‘Transformers’ fans: angry, hostile people in disguise

Against all odds, “Transformers” has become the latest touchstone in America’s culture wars. People who love it say the critics are stuffy and out of touch. They are angry about it, in fact. To them, a failure to appreciate “Transformers” bespeaks a greater failure — the failure to relax and have fun. Who would have thought a movie about giant space robots would tap into such deep-seated resentments?

I gave the film a negative (though not scathing) review. So did dozens of other critics. Almost all of us have subsequently been beset with comments such as these:

You losers should stick with watching “The English Patient” and old Daniel Day Lewis movies…

Well it is a summer movie isn’t it? People go to them because they want dessert. They don’t want Citizen Kane. It’s not because moviegoers are dumb or unintelligent (though some are), they’re just in the mood to be entertained.

Those are from my review as it’s posted here on this site. My friends Dawn Taylor and Scott Weinberg have been the targets of similar sentiments. So has nearly everyone else who panned the film.

At some point in the recent past, Rotten Tomatoes introduced a feature where visitors can “review” the critics’ reviews. On a scale of 1 to 5 stars, you can indicate what you thought of the critic’s remarks. This is an amazingly useless feature: People are reviewing reviews. Except I doubt most of the users are actually clicking the links and reading the full reviews — so what they’re actually reviewing is the one-sentence quotes from critics’ reviews, as featured on Rotten Tomatoes.

What’s more, even if they were responding to the critics’ full reviews, they’re not really “reviewing” them. They’re just indicating how much or how little they agree with them. If they agree, your review is awesome. If they disagree, your review is crap, and you’re a terrible writer, and you shuldnt be allowd to be a criticcc!!!!!!!1!!!1!!

I regularly read reviews where I think, “I disagree with what this critic is saying, but what a well-written and entertaining review!” If I were a Rotten Tomatoes user, I would give such a review 4 or 5 stars. I would also, I think, be the first Rotten Tomatoes user ever to employ that sort of reasoning.

I’m telling you all that because it was with my review of “Transformers” that I first became aware of the Rotten Tomatoes commenting feature. So far, my review has gotten 11 comments, most of them along the lines of the ones I already quoted, and the ones that Scott and Dawn have gotten on theirs:

Look at the FAN reaction to this movie!!!!!!!!! Go watch, Gone with the Wind, U over-analytical nerd

(We don’t need to address the faulty reasoning in suggesting a critic — who is offering his own opinion of the movie — should base that opinion on what other people thought of it. Instead, we should address the humorousness of someone who can take the time to write “over-analytical,” yet can’t be bothered to spell out the word “you.”)

your review totally sucked! you riviewed it like it was meant to be shakespheare or something!!! you idiot!

There’s a recurring theme here. “It’s a summertime movie.” “It’s just supposed to be fun.” “It’s not supposed to be Shakespeare.” “It’s not meant to be an Oscar-winner.” “You can’t go in expecting ‘Citizen Kane.'”

It’s a summer movie. It’s a popcorn flick. Just relax! Leave your brain at the door! Just have fun!

A writer going by the name “Outlaw Vern” responds to this attitude perfectly in his delightful tearing-apart of “Transformers,” as found on the Ain’t It Cool News website — a site, it should be noted, that is famous for being a populist, fanboy, non-snobby, voice-of-the-people sort of place. (R-rated language warning for that link.) He says:

DIE HARD was a blockbuster/popcorn/summer/event movie. So was ALIENS. And TERMINATOR 2. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. STAR WARS. JAWS. ROAD WARRIOR. PREDATOR. ROBOCOP. TOTAL RECALL. THE MATRIX. LORD OF THE RINGS. You people who like your BATMAN and SPIDER-MAN and X-MEN and SUPERMAN and James Bond and LETHAL WEAPON… these are all big event movies, many of them timeless, many of them clever, well-crafted, some of them masterpieces. I am not being pretentious, I am not expecting too much, these are mainstream, crowd pleasing movies and they are what you used to hope for when you went to a summer movie. You can’t realistically expect a movie as good as ALIENS every time, but that’s better than resigning to the idea that “summer movie” equals “horribly made infantile disposable pap” and being excited about it anyway. If a summer movie is meant to be like TRANSFORMERS, then why the [hell] aren’t you people embarrassed to be going to see summer movies? At least have the decency to admit that it’s a strange, possibly deviant hobby.

Amen, “Outlaw Vern,” whoever you are! Many of the angry commenters seem to think that if we didn’t like “Transformers,” that must mean we don’t like ANY action/blockbuster/popcorn flicks. Where is the logic in that? A simple browsing will show you that I liked “300,” “Live Free or Die Hard” and “Spider-Man,” Dawn Taylor liked “XXX” and “I, Robot” (“I, ROBOT,” FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!), and Scott Weinberg loved not just the first “Pirates of the Caribbean,” but ALL THREE OF THEM. And those are just a few examples.

People who think all movie critics are pretentious, humorless pedants — real life versions of Anton Ego in “Ratatouille” — probably think that for the same reason some people think all homosexuals speak with a lisp: because they’ve never actually met one.

I know about 20 movie critics well enough to describe them as friends. There are another 30 or so that I know well enough to say we’re friendly colleagues. And they all became movie critics because they LOVE MOVIES. I don’t know a single critic who doesn’t love fun, entertaining summer-style movies like the ones “Outlaw Vern” named. I know two or three critics that I would describe as “elitist,” perhaps even “pompous” — but even those guys are still suckers for a “mindless” blockbuster when it’s done well.

And that’s what it boils down to. Not liking “Transformers” doesn’t mean we only like snooty French cinema or dull costume dramas or independent films about lesbians. All it means is that we didn’t like ‘Transformers.’ We like movies like this when they’re done well; we just didn’t think this one was done well.

That’s it. That’s all it means. A diss of “Transformers” really is not indicative of anything else. Now, if you poked around and saw that a particular critic had a long history of not liking this kind of movie, then maybe you’d have something. But good luck finding a critic like that. Even the few critics who trashed “Lord of the Rings” liked “Terminator 2,” or the ones who hated “Transformers” loved “300,” or the “Pirates of the Caribbean” detractors enjoyed “Spider-Man 2.”

There is no genre of movie that critics hate every single time. Even the ones you’re thinking of — slasher movies, teen comedies, Adam Sandler movies — get good reviews when they’re done well. True enough, they’re not often done well. But whose fault is that? Not the critics’.

Moving to a slightly different subject, I have always been puzzled and amused by how angry people get when you negatively review a movie they liked. (I have a long history with this sort of thing.) So we didn’t like “Transformers.” So what? It’s not like the negative reviews are causing the film to be pulled from the theaters, thus cutting off your access to it. Our opinion of the movie impacts you in no way whatsoever. So why the anger and the yelling and the insulting and the swearing? If this is how you react when someone pans a movie you liked, I can only imagine what you would do if I did something that actually affected you.

What is the purpose of angrily posting a comment telling a critic how vehemently you disagree, and furthermore what a moron he is for not liking the movie? Are you hoping he will retract the original review and change his opinion to match yours? Are you hoping he will concede the point of his being a moron and respectfully resign his post as a movie critic? What do you hope to accomplish by saying, as someone did to Dawn, “go watch notebook for the millionth time or better yet kill yourself”?

I guess you’re just venting. That’s cool. Trust me, we’re not so thin-skinned that we actually take your personal attacks personally. Mostly we laugh at the idea of loving a film SO MUCH that you fly into a rage when someone insults it. And then we laugh at the idea that the film that would inspire such emotion would be “Transformers.”