The Power of a Rotten Tomato
Updated: Aug 9, 2019
When was the last time you went to the movies without consulting a movie rating app or website? Particularly, Rotten Tomatoes the popular film rating site that separates critics reviews from fan reviews, calculates them [separately] and determines, by percentage, whether the film is "Fresh" or "Rotten". Anything under 60% is considered "Rotten" by their metrics. Rotten Tomatoes like Yelp, also gives viewers the power to rate films. Though the "Tomatometer" is determined by professional film critics Fresh or Rotten rating percentages, when you look at film's page you are able to see the "Audience" percentage rating as well. Generally the separation between critic's rating and fans is minor, with a few giant exceptions, but those exceptions aside, Rotten Tomatoes influence in swaying people's decisions to see particular movies, is amazingly powerful.
I can say with utmost certainty, that I never go see a film without checking to see if it's Fresh. Now, I don't always follow the Tomatometer by way of never seeing the film, but 90% of the time if a film is less than 50% Fresh I won't see it in the theaters. And it got me thinking, how much faith do we put on consumer ratings to help us make decisions in our lives?
Seemingly, a lot. We go to Tripadvisor before planning a vacation and Yelp before making a dinner reservation. We read Amazon reviews prior to almost every consumer purchase. We have become a culture of professional ranters and opionators. And hey, I'm not knocking the benefits. Often it's the only recourse we have for bad products or customer service. And frequently reviews are very helpful. Several Amazon reviewers saved my back from a potential hella pain when I stumbled upon them right as I was about to make a huge mistake ordering the wrong mattress pad.
I don't always find myself in agreement with the Tomatometer, particularly when I look up films I've already seen. But when I'm seeking advice on a new film, I put tremendous stock in Rotten Tomatoes. Unfortunately, lately I'm finding Rotten Tomatoes, for me, has been more rotten than not. Here's an example of how putting my total faith into the Tomatometer didn't pan out.
A week ago we rushed out on opening weekend to see DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. I'm a fan of the story, loved the original TV series and thought the Franco starring reboot a couple years ago was visually wonderful and had a pretty good story. It received 91% from Critics and 93% from Audience. Seemed like a sure bet. So we paid for the comfy Dine in Theater tix and strapped ourselves in for the ride! Visually it was spectacular. Part of why I wanted to see it was because it had been shot in 3D on the Alexa M Camera from ARRI, which has been doing some amazing work (check out what's been shot on Alexa M). It delivered, visually. It looks amazing. But the film itself? Honestly it was kinda boring! The story (potential spoiler alert) takes place 10 years after the human race has been effectivelly wiped out by the Simian flu. Caesar, the genetically enhanced now super smart ape and his gang of fellow [increasingly] smart apes have taken up residency in Muir woods. They have a pretty sophisticated set up with a crood yet crafted village made out of huts. They've got fire and are highly organized hunters riding on horseback and utilizing tactics similar to the Indians on the plains in DANCES WITH WOLVES. And they even have what appears to be the beginning of an Ape government with an Ape code or constitution. But when a group of the last remaining humans show up on their doorstop needing to activiate a dam located inconveniently in the apes territory, trouble ensues. It is, and it isn't the trouble you expect. Oh it's trouble, with a capitol T. But the story focuses largely on the relationship between Caesar and his First Officer, Koba. The two have a mighty difference of opinion about humans. Koba wants to kill them. Caesar wants peace. Koba, taking advantage of Caesar's son who is going through his teenage rebellion, tries to sway him toward the darkside. It ultimately leads to Koba dethroning Caesar and temporarily taking control of the ape civilation, leading them into a battle that Caesar would not have sanctioned.
Does this story sound familiar, like maybe one with a couple of lions and hyenas? What I thought was going to be an intricate struggle between the humans and the apes, or some new interesting story line, wasn't. Instead, it was Scar and Mufasa! Koba even has a Scar on his face! A big one.
