'Dark Knight' reviews trigger Web backlash
Posted July 19, 2012
When you name your website after a fruit thrown at stage performances, you probably expect a rowdy reading audience.
But earlier this week when the movie site Rottentomatoes.com posted a negative review for the hotly anticipated The Dark Knight Rises, opening Friday, the readers' scorn poured in with unprecedented nastiness. The comments came with such vitriol that editor-in-chief Matt Atchity cut off submissions for the first time since the website started in 1999.
"There are rotten tomatoes and then there are grenades," says Atchity. "Honestly, there were a couple of death threats there. The vitriol has been there before, but the amount became unmanageable."
Marshall Fine from the website Hollywoodandfine.com provoked the onslaught with his review, which states, "At times, the action is so massive and thunderously clunky that I might as well have been watching one of the Transformers movies."
Rotten Tomatoes soon posted the review, and the comments which immediately followed (that were not taken down) included: "R.I.P. Marshall Fine" and then "FANBOYS…ATTACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! lol but seriously, this is gonna get alot of death threats."
It was just the latest example of the sometimes ominous influence of comics-mad fans eagerly awaiting screen adaptations of their favorite superhero. The fans are always passionate, but some cross over the line with irrational online discourse over negative — or even mildly negative — reviews. Even if it's for a movie they haven't even seen yet.
"People have been waiting to see this movie for six years," says Atchity. "And some of these fans take any negative reviews as really bad news."
Critics such as the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips are getting used to seeing the anger rise with any criticism aimed at the beloved comics films.
"It's a shame they shut down the comments on Rotten Tomatoes," says Phillips. "People should just all calm down and get a little perspective. Or see the movie they're commenting on first."
The cantankerous din of angry geek voices is not a new issue, with the rise of social media and often anonymous comment postings. Critics received online death threats around the release of 2008's The Dark Knight. But the noise gets louder with each heavily hyped flick.
This spring, New York Times critic A.O. Scott wrote a mixed review about Marvel's The Avengers.Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Nick Fury in the film, took to Twitter to rally the geek mobs against Scott.
Jackson's tweet: "#Avengers fans, NY Times critic AO Scott needs a new job! Let's help him find one! One he can ACTUALLY do!"
In the uproar that followed, Jackson was criticized on Twitter for not allowing another opinion. Jackson responded: "That is My Opinion!…what's irrational about it? They aren't going to fire his jaundiced (butt) & You & I Know It!"
Scott seemed to take the Avengers hubbub in good spirit, even tweeting on Tuesday his (joking) concern for Phillips — who posted a lukewarm 2½-star review in the Tribune for The Dark Knight Rises.
"Hope (Phillips) has not been run out of town by an angry fan mob," Scott wrote.
Phillips laughs about the situation. "It's a mixed review, but for a lot of people it's a tragedy," he says. "The comments are 'You are a tool, I haven't seen the movie, but you're a tool.' ''
Atchity loves the passion, but is simply pleading for calm.
"Take a deep breath, just chill out," he says to the fans. "There's war, there's famine. There are real issues going on in this world that people should devote energy to. Being this disappointed that someone gave a bad review for a movie that you're excited about, that's a terrible waste of energy."
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