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The Blurbs

May 23, 2008

'Ridiculous Exchanges Don't Help' Indy

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 'Indiana Jones,' 'The Chronicles of Narnia,' 'War, Inc.,' 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.

"It seems more determined to tell a complicated story than to use a story as the excuse for a convulsive, nonstop thrill ride."—Time's Richard Corliss, on Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount)
Metacritic Score: 66

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "Sensational, awe-inspiring spectacles. 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,' say it aloud and it causes your pulse to quicken!"
Actual line: " 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.' Say it aloud. The very title causes the pulse to quicken, if you, like me, are a lover of pulp fiction. What I want is goofy action—lots of it. I want man-eating ants, swordfights between two people balanced on the backs of speeding jeeps, subterranean caverns of gold, vicious femme fatales, plunges down three waterfalls in a row, and the explanation for flying saucers. And throw in lots of monkeys. … What happens in South America is explained by the need to create (1) sensational chase sequences, and (2) awe-inspiring spectacles. We get such sights as two dueling Jeep-like vehicles racing down parallel roads. Not many of the audience members will be as logical as I am, and wonder who went to the trouble of building parallel roads in a rain forest. Most of the major characters eventually find themselves at the wheels of both vehicles; they leap or are thrown from one to another, and the vehicles occasionally leap right over one another."

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: "This is the 'Indiana Jones' film people have been waiting for."
Not quoted: "Introduced as a total copy of Marlon Brando on a motorcycle in 'The Wild One,' [Shia] LaBeouf doesn't seem completely comfortable in his disaffected teen role, a part that does not play to the innate likability that is one of his strengths. … And though it is exceptionally pleasant to see Karen Allen returning as Indy flame Marion Ravenwood, the film is too intent on spending the first part of their reunion having them strenuously argue with each other. It's so unpleasant, even one of the atheist Russians is forced to plead, 'For love of God, shut the hell up.' "

Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News: " 'Crystal Skull' earns its event status."
Actual line: "While it has flaws, this new movie earns its event status."
Not quoted: "Some of it seems a bit dusty … LaBeouf is more of a cartoon …"

Richard Corliss, Time: "A sleek summer blockbuster. A nonstop thrill ride adventure. Wow! 'The Crystal Skull' delivers!"
Actual line (bolding added by Gelf): "We'll see how David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson cope with middle age in their X Files movie later this summer. They may suffer from the occasional creaking joints of Crystal Skull. (And, truth to tell, there was more applause here at the beginning of the screening than at the end.) But they'd be hard-pressed to inhabit the sleek, satisfying adventure that three septuagenarians and their pals dreamed up here. There's a moment in the film where Mutt sees Indy negotiate some really cool bit of action, and the kid can't help mouth a 'Wow.' That's the right response to this inevitable summer blockbuster. Lucas, Spielberg and Ford ain't the Over the Hill Gang yet. [two paragraphs earlier] In fact, the movie is a little plot-heavy around the middle. It seems more determined to tell a complicated story than to use a story as the excuse for a convulsive, nonstop thrill ride. [seven paragraphs earlier] There are scenes in the new movie that seem like stretching exercises at a retirement home; there are garrulous stretches, and even the title seems a few words too long. But once it gets going, Crystal Skull delivers smart, robust, familiar entertainment."
For this cut-and-paste job—and particularly for the egregious distortion of "nonstop thrill ride," which the review says the movie is not—this ad wins Gelf's prestigious Bogus Blurb of the Week award. Not that it'll stop us from seeing the film.

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Spectacular!"
Actual line: "The stunts and special effects are spectacular, as one would expect from director Steven Spielberg. A motorcycle chase across the grounds of an Ivy League college is a treat, and Jones tosses off some of his best lines. But while it's an intentionally far-fetched saga, there are especially implausible moments—even for Indiana Jones. Characters suddenly stand still, for instance, so special effects can happen around them."
Not quoted: "Cate Blanchett [is] over-the-top as an evil Russian scientist with the thickest accent since Bullwinkle's Natasha. … Though previous installments focused on the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail, this time it's a crystal skull that is significant historically and cosmically. Sounds overheated, and it is. Ridiculous exchanges don't help."
It's clear from the review that Puig did not think the film, overall, was "spectacular."

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Disney, Walden)
Metacritic Score: 63

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "An exhilarating fantasy adventure."
Actual line: "… an exhilarating fantasy adventure marred only by its length and protracted climactic battle scenes."
Not quoted: "It's just too bad that the computer-generated bands of warriors grow tedious and conjure memories of The Lord of the Rings, which managed those hugely choreographed clashes more adeptly than any movie in history."

War, Inc. (Disney, Walden)
Metacritic Score: 29

Ariana Huffington: "Delivers a wicked punch in the gut."
Huffington got an exclusive clip of the film for her blog. Another blurbed fan of the film, Naomi Klein, was interviewed by director/star John Cusack for the Huffington Post, and her writing helped inspire Cusack. It's not surprising that the filmmakers went to their buddies, not critics, for blurbs; War is one of the worst-reviewed films of the year.

Roman de Gare (Samuel Goldwyn)
Metacritic Score: 71

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "A lavishly appointed and sensuous thriller!"
Holden really did love the film, but his colleague A.O. Scott, in the paper's full review, was less enthusiastic, finding it "a bit preposterous and overdone."

A Jihad for Love (First Run)
Metacritic Score: 55

New York: "Eye-opening!"
Not quoted: "Ignore the silly title."

Constantine's Sword (Storyville) Metacritic Score: N/A

New York Times: "Enthralling!"
Actual line: "At once enthralling and troubling, the film, whose title has been simplified from the book’s 'Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History,' does about as good a job as you could hope of distilling a 750-page historical examination of religious zealotry and power into 95 swift minutes."
The review means the word "troubling" in a good way, but it seems the blurb writers found it troubling.

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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