For me, I just felt like it was a tired story that we've seen a million times before. I wanted more. The film is also extremely one tone in terms of the look, and feel. It's not particularly dynamic in the tempo and the story doesn't really move forward in an interesting way. It has some well choreographed battle scenese, solid acting performances by stars Jason Clarke, Mr. motion-capture, Andy Serkis as Caesar and the always aweome Gary Oldman. Again, visually gorgeous, though I found the production design to be on the one hand, awesome and on the other, repetitive. The whole film takes place in essentially two locations--the ape village and the man village. Bottom line, some good stuff. It was a decent film I would probably recommend it. But 91/93%? No way. 80/83 would be my fair assessment, just for the tired story factor alone.
For reference, here's a recent film I would give a low 90s raiting, EDGE OF TOMORROW, which received a 90 on the Tomatometer and a 92 Audience rating. The Tom Cruise sci fi pic is a much more complex and original story then the ape movie. Based on a Japanese novella called, All You Need is Kill, it is the story of a race of aliens called "mimics" that have taken over Europe. Major William Cage (Cruise) is a flashy but cowardly Public Affairs Officer who has never seen battle. When a superior officer insists that he will join soldiers "on the beach" during battle to film the attack, he smugly refuses attempting to go over the superior officer head. This backfires, epically. He finds himself stripped of his rank and sent off to battle on that beach with the rest of the scrubs. The allied human forces, not realizing the aliens had anticipated their attack, are immediately underseige. Cage/Cruise, having no skills whatsoever, is in over his head but manages to survive long enough to see his fellow soldiers picked off one by one. After an explosion occurs, Cage is doused in alien blood, which knocks him out but has a transformative effect on him. He wakes up 24 hours early at Heathrow airport (where he started) on the eve of the battle. Having seen the outcome and inevitable destruction by the aliens, Cruise is forced to relive the same day over and over again, attempting to find the new path to defeating the aliens. To do so he must convince his fellow soldiers, including co-star Emily Blunt, to follow him in his quest to save the mankind. So it's a bit of a GROUND HOG DAY meets SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. The film is visually masterful, well acted, has smart writing, clever sci fi, and edge-of-your-seat action. The character development is facisinating. Cruise has a similar arch with Cage as he did with his character in RAINMAN--you can see the sincere evolution well woven into the script.
The film did extremley well overseas but only moderately well in the US. I think Tom Cruise has never shaken the couch jumping incident. It's time we get over it. I'm not a fan of the weird Scientology lifestyle but I don't really care about his personal life. He works damn hard and it shows. I wouldn't give EDGE OF TOMORROW a 98, that number is reserved for the likes of JAWS and STAR WARS, and ALL ABOUT EVE and Hitchcock movies. But It's a good solid 91 for sure. At least, in my opinion.
That's just it. It's only my opinion. I've just offered up two opinions on two different films, not unlike what many Audience members do every day on Rotten Tomatoes. So will it now follow that you will not see DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES because I said it was not as great as it was billed to be (in my opinion)? And will you now watch EDGE OF TOMORROW when its on Amazon Prime (you should)?
Having the ability to sway public opinion by what we write on Rotten Tomatoes, or Yelp, or anything online, is a bit scary. So many people are offering their opinions on everything, all the time that it makes me wonder: Have we lost faith in professional critics or are we simply drunk with the power of the rant?
There's several movies on Rotten Tomatoes that have high viewer and critic ratings that I just don't understand. Maybe it's me! More than not, it's the Audience rating I disagree with not the Critics. I truly believe there's still value in the "professional" critic. They have acquired some discipline to be in their role (one would hope) vs us, the average public who, have not. This translates to pretty much everything. It's another symptom of our "everybody can be a star" culture. Everybody can be a singer, dancer, entrepreneur, film critic! Let's face it, writing a review on Rotten Tomatoes is far simpler than standing in line for America's Got Talent.
So where does that leave my Tomatometer? I'm not saying that I will never listen or consider consumer opinions and online ratings. I will, I do, everyday. But I've come to the conclusion that Rotten Tomatoes provides a general roadmap but I've got to take a chance on my own route. Remember, the internet is filled with opinions. And that's all they are. I will conclude, this opinion, with my old friend Oscar Wilde --
“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”