The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex

Author(s): Mark Kermode
Publisher: Random House Books
Pages: 336
ISBN: 9781847946034
ASIN: 1847946038
Release Date: 1st September 2011


Ask the general public to name a film critic and they would struggle. If they did however manage to dredge one name from the recesses of their collective minds, it would undoubtedly be