There’s an old joke about an guy judging an ice skating contest, and who gives every single contestant a 10, or whatever the highest score is in an ice skating contest. And after the contest, the other judges ask him why he gives everyone a 10. And the guy says, “It’s very slippy out there.” That’s how I am about movies. As a film critic of twenty years standing, I am generally well disposed towards films. That’s not to say I give every film a good review; it just makes me look for the good in films, like the curate in the famous cartoon who’s told his egg is rotten, only to respond, “Parts of it are excellent.”
So is there good to be found in every film? No. Some films are rotten to the core. Some, for sure, have no redeeming qualities. But the fact that I can’t think, off the top of my head, of a single film with no intrinsic value whatsoever speaks volumes about my general feeling towards to the medium. Does that make me an untrustworthy reviewer? Perhaps. Some might argue that I could find the silver lining in a mushroom cloud, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. But have you seen the list of credits on even the worst movie you’ve ever seen? Did five hundred or more people set out to make a bad movie? Did those tiny names on the credits conspire to waste two hours of your time, rubbing their hands with glee at the notion that thousands of suckers would be paying some cinema chain ten or even twenty bucks to watch a new low in so-called entertainment? Of course not. Nobody, at least nobody I’ve ever heard of, sets out to make a bad movie. You just don’t.
These days, making any movie it all is a miracle. It’s a trillion to one shot. Let’s do the math: for every thousand guys with an idea for a movie, one will actually start writing a script. (That’s a thousand to one, right there.) For every thousand guys (or girls, but let’s face it, 99% of screenplays are written by people with genitals on the outside of their bodies) who start a script, one will finish one. (That’s already a million to one.) For every thousand guys who finish a script, only one will get it read by someone with the power to get a movie made. (We’re already up to a billion to one, math fans, and we’re not even at a green light.) For every thousand scripts that get in front of a guy – or girl, but let’s face it, 99% of the people with the power to green light a script pee standing up – only one gets made. And while that doesn’t make every film that makes it from studio green light to the light of an actual projector not qute a trillion-to-one shot, one thousand billion to one is about as near to a trillion to one as makes no odds, so forgive me if I greet every film ever made with the same open-mindedness I greet every human being I’ve ever met: that being, ‘Hi, so what’s your deal? What have you got to offer the world? What did you set out to be? What do you have to say that no one’s ever said before? What is your purpose? In what way do you plan to enrich the world?’ Yes, I’m talking to you, Transformers 3.
Of course, just as there are irredeemable people, so there are irredeemable films. But I won’t judge either on hearsay. I’ll approach each with an open mind, an open heart, and a basic want to like. I want them to enrich my world, to offer me new insights, to teach me something new, even if it’s – as shallow as this may be – how to deal with snakes on a plane, or what might happen if the world is overrun by giant transforming robots, or if – god forbid – piranhas kill in 3D. I refuse to believe that, no matter how many “what if there was a talking dog?” studio executives throw their ridiculous opinions into the mix, there is no merit in even the worst film. Even bad films can teach us something, even if it’s just how to make better films.
That’s the reason I plan someday to write a book approaching the world’s most reputedly bad films with a completely open mind – step forward Battlefield Earth, Showgirls, Gigli, Pearl Harbor – with the self-righteous, sanctimonious and probably thoroughly misguided belief that there is merit in even the worst film; that, like that famously optimistic – or at least diplomatic – cleric, that parts of even the most rotten film may be excellent. In the meantime, I hope you’ll forgive my tendency, even when it seems absurd, or even disingenuous, to like films which appear to almost everyone else to have no redeeming features. Because, after ten years spent juggling screenwriting and film criticism, I can tell you, without fear of contradiction, one truth I have learned along the way: It’s slippy out there.