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21.5.09

Movie Review Intelligence

Out of FrameA good friend of mine has spent the greater portion of the last year collaborating on a media information site, Movie Review Intelligence (MRI), that seems worthy of some attention. In recent years such one-time, obscure web locales as Internet Movie Database, Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic have gone from insider usage to commonplace search engines. MRI hopes to reach such acceptance by reinterpreting the model in which we process a film's feedback.

The idea came from the former VP of FOX international marketing, David A. Gross, when he felt there was a gap between such concepts as the thumbs-up and thumbs-down (or "fresh and rotten," respectively) wash of gathered reviews that did not serve the films and how they were perceived. He also wanted a more comprehensive understanding of the reception of such reviews, the relative value of each reviewer's impact, and a tracking to show that publication and writer's value based on public perception and history. The designer and friend, James Knauer, took me on a tour of the site in an attempt to explain all the possibilities the site has to offer and how to navigate it. MRI has the potential to be both an everyday search engine for the casual viewer (or nut like me) and an invaluable tool for studios, independents, and others in how reviews and reviewers are perceived and what type of momentum they are generating.

My first reaction, I'll admit, was a bit defensive. How much do I care how marketing affects the way the industry promotes itself? After some consideration, I realized, a lot. Nothing was more abundantly clear than at this year's Oscars where I heard more punditry about who was going to win, why, and what the 'stats' said than any real discourse based on the actual virtue of the performance. I am constantly amazed at how early public opinion gets culled and molded by the media before it ever hits the wall of the theater. Indeed, it is standard procedure now that such and such star has it in their contract before a frame of celluloid or digital tape is shot what their award season campaign will be. It accounts for those odd trade paper anomalies that feature "For Your Consideration" pages for the performance of Kevin Costner in...well, you get the point.

On the nuts and bolts side for the industry it can be an invaluable tool. It patterns release dates, impact of the reviews, costs of advertisement and sets up models for various sized films and their roll-out patterns. For example, one can see the very basic pattern that Disney often doesn't release its films for reception and relies on its trailers, toys, tie-ins, and branding to get old Hanna or an animated chihuahua to open big. Whereas those like the Weinsteins rely on festival reviews, growing release, and critical mass to build seasonal contenders.

For the potential everyday user I will cite this example. This past weekend a crew gathered to go see J. J. Abrams take on Star Trek. Going to the site beforehand, one can see the five categories that break down the film's reception. With easy access you can see your favorite reviewer's reaction, the mix of respected publications, and exactly how disparate the opinions are and why. In contrast to Rotten Tomatoes, instead of often being duped by a "fresh%" by averages, MRI lays out specifics, histories of reviews, and a percentage of how critical that reviewer has been in the past. (One can therefore see, onscreen, why, for example, I don't like Rex Reed.) By the time we headed out we could see Trek had broken the respected 87th percentile.

Perhaps more importantly, the site gives back some of the heft to the waning and respected film reviewers and publications amid the wash of 'every opinion is equal'. The impact of a Dargis, Denby or, say, Downey isn't tossed into the maelstrom with JoBlo.com and the mulch of soundbite, attention-getting blurbs. While there is an overload of critical media opinion and mega-data-sites bidding to devour further hours of your time and concentration, MRI at least is trying to help you sift through the noise without distraction. Easy to interface, comprehensive and just the facts, Ma'am. Or, if you really have to press me on the issue...I'll give it a thumbs up.

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