Thursday, December 4, 2008

More "Rent it" confusion

There has recently been some discussion here and at Criticwatch about the oddball nature of the "Rent it" rating on At the Movies. Ben Lyons even dissed Four Christmases last week by saying, "Skip it, but I guess maybe if you are on an airplane you can watch it to stay awake."

I have since found this little commercial from a few months ago introducing us to the two Bens.

Jump ahead to 1:35.

Explaining their new rating system (although by that point it had been around for a month or two), Lyons says:

"Renting a movie doesn't mean it's average at all. It means watching it in the confines of your home, watching it on an iPod, or a phone, or on a plane, or where ever else people consume movies nowadays."

So is "Rent it" good or bad? In reality, it is just something people say casually about a movie. "It looks ok, but I am not going to make an effort to see it. I'll put it in my Netflix queue and watch it at home and not really worry if the phone rings or whatever." Which is fine, but it is not exactly a sensible rating for a critic.

Lyons gives away the problem without any sense of what a disservice he is doing--watching a movie on an iPod or a phone (on a tiny screen with no audience) or on an airplane (edited and constantly interrupted!) are NOT great ways to see a movie. Granted, I have watched movies on my iPod and on a plane, and enjoyed them, but I certainly would NOT recommend it.

Movies are meant to be enjoyed in a theater, with a big screen and an audience. Recommending "Rent it" for a movie is like recommending "Read it" for a play--yes, it is much cheaper and you can still enjoy it, but that is not what the medium was made for.


Anonymous said...

Roger Ebert actually recently had two entries in his Answer Man column about "rent it". Two of his readers asked him what he thought of it and he said he thought it was BS. I believe his response was "Any movie worth your time is worth seeing in theaters".

Generally, I'd agree with him but there are movies that are made to be seen on cable. Not worth spending 12 bucks on- but maybe worth spending 4 dollars for the DVD. The Nanny Diaries I'd put into that category. And The Day After Tomorrow, which I actually did see in theaters.

Scott said...

I know what you mean by figuring you are more likely to rent it than see it at the theater, but I tend to agree with Ebert here. I think that Ben's comments, and the confusing use of the "Rent it" category, make it a poor use of a rating.

Having the critics recommend "Rent it" just lets the movie off the hook. The Thumbs Up/Down was much less equivocal--and led to a much better discussion between the critics.