The Blurbs

December 29, 2006

'An Entertaining—Yet Colossally Flawed—Freak Show'

Our roundup of misleading review blurbs in ads for movies takes on The Good Shepherd, Night at the Museum, Rocky Balboa, 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.

Pan's Labyrinth (Picturehouse)

Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly: "The best film of the year. This extraordinary r-rated fairy tale for adults is the best fantasy film since The Wizard of Oz."
Not quoted: "Many [of the movies I saw this year] were great, but not one had the cumulative effect of 13 back-to-back-to-back Prison Break episodes."
Gelf sincerely appreciates that King goes out of his way to note that 1) he's only seen 45 movies this year, and 2) that this is truly (and finally) a year-long list, from "Dec. 7, 2005, to about that same date in '06." That said, everyone seems to love this movie.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Dreamworks SKG)

Christy Lemire, Associated Press: "A visceral thriller. Deeply, lushly, delightfully sinister."
Actual line: "For a film that had been deeply, lushly delightfully sinister up until this point, the ending is just plain silly."

Notes on a Scandal (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Stephen Whiitty, Newark Star Ledger: "The jokes are as black as pitch, as icy as a knife, and refreshingly literate. Every element is right."
Fair enough. But perhaps next time the PR folks could spell Whitty's name right.

We Are Marshall (Warner Bros.)

Stephen Hunter, The Washington Post: "If you're not cheering, you should check your pulse."
Actual line: "As the world's biggest sucker for uplifting jock movies, I can heartily endorse the skillfully manipulative We Are Marshall, which recounts a West Virginia university's ordeal by tragedy. Besides, who could resist a film that documents one of the great last-play, come-from-behind athletic contests of all time, as the mostly frosh team struggled, in September of '71, against Xavier's Musketeers. If you're not cheering as that last long pass settles into the hands of a streaking receiver as the clock ticks toward 00:00, you should check your pulse."

Jeffrey Lyons, NBC's "Reel Talk": "It's inspiring and uplifting."
Not quoted: "It has a made-for-TV look to it."
Lyon's co-presenter, Alison Bales, adds, "I was bored."

Night at the Museum (20th Century Fox)

The Washington Post: "Way cool!"
Actual line: "It's a fun ride, and the big payoff—that history turns out to be way cooler than its reputation suggests—is even more gratifying."

Joel Siegel, Good Morning America: "A great day at the movies! Ben Stiller at his funniest!"
Siegel—the noted punster—is also at his funniest in this review. His closing line: "They wanted [Mickey Rooney] to play a T-Rex, and he said, 'Nah.' He was proud of his age; he didn't want to play a younger character."

Eragon (Fox 2000)

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "Imaginative! A magnificent creation!"
Actual line: "As flimsy as it is, however, Eragon has one saving grace: Its first-time director, Stefen Fangmeier, is an Oscar-nominated special-effects wiz (Twister, The Perfect Storm) and the visuals are imaginative, especially its signature effect of a boy soaring through the sky on a dragon's back. The dragon itself (voiced by Rachel Weisz) is a magnificent creation, and the movie is alive whenever she's on screen."

Chicago Sun-Times: "A visually exciting fantasy-adventure."
Actual line: "While it is a visually exciting fantasy-adventure—shot digitally to allow for maximum dragon power—most of the effects, backdrops and battle scenes have all been seen before on much grander scales in much grander films."

USA Today: "Stunning. A fantastical adventure."
Actual line: "A fantasy adventure tale…[The dragon] is the undisputed star of a film that is predictable in its plot, clichéd in its dialogue, but stunning in its cinematography and production design."
While "fantastical" can sometimes mean "fantastic," "fantasy" here is simply a factual statement of the genre. For both replacing and misapplying adjectives, this wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week award. The movie has gotten terrible reviews (as Gelf noted earlier, this is mainly due to its derivative feel), perhaps explaining why the PR guys couldn't seem to find one real sentence to quote accurately.

The Good Shepherd (Universal)

David Ansen, Newsweek: "Spellbinding. Mesmerizing."
Actual line: "For the film's mesmerizing first 50 minutes I thought De Niro might pull off the Godfather of spy movies… But the unvaryingly solemn tone begins to wear, and the elaborate flashback structure becomes confusing in the last act… Still, even if the movie's vast reach exceeds its grasp, it's a spellbinding history lesson."

Kyle Smith, New York Post: "The Godfather of CIA movies."
Fellow Post reviewer Lou Lumenick, who debates the best films of the year with Smith in this article, counters with, "The Good Shepherd was too slow-moving, coolly cerebral and décor-obsessed to get my juices going."

Rocky Balboa (MGM)

David Edelstein, New York Magazine: "Rocky Balboa delivers…I was jumping out of my seat."
Not quoted: "If you close your eyes and try to halve your IQ—aim for something between a baboon and a lemur—you might even think it’s a masterpiece."

Black Christmas (Dimension/MGM)

Fangoria: "Outrageous and absolutely wicked!"
Not quoted: "It’s an entertaining—yet colossally flawed—freak show of downright gory proportions."

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Article by David Goldenberg

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