This movie was not screened for critics.

The movies that come out in the first few months of the year are often, shall we say, crappy. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Ultraviolet — which, at first glance, looks like a retread of Milla Jovovich’s Resident Evil movies (2002-2004; my review) — is the latest presumably schlocky film to open in wide release without being screened for critics in advance; as far as the studio’s concerned, critics are irrelevant at best and a hindrance at worst, and the movie’s target audience probably wouldn’t care what they have to say anyway. Still, that said, I can’t remember another two-month period in which so many movies opened wide without being screened for the media. Indeed, it seems like barely a week has gone by since New Year’s Day without at least one movie bypassing the film critics.

First there were Grandma’s Boy and Bloodrayne (January 6), both of which opened well out of the weekly top ten anyway; no fan base there! (As I recall, a screening was actually planned for the former film, but then it was called off.) Incidentally, this was the same weekend Hostel opened at #1, and while my admittedly fallible memory tells me that there was a press screening for it which I missed, I can find no trace of it in my records.

Then there was Underworld: Evolution (January 20), which opened at #1.

Then there was Big Momma’s House 2 (January 27), which may have been shown to a handful of critics, but not many, and certainly not in my neck of the woods; it also opened at #1.

Then there was When a Stranger Calls (February 3), which also opened at #1.

Then there was Date Movie (February 17), which opened at #2.

Then there were Madea’s Family Reunion and Doogal (February 24), the former of which opened at #1. Both films were actually screened for critics in Canada, which is how I saw them, but apparently neither film was screened in the United States — and what’s remarkable about that is that both films ended up on the American top ten for the week but not the Canadian top ten!

And now, there is Ultraviolet (March 3).

Note that three of these films were produced by Screen Gems — is it now their policy to just avoid critics’ screenings in general? — while another three were produced by 20th Century Fox. So maybe it’s not the industry-wide trend that it seems to be, yet.

Even so, there’s something alarming about this trend, though I’m not entirely sure what it portends. Is it a sign that movies are increasingly sucky, or that sucky movies are as profitable as ever (at least when they are either horror films or comedies featuring black men in drag as elderly women)? Or will the avoidance of critics spill over into films with an actual degree of merit?

MAR 23 UPDATE: And now, there are Stay Alive and Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector (March 24).

APR 4 UPDATE: And now, there are The Benchwarmers and Phat Girlz (April 7).

APR 23 UPDATE: And now, there is Silent Hill (April 21).

AUG 10 UPDATE: And now, there are Zoom and Pulse (August 11).

AUG 17 UPDATE: And now, there are Snakes on a Plane and, probably, Material Girls (August 18).

SEP 1 UPDATE: And now, there are The Wicker Man and Idiocracy and, apparently in the U.S. only, Crank (September 1).

SEP 8 UPDATE: And now, there is The Covenant (September 8).

OCT 13 UPDATE: And now, there are The Grudge 2 and The Marine (October 13).

OCT 27 UPDATE: And now, there is Saw III (October 27).

NOV 9 UPDATE: And now, there is The Return (November 10).

NOV 17 UPDATE: And now, there is Let’s Go to Prison (November 17).

NOV 30 UPDATE: And now, there is Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj (December 1).

DEC 26 UPDATE: And now, there is Black Christmas (December 25), which was shown to critics in Canada but not in the U.S.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).

  • Paul Christian Glenn

    Hey Peter,

    There’s an article here about the evaporating influence of critical reviews, due in part to the prevalance of quote whores and the devaluation of language. The article is talking specifically about blurbs in the publishing industry, but all points seem like they would apply to film reviews as well. An excerpt:

    There was a time when a positive review from a newspaper meant something. People had close relationships with their newspapers and they trusted them. Now they are less easily led.

    The explosion of information available to consumers via the internet means they can now cross-reference and check anything to get a more balanced view. The implications are significant. The “Positive Reviews Model” that publishers and retailers have relied on for so long is becoming less and less potent.

    I realize the correlation isn’t direct, but perhaps smaller studios like Screen Gems are taking advantage of receding public interest in critical opinion.

    The sad part is that, if this is the case, we’ll simply see more increasingly absurd amounts of cash pumped into pre-release marketing, and the pics’ll just keep getting worse. Why bother making a good film when legs don’t matter?

  • Geosomin

    As your average movie goer type person I’ve noticed less “official” reviews of late myself. The thing is, I often find reviews to be negative. I can respect people like Ebert who if they like a movie will say why and if they don’t will say why, but often it is an opinion piece and not a critique. Plus, the revelation that some critics were paid off by studios for opinions in the past few years does not inspire confidence in the reviews read.
    There seems to be a horrible push to advertise the living crap out of a film and hope for the best. The wedding crashers comes to mind. I’m sure the movie was kind of funny but honestly, by release time, I was so sick of it I wanted no part of it…I guess if they can get our $12 out of us, it doesn’t matter if we were entertained or not. Which is sad. Really sad.
    Maybe I’m too picky, but there seem to be a lot of average, dare I say crappy, movies being made…and remade! Now I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a cool shiny movie if it entertains me (like say Underworld – not great, but entertaining) but for a movie like that you kind of expect it to be not perfect, so a negative review is neither here more there.
    I just wish there would be less films made better…y’know?

  • Trent

    I’d like to disagree with you. It looks to me to be more like Aeon Flux.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Well that movie wasn’t screened in advance for critics either.

  • Magnus

    What Trent said. Well Pete, if the reviewer is going to be a thing of the past then you should follow my uirging and start writing those books now.

    Ah! Ah! Stop that humming and hawing and don’t roll your eyes like that at ME young man! And that sly grin won’t save you eiether, get writing!

  • trent

    My bro-in-law saw it last night (when he went to GP to pick up the X-Box 360…) and said it was absolutely terrible. And this from a feller who approaches movie with “turn of your mind, relax and float downstream” attitude. (Whip-smart fellow, but believes that movies are entertainment and should not be looked at with a critical eye.)