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Why People Who Say “See The Movie Before Criticizing It” Are Wrong

September 6, 2018

There’s a new movie coming out about Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. It’s called “First Man.” There’s some controversy around it. The film’s director Damien Chazelle chose to not film a scene of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin actually planting the flag on the moon. The flag appears in the background of other scenes, but there is no shot of the two astronauts putting up the American flag.

Critics have complained that not including that scene is unAmerican. Others have told the critics to stop judging a film that they haven’t yet seen. That those critics should first go see the film before criticizing it. Those others are wrong.

There are two political documentaries coming out this summer. The first, Death of a Nation was released on August 3, 2018. It’s directed by Dinesh D’Souza. It’s fair to say that D’Souza is pretty conservative. He was convicted of illegally donating more than the allowable limits to Republican candidates several years ago. President Trump pardoned him this summer.

Death of a Nation compares presidents Donald Trump and Abraham Lincoln. The reviews are pretty bipolar. Of the 4181 reviews on IMDB, 54.5% rate it a 9 or 10/10. It was rated a 1 or 2/10 by 38.3% of reviewers. The remaining 7.2% of reviewers gave it a rating between 3 and 8.

Dinesh D’Souza has a history of popular documentaries. His movie “2016: Obama’s America” made $33M and is the 33rd top grossing documentary of all time.

The second film is by liberal film maker Michael Moore. On September 21 he will release “Fahrenheit 11/9,” a film that he hopes will “be the beginning of the end for Donald Trump.” Fahrenheit 11/9 is a variation on the title of his earlier film, “Fahrenheit 9/11” which took a critical view of the Bush presidency. “Fahrenheit 9/11” was itself a variation on the Ray Bradbury book, “Fahrenheit 451.” The title is the burning temperature of paper. The book describes a society that surpresses knowledge by burning books.

“Fahrenheit 9/11” is the top grossing documentary of all time. It earned about $119M. It’s reveiwers were not quite as bifected as those of “Death of a Nation” but were still divided. Of all reviewers, 77.6% rated it a 7, 8, 9 or 10. Of those who didn’t like it, 8.6% rated it a 1 or a 2. That left 13.8% of reviewers who thought it was a 3, 4, 5 or 6. It’s a good bet that “Fahrenheit 11/9 will see similar divided views.

If you are like most people in America, you probably view yourself as liberal, conservative or independent. And if you are independent, you probably lean one way or the other, liberal or conservative.

It’s a good bet that Moore’s film is going to find fans in the Liberal side of the populace, just as D’Souza’s film has found fans on the Conservative side.

Now, think of the film that does not align closest with your own political beliefs. Should you go see that film before criticizing it? Fairness would seem to say you should.

You shouldn’t.

Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” is not the best documentary of all time. In fact, depending on the lists, “Fahrenheit 9/11” doesn’t even make the top 50. Rotten Tomatoes ranks “Fahrenheit 9/11” as the 83rd best documentary of all time. The all time best documentary (using Rotten Tomatoes rating) is 2008’s “Man on a Wire.” It made just under $3M. A measly 2% of what “Fahrenheit 9/11” made.

Michael Moore didn’t make the best documentary, he made the most profitable. And that’s why the argument to “Go see a movie before you criticize it” falls apart. I’m sure both Mr Moore and Mr D’Souza would love it if all their critics went to see their movies. It would quickly make “Death of a Nation” and “Fahrenheit 11/9” two of the most popular (and profitable) documentaries of all time.

Director Rob Reiner is an unapologetic liberal. However, I don’t know a single person who would would refuse to go see “Princess Bride” because it was made by a liberal film maker. Even his “political” film “The American President” was entertaining. I’ve always thought it was his attempt to “teach” Bill Clinton how to be a president.

Mel Gibson is politically conservative. And yet, last year his movie “Hacksaw Ridge” about Medal of Honor winner Desmond Doss, wasn’t boycotted by liberals.

