The Blurbs

December 15, 2006

'A Bad Cross Between Monty Python's Life of Brian and a School Play'

Our roundup of misleading review blurbs in ads for movies takes on The Nativity Story, Eragon, Apocalypto, and more.

David Goldenberg

Blurb Racket
Paul Antonson
The critic blurb is a staple of arts advertising. Yet if you look behind some blurbs, you'll find quotes out of context, quote whores, and other questionable ad practices. Blurb Racket exposes the truth behind critics blurbs in movie ads from the New York Times. Movie titles link to, which compiles movie reviews in a far-more honest way than do movie ads. See the inaugural Blurb Racket column for background and useful links.

The Nativity Story (New Line)

Jeffrey Lyons, NBC's Reel Talk: "Your family will love this inspirational film for the holidays!"
While Gelf couldn't locate this exact quote in Lyons' review, he does repeatedly say that the film is "inspirational." His co-host Alison Bailes, on the other hand, laughs at Lyons' review, stating "I thought it was a bad cross between Monty Python's Life of Brian and a school play…I don't know who would want to see this film."

Christian Toto, The Washington Times: "The Nativity Story is just the right present."
Actual line: "The Nativity Story is just the right present for those who don't want to be preached to by ecoconscious penguins or a politically incorrect journalist from Kazakhstan."
Hmmm…Guess we'll have to scratch this one off our list then.

Dreamgirls (Paramount/DreamWorks SKG)

Richard Corliss, Time: "A fabulous movie with plenty of pizzazz!"
Actual line: "…a just-this-side-of-fabulous movie."

Apocalypto (Buena Vista)

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "An epic in the manner of Gladiator or Braveheart."
Acutal line: "Once you get past the costumes and the subtitles, though, the most striking thing about Apocalypto is how comfortably it sits within the conventions of mainstream moviemaking. It is not an obsessive opera like Mr. Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God, but rather a pop period epic in the manner of Gladiator or Braveheart, and as such less interested in historical or cultural authenticity than in imposing an accessible scheme on a faraway time and place."
Not quoted: "Which is not to say that Apocalypto is a great film, or even that it can be taken quite as seriously as it wants to be."
Scott's use of the term "pop period epic" is not an ode to the movie's greatness. In fact, he seems to be saying that, despite the subtitles, Apocalypto just isn't as different from other action movies as it pretends to be. For that twisting of words, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week award. As Gelf noted earlier, the most memorable aspect of the movie to most reviewers seems to be the gore.

The Holiday (Columbia/Sony)

Christy Lemire, Associated Press: "Irresistible."
Actual line: "Like the sweetest cup of eggnog, The Holiday doesn't have a lot of nutritional value, and you'll probably hate yourself afterward for giving into it, but it is rich and irresistible."

Charlotte's Web (Paramount)

Shawn Edwards, FOX-TV: "An instant classic."

Other movies that have been dubbed an "instant classic" by Edwards include The Wood and Get Rich or Die Tryin'.

Unaccompanied Minors (Warner Bros.)

Shawn Edwards, FOX-TV: "A family holiday classic."

Blood Diamond (Warner Bros.)

David Ansen, Newsweek: "Undeniably gripping!"
Actual line: "Fast-moving and brutally entertaining, Zwick's movie, from a Charles Leavitt screenplay, is undeniably gripping, but the by-the-book Hollywood melodrama (Will the cynical Archer discover a conscience? Will the aggressive journalist fall for his bad-boy charm?) doesn't always sit comfortably with the hellish images of hacked-off limbs, machine-gun-toting child soldiers and teeming refugee camps."

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: "An extraordinary achievement in American cinema."
Not quoted: "I loved Blood Diamond, until I didn't…That Blood Diamond has hitherto so adroitly blended genuine action, suspense and moral complexity only makes disappointment the greater when the film falters."

Eragon (Fox 2000)

Janet Stokes, Film Advisory Board: "Magnificent. A magical adventure."
As Gelf noted last week, Stokes does not actually review the films she watches. Instead, she decides which ones are acceptable for children and bestows upon them an award and a blurb. (This particular ad also proudly displays its Film Advisory Board Award of Excellence.) Most reviewers mention that this film is a poorly conceived mashup of sci-fi stalwarts like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.

Home of the Brave (MGM)

Pete Hammond: "One of the most deeply moving film experiences of the year."
Not quoted: "The script itself does fall victim to clichés and the tone uneasily shifts between a purposeful look at vets and sometimes-hokey melodrama."

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Article by David Goldenberg

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