Stephen King had an interesting column in the August 20/27, 2004 issue of “Entertainment Weekly.” Normally, I don’t read this magazine, but I got eight free issues courtesy of a DVD purchase at Suncoast (which, by the way, turned into a real hassle). When I got to the King column, I was fairly excited. You see, if it wasn’t for King, I wouldn’t be writing this column.
I loved to read horror novels as a child. When I saw a trailer on television for “The Shining,” I convinced my dad to drive me to the nearest 7-11 so that I could buy the book the movie was based upon. Say what you will about Kubrick’s film, but I liked it. It just isn’t King’s vision. King’s novel, however, is his vision, and it scared the crap out of me. My nine-year-old brain couldn’t get through it fast enough, and by the time I was done reading it I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a writer.
I know King isn’t respected by many literary critics; they think his work is fluff with little merit. I think the more books he sells, the more critics hate him. Hell, I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t liked everything he’s done, but I do enjoy most of his work. That’s why I was so disappointed by his “Entertainment Weekly” column titled “The Four-Star Follies.”
King begins by telling readers how much he loves the movies. He believes a “movie (always a movie, never a film, even if it comes with subtitles) should be fun before it’s anything else: an ice cream cone for the brain.” If you’ve read my column on a regular basis, you know what I was thinking.
King continues by saying that he goes to the movies to be entertained and “not to learn the meaning of life.” “It doesn’t take a lot to please me,” he writes. Then he tells readers that this doesn’t make him or people like him “dumb,” and he takes umbrage with those who would say any different. “There’s nothing wrong with having fun, and I sneer at people who sneer at summer movies — in fact, I sneer at people who sneer at entertainment for entertainment’s sake.”
King’s biggest beef isn’t with the sneering party poopers, though. It’s with the critics who give glowing reviews for what the easily entertained King considers to be two-star movies. “All I want is for critics to stop giving four stars — or even three — to two star movies,” he complains. “Is “Spider-Man 2” really a four-star movie?” (King himself uses the word “loved” twice in describing the movie, but believes that, at its “emotional core”, the story is about a “girl who’s in a snit because her boyfriend keeps missing her play.”) King goes on to compare Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2” with “Evil Dead,” which, for you newcomers, was Raimi’s first film of note. The horror film had a “raw and horrifying beauty” that stayed with King for two decades, making for what he considers to be a “true” four-star film. He doesn’t think “Spider-Man 2” will have the same staying power, and thus shouldn’t rate the excellent reviews despite the fact that he “passed a perfectly enjoyable evening” at the movie’s crowded opening and “loved those dizzying shots of Spidey swinging through the steel canyons of the city.”
Mr. King, I like you, but there is a reason many critics give out four stars to two-star movies. The reason is: They’re a lot like you. They don’t demand a lot of their movies and they don’t want to learn the meaning of life from them. For many critics … and filmgoers … an ice cream cone is good enough.
If you truly “love” movies, Mr. King, you know what makes for a summer film. You know it’s style over story. You know they are predictable. Big special effects. Witty one-liners. Plot holes you could fly a jet through. But the public, you included, still love them. Many critics are in the same boat as the fools who love the blockbusters, too, and it shows.
I don’t have a problem with movies as entertainment, but I do have a problem with making the ice cream cone a steady part of my diet, and I have even a bigger problem with critics telling us that they are healthy. Apparently you, Mr. King, have the same problem, but you want to sneer at those who criticize what you like. What do you expect critics to do then? Do you want them to condemn the garbage as such just so you can dismiss their opinions and “feel sorry for them” because they have a “stick up (their) butt”? Or would you rather they agree with you so you can criticize their level of professionalism? Which is it?
You are sending out a mixed message, Mr. King, and I don’t know how you, of all people, can embrace it. As writers, as artists, and — yes — as entertainers, we shouldn’t be doing the same thing over and over just because an audience wants it. That shows little respect for the audience and ourselves. We should always strive for something better, and we should praise those who dare to speak out against what the rest of the world embraces. So remember: As you take Peter Travers, Roger Ebert and Richard Corliss to task, you leave out a person who has just as much clout — you.
Mr. King, don’t you realize that your words mean something? They do. They made me pursue writing. They made me seek out “Tourist Trap” and “Evil Dead” because you praised both films, which by the way, had their share of negative reviews. Your words mean something, even in an “Entertainment Weekly” column, and I know that’s why you’re pissed at the critics, but you have no one to blame but yourself. You can’t demand nothing of your entertainment and expect others to demand more.
Here’s what I think: Summer movies are big, dumb fun. Nothing more, nothing less. They are fine in small doses, but let’s be honest — there really isn’t much to them that makes us better people — something I think you’ll agree with, Mr. King. I don’t like critics giving four stars to every film that’s out there, either, but if they are doing it because they truly enjoy a film, I want to know it. If they are doing it because they think that’s what’s expected of them, then their opinions mean nothing. If Ebert can justify liking a summer blockbuster, I know that means something. If he can’t, it’s a flawed opinion. I’m smart enough to know that the critic who tells me to see a flick just because it’s “a pretty good movie” (your description of “I, Robot” and “The Day After Tomorrow”) is no real critic at all. He or she is an ad man, and I’ve never liked those hucksters. And while I wouldn’t necessarily call you a critic (seeing as that’s not your main gig) or an ad man, I will say you’ve been a willing accomplice in this travesty.
Mr. King, your beef with the critics is right on, but you can’t expect that much out of them when you expect so little out of the movies you choose to see. One follows the other, and while you have every right to criticize these movie “critics,” you should treat the films the same way. Most summer movies offer nothing new and nothing worthy of applause or admiration, and you shouldn’t be so thrilled to see something that barely even tries.
Your words are important, Mr. King. I just wished you realized films should be the same way.
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Posted on November 29, 2004 in Features by Doug Brunell
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