Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

July 20, 2008

'Batman' a Masterpiece? 'That Feeling Will Pass'

In this week's edition of The Blurbs—the feature in which we take a close look at those critic blurbs that are a fixture of ads for movies—see breakdowns of blurbs for 'The Dark Knight,' 'Mamma Mia!,' 'Hellboy II,' and more.

Carl Bialik

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, and find out what critics think of the racket.

"At moments, the film's center doesn't hold."—Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman on The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 82

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "It's a ride for the gut and the brain."
Not quoted: "At two hours and 32 minutes, this is almost too much movie… At moments, the film's center doesn't hold. The deranged twist of what happens to Harvey Dent, for instance, seems at once too much and not enough."

Richard Corliss, Time: " 'The Dark Knight' is a strap-yourself-in trip."
Actual line: "The mayhem and torture wreaked here, by saint or scum, are so vivid and persistent that it's a wonder, and a puzzle, why The Dark Knight snagged a PG-13 rating. (Don't take your 9-year-old son unless you think he'd enjoy seeing a kid just like him tremble in fear while a gun is held to his head by a previously sympathetic character.) But kids would have trouble following the movie, let alone understanding it. For teens and adults, it's a strap-yourselves-in trip, handsome and assured as only a big-budget picture can be."
Not quoted: "…you may think you're in the grip of a mordant masterpiece. That feeling will pass, as the film spends too many of its final moments setting up the series' third installment."

Mamma Mia! (Universal)
Metacritic Score: 52

Ray Bennett, Hollywood Reporter: " 'Mamma Mia!' is the most fun to be had at the movies this summer."
Actual line: " 'Mamma Mia!' is the most fun to be had at the movies this or any other recent summer."
This may be the first blurb Gelf has seen where the review was edited to make it seem less of a rave. Perhaps the copywriters were embarrassed on Bennett's behalf.

Marshall Fine, Star Magazine: "A fun-filled romp from start to finish."
Actual line: "A frothy, fun-filled romp from start to finish."
Perhaps the copywriters didn't think moviegoers would want to go to a "frothy" movie about ABBA films.

Pete Hammond, "An absolutely hilarious, rousing and joyous celebration that will have you dancing in the aisles and smiling for days."
Actual line: "An absolutely hilarious, rousing and joyous celebration that ought to have you dancing in the aisles. You'll want to line up and see it again the minute it ends. "
Not quoted: "[Pierce Brosnan's] musical numbers, while on key, exhibit a voice that probably isn't going to top the charts anytime soon…"
The critic, while a noted blurb writer, isn't as sure as the ad about the aisle-dancing and the repeat viewing.

Hellboy II (Universal)
Metacritic Score: 78

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Hugely inventive and smashingly beautiful."
Not quoted: "The pace isn't always brisk; this film seems more dependent than its predecessor on set pieces."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "A surprise package of fun and untamed imagination."
Actual line: "Guillermo del Toro's sequel to his 2004 Hellboy is not a work of art like his Oscar-winning Pan's Labyrinth. But his latest spin on Mike Mignola's vividly drawn Dark Horse comic series sure is a surprise package of fun, fright and untamed imagination."
Apparently the copywriters didn't want to scare off potential filmgoers.

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "'Hellboy II' is artful and clever."
Actual line: " 'Hellboy 2' is not a great movie—its narrative is at once too busy and too perfunctory—but like that sassy little tumor, it is lovable in its prodigious grotesquery. It was made with the kind of heedless, geeky enthusiasm that has been drained out of the standard, somber superhero melodramas that crowd the multiplexes these days. It's an artful, clever throwaway that may, over time, turn into a valuable collectible."
Not quoted: "The whole affair is pulpy, jokey, sometimes touching and frequently nonsensical: a big mess and, mostly, a lot of fun."
For artfully throwing away the bit about the "throwaway" nature of the film, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Space Chimps (Fox)
Metacritic Score: 35

Scott Rolfe, Dove Foundation: "Chimptastic! A barrel of fun families will enjoy."
Actual line: "Enjoy 'Space Chimps!' They're more fun than a barrel of…well, you know."
From Dove's website: "It's time for positive family values to impact those in Hollywood instead of Hollywood impacting family values."

Mad Detective (IFC First Take)
Metacritic Score: 67

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "A jolt of energy. Reaffirms Mr. To's status as an action master."
That's from a film-festival report. In her equally favorable review, Dargis did write, "Less a coherently integrated work than a series of slamming set pieces, 'Mad Detective' doesn't have the intense, sharply focused logic that characterizes some of [Johnnie] To's recent excursions into (and beyond) genre in titles like 'Breaking News' and 'Exiled.' Part of this may be due to the shared directing credit on the new film, though part of the problem lies with the murkily conceived lead character. A sympathetic presence even when he's wielding a blade, Mr. Lau tends to comes across here as too laidback for a man who's either dancing on the brink or may have already tumbled. He projects dazed innocence nicely, but often seems more befuddled or odd than possessed."

Carl Bialik

Carl Bialik, a co-founder of Gelf, is a writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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Article by Carl Bialik

Carl Bialik, a co-founder of Gelf, is a writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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