get ready for the award season. Although the Oscars are still months away, critic associations are already voting and awarding the year's best. You might not think what the Toronto or Vancouver film critics decide on makes a wit of difference. But it's all part of the Oscar ecosystem. As movies like Hugo or The Artist gather acclaim, slowly the buzz is born.

Which leaves the studios and the movie critics in a reciprocal relationship. We need their previews and they need our acclaim to feed the promo beast. As much as industry insiders such as Nikki Finke would like to see embargoes fall, the fact is, most film critics are too busy trying to survive to pick a fight with studios. Every year finds fewer film critics around, column inches shrinking while many readers would rather scan the movie's Rotten Tomatoes rating than actually read a review. It's not the first time a studio has tried to throw its weight around; it's just one of few times a powerful critic had the means to push back.

Tags: critics, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, New Yorker, Oscar screenings

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