After staying up all night to catch the 3am IMAX opening of Christopher Nolan’s newest (and apparently final) entry into his Batman series The Dark Knight Rises, I breathed a sigh of relief. In the 15 years since I first got into movies, it was one of the few times I’d been excited about a blockbuster that my expectations had been met. I’m one of the millions upon millions of people that have been losing their shit recently about Nolan’s new flick. I’ve been listening to the Batman Begins soundtrack at the gym and secretly (I guess not anymore) been pretending I was Bruce Wayne. I’d also like to think that I’m responsible for the majority of the trailer’s 21 million YouTube hits.
But unfortunately there’s nothing special about my love for Batman, since everybody else seems just as excited as I am. Being a fan can be a double-edged sword sometimes. For me at least, my ‘Fandom’ follows a fairly distinct path. There’s the initial wave of excitement when I hear that a particular film or game or television series is being made. Then there’s the gruelling and seemingly endless period of time that can last months or years in which I hit the Internet daily to see if there’s any updates, any small piece of information about the subject of my excitement that I can learn to help quell the fact that I can’t experience it as a whole yet. This stage is both painful and enjoyable. The awesome first glimpse of Heath Ledger as the Joker followed by the pain of knowing it will still be a year until I see the finished film. But finally there’s the big reveal. The film/game/show etc. you’ve been waiting for all this time is finally released. So, how am I supposed to react when something I’ve invested so much time in turns out to be a letdown?
Online film juggernaut Rotten Tomatoes recently blocked user comments about The Dark Knight Rises after overzealous fans began to lash out at the reviewers who were giving the film a negative score. I’m not talking about just disagreeing with the reviews either, these users were sending aggressive and hateful threats to those critics who were just doing their job. One of them fantasized about beating critic Marshall Fine to death with a ‘rubber hose’. What’s even crazier is that most of these threats were coming from the general public who hadn’t even seen the film yet.
As a fan myself, I can understand the passion you can feel for a film and the desire to see a film or a filmmaker succeed. There’s something nice about a film we like getting a good score on Rotten Tomatoes, no matter how imperfect their rating system might be. But there is also something incredibly off about our increasing dependence on the approval of others across the Internet. Too often is it that we see people attack others on open online forums such as Rotten Tomatoes or YouTube. Does it really matter that some critic in Los Angeles didn’t like The Dark Knight Rises? Sure I’m bummed out as well that it hasn’t gotten 100% and probably isn’t the greatest film of all time, but ultimately my relationship with the film depends on how I feel about it, not some critic.
Rotten Tomatoes has also received criticism because they are owned by Warner Bros., one of the companies behind The Dark Knight Rises, and have been accused of trying to cover up any negative publicity to do with the film. I find this fairly hard to believe since the site has displayed admirable equality in the past. Editor-in-chief Matt Atchity, who seems to have his priorities slightly more in order than some of these fans, wrote, “There are plenty of other things to get angry about, like war, famine, poverty and crime. But not movie reviews,” in his letter response entitled, ‘This is why we can’t have nice things.’
The power of fans is developing into a strange force across the world. BioWare, the creator of the immensely popular Mass Effect game franchise released a downloadable revised ending to the final chapter in Mass Effect 3 after the fan community wasn’t happy with their original content. While I think respect for the fans is important, especially since the success of a film or game relies on them, it seems to me as though they are gaining an increasingly and worrying amount of influence over content when it’s not their place. If you allow the fan community this sort of control, they may become unrealistic about their entitlements.
This whole Rotten Tomatoes situation illustrates the bizarre expectations of some people out there of content to go completely their own way. I’ve read a couple of articles accusing Rotten Tomatoes of being ‘wimpy’ and of ‘cowering’ from the Batman fans. I think that’s an incredibly unfair evaluation of the situation. Rotten Tomatoes are 100% (pardon the joke) within their rights to step in when threats are being made against people’s lives. The people who made these comments need to understand that’s it’s not an appropriate way to act and isn’t the behaviour of a decent human being.
Ultimately, I don’t feel as though there’s any correct response to a situation like this. Though I’m totally against the way in which these fans have reacted towards the negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, I think it’s also fair to argue that by blocking user comments, the site is cutting out the appeal of total fan/reviewer interaction. It’s sad to think that even though the Internet should be used as an open forum, a lot of people seem to be using their online anonymity as an excuse for excessive and unwarranted aggression. There is no scenario or situation I can imagine in which it is OK to send a film critic death threats. Either way, I’m heading off to see The Dark Knight Rises again tonight because I thought it fucking rocked and I don’t give a shit if you guys don’t like it!