Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Somali Critic

On April 2, it was reported that 20th Century Fox’s highly anticipated summer blockbuster season opener “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” had become the latest high profile movie to succumb to the growing black market of movie piracy. The studio, which had prided itself as one of the more secure studios against movie piracy, then found that their property had become the most downloaded pirated movie ever in less than one week. During that same news cycle it was also reported that FoxNews.Com had fired one of its own film critics for posting a review on their site based on a copy of the 20th Century Fox film he had obtained illegally. While Fox News and 20th Century Fox are two separate entities under the News Corp family, it seems that even corporate families have black sheep.

While initial statements by Fox News were ambiguous about the nature of the departure of Roger Friedman—the critic in question—it seems pretty clear that Friedman was forced to leave the company because of the infraction. In a statement made to the Los Angeles Times, entertainment writer Geoff Bouche commented, “The review was an audacious thing to do (or maybe just stupid) considering that 20th Century Fox, a corporate relative, had gone to the FBI to fight back against the theft and mass piracy." No doubt.

I mean really, what was this guy thinking? You are a movie critic, making a living watching movies and giving your opinion on them so the public can determine what they want to go out and see each weekend. “Wolverine”—a franchise spin-off of the popular “X-Men” movies—is one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year. Fox is supposed to have it under lock and key. Certainly there is a journalistic sense of getting one over on your competition here. It gets leaked and with the rising popularity of anyone in the blogosphere giving out their opinions for free (something I know a little about), you might feel the need to get your opinion out there as soon as the pirates can. But, Hey! You work for the same corporation that has just been very publicly embarrassed. It doesn’t occur to you that there might be some form of repercussions for your illegal actions?

But aside from biting the hand that feeds you, this guy is a real twit to have this much disrespect for the very art form that is supposed to be his passion. Movies are intended to be seen a certain way, on a big screen with big sound and an audience of piers witnessing a shared experience. Any true cineaste knows there is no better way to watch a movie, especially some mega produced summer blockbuster comic book action spectacular like “Wolverine”. Those pirates are missing out on the pure cinematic experience of seeing a greatly anticipated movie on the big screen for the first time. Many of them will watch it on their computers and still go out on opening day to see it in a theater, but they will never get that thrill of staring up at the screen at a movie going experience that is completely new. And this dope gave all that up to get his opinion out at the same time as a bunch of criminals.

Not to mention the fact that he put his name on this thing in a very public format for all the people he stole from to see. Friedman’s not blogging under some blogger pseudonym, like celuloidsavior or jackmantastic. He’s got a byline that’s paid for and read by people who not only employ him, but also those who provide the material with which he sculpts his own work. Critics don’t really ask to be respected by the filmmakers they critique. They often don’t even deserve that respect, considering how vicious some can be; but to blatantly steal from them is just stupid.

The ironic thing about all this is that Friedman wrote a glowing review of the film (“it exceeds expectations at every turn”). Perhaps he thought his ecstatic approval of the film would ingratiate himself to his employers. However, if that were truly the case, he probably shouldn’t have included such a bold stamp of approval of the entire piracy experience by including comments like “so much easier than going out in the rain” in his review.

When it comes down to it, Robert Friedman was foolish in his decision to pirate any film in an industry that currently hasn’t much need for professional critics. When anyone and their mother (yes, I include myself in this group rather than the professionals) can blog and post and tweet their thoughts out into the interweb, and when corporations that once employed critics are continuing to scale back their payrolls; it’s not a good time for an opinion man to be rocking the boat by committing a criminal act, nor is it very professional. Just wait for it like everybody else who isn’t a pirate, and maybe they won’t have to bring the Navy SEALS down on your ass.

"X-Men Origins: Wolverine" opens world wide May 1.

No comments: