Results tagged “movies” from ARTicles

In Slate today, Zachary Pincus-Roth poses an excellent question: When journalists report box-office numbers, shouldn't they "at least factor in inflation, instead of pretending that it doesn't exist?"

This is how he explains the omission:

Journalists like to ignore this basic economic principle because, for one thing, "Johnny Depp's best weekend ever" is a more exciting headline than "Johnny Depp's 14th-best weekend ever in inflation-adjusted dollars when starring in a Tim Burton-directed children's novel adaptation." And perhaps journalists don't care because the public doesn't, either. As readers, we get excited about records being broken. As moviegoers, we feel reassured knowing that everyone in America saw the same blockbuster as we did last weekend. But there's good reason to care about accuracy.

With accuracy in mind, it's worth pointing out that Pincus-Roth -- in an otherwise incisive piece -- misses the main reason that the numbers are off: Journalists in general have a terrible phobia of math; that may go double (wait, is that math?) for arts journalists. So if they can avoid doing the numbers, they're going to -- even if that means that they give the wrong context or emphasis to a story, or hype something that's thoroughly unremarkable, as is often the case when they report box-office numbers without factoring in inflation.

"Lay readers, who now follow the box office as if it's a sport, should recognize that ignoring inflation is like comparing the world record for the 100-meter dash to the record for, say, a 3-meter dash," Pincus-Roth writes. "That's a more apt comparison than you might think: The average ticket price in 1939 (23 cents) is 3 percent of the price in 2009 ($7.18)."

When journalists are taking the long view, they also err if they fail to note the ever-increasing population; no wonder more people are watching movies now than 70 years ago. To get a bigger audience than in 1939 is probably not so tough even for the most mediocre offerings. But to grab a bigger share of the population? There's a challenge.

The Hollywood box office is Pincus-Roth's focus, but his point applies to any box-office figures, and to many of the other quantitative measurements we report -- sometimes without examining them very closely. Broadway box-office totals this season, for example, are being tabulated according to a new formula, more advantageous to producers than in years past. I predict that this difference will be largely ignored by reporters and their editors.

As an editor, I long ago discovered that the part of any given story that's most likely to be wrong is the math. But we're letting ourselves off too easy if we decide that doing it in the first place isn't part of our job. When we're blithe about the numbers -- when we accept the figures we're given without evaluating them critically, when we assign to them meaning that isn't there, even if interested parties tell us it is -- we end up concocting news that is, in Pincus-Roth's words, "utter bunk."
July 6, 2009 6:52 AM |

10001591.jpg The new "Indiana Jones" movie opens Thursday, but chances are that if you're even remotely interested, you've already read a review. This is in stark contrast to the wishes of the studio, which tried as valiantly as Harrison Ford's anti-aging makeup person to keep reviews under wraps (at least Stateside) till opening day. The AP's David Germain reported from Cannes:

In an era of Internet spoilers, fan blogging and online video diaries where filmmakers show off their tricks, Indy returns with the old-fashioned covertness Spielberg always has favored.

"He is the only one in the world who keeps his cards face down on the table until the 11th hour, 59th minute, 59th second, and nothing deters him from doing that," said Jeffrey Katzenberg, Spielberg's partner at DreamWorks.

Yet it's proving impossible to keep this film -- or any other -- totally under wraps. Not only have reviews leaked out about "Indy" -- particularly a scathing one from an unnamed distributor whose negative opinion received big headlines on Drudge -- but we've already been through several cycles of conventional wisdom about the film (it's terrible, it isn't as bad as you thought, it's actually halfway decent). And it hasn't even opened yet.

The interesting thing is that the studio just kind of gave up trying to keep all the domestic reviews bottled up. The invite that critics received for the Sunday morning press screening had the usual stern warning: No reviews should be published before opening day, not even online. And that means you, too, bloggers.

Yet by Tuesday, Rotten Tomatoes listed several mainstream reviews of "Indiana Jones" from its "Top Critics," including from USA Today, Boston Globe, New York Daily News, the Newark Star-Ledger, the Arizona Republic and Los Angeles Times. And it didn't appear that all of those critics had actually seen the film at Cannes. In fact, a San Francisco press rep, when asked about a review from a Fresno press screening, threw in the towel on Monday and said: Go ahead and post.

May 20, 2008 2:12 PM |


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