You should go see a movie if it’s a good movie (Princess Bride, Hacksaw Ridge.) You should avoid a movie if it’s a bad movie. And it’s completely okay to define “bad” however you want, and to take the advice of others.

However, remember that film makers make movies with the intent of people going to see the movie. That why Damien Chazell made “First Man.” He wants people to come see his movie. Merely going to see a movie at the theater means you are contributing to its success. If you don’t want to contribute to a movie, maybe because it’s made by D’Souza, or Moore, or it doesn’t show the planting of the American flag, it’s actually counterproductive to first go see the movie.

You support the film maker by buying a ticket. You don’t have to buy a ticket to be allowed to share your opinion.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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4 Comments
  1. bam1021 permalink

    The problem is when people comment on a film based entirely on memes and soundbites from people (on either side) with a political or social agenda. We are becoming a nation of opinions built on thin air. Long-form journalism is dying because people are too undisciplined to really explore and understand an issue. The dirtiest word in the English language today is “boring.” It is the result of being fed a constant stream of simplistic, one-dimensional claptrap that bypasses the frontal lobes and heads straight to the amygdala.

    Passing judgment on a film you haven’t seen is a symptom of modern laziness. If you think a movie might not appeal to you, skip it. But don’t publicly ascribe motives to it that you cannot confirm just because some doofus who thinks like you passed along a meme that misrepresents it entirely.

    The Neil Armstrong movie is a perfect example. The filmmakers have made it clear that they downplayed the planting of the flag on the moon because they wanted the film to appeal to a larger, international audience, and to represent the moon landing as a human achievement rather than simply an American one. And this is where the slack-jawed pseudo-patriotic yahoos jump in and stupidly proclaim that the film is unAmerican.

    Yes, even simpletons are entitled to their opinion. That is enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. However, Isaac Asimov also famously stated that “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” It is not.

    I may not see both Moore’s and D’Souza’s films, but I intend to reserve judgment and public comment on them unless I see them.

    • My point was that seeing a film, especially paying to see a film supports the film maker whether you agree with him or not. So, if Michael Moore is not someone you want to support, “Seeing his movie before commending” is going to support his movie.

      We know what Michael Moore and Dinesh D’Souza’s films are going to portray. If you disagree with D’Souza’s point of view, you aren’t required to see his movie before expressing that disagreement.

      Using the First Man film, you can decide that choosing to not show the planting of the flag is attempting to minimize America’s role and is therefore unAmerican.

      I don’t think you can extend that criticism to the entire film. The film could be 120 minutes of John Philip Sousa marches. But you can make a judgement on the intent of the filmmaker in leaving out that particular scene. Especially if he’s talked about it.

  2. Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451. Heinlein was the author of The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress among many others (rather fits with the moon landing though).
    Criticism of the film even without seeing it is valid. The flag planting was the capstone of the event, a permanent declaration of “we did this” and was certainly a culminating moment in Neil Armstrong’s emotional story of his journey to the moon which is what the movie is supposed to be about. We can even see from the trailers where the flag is used to highlight different stages of his journey and it suddenly disappears at the finale? To snip it out of the story is historical meddling right up front.
    Other bits of manipulation may very well come forward after the movie releases. Bits from the trailer suggest they changed the flag usage on the spacesuits, maybe on the spacecraft, there are suggestions they will touch on the Apollo 11 tragedy and we’ll see how they deal with that (pointless waste or valiant continuance in the face of risk?), there’s a scene where Neil’s wife is berating him that he and NASA are a bunch of boys. I’ll see it eventually to gauge whether or not they made a good movie but cutting the flag scene means I won’t pay a lot to do so.

    • To me it’s like watching the Rocky movie, but cutting away before the judges decision, and just later referring to “Hey, remember when you lost that fight with Apollo Creed?”

      I agree, it’s symbolic. And when you consider that every ounce of gear on that spacecraft came at a tremendous cost, NASA certainly thought it was worth the cost to send along a flag and a flagpole.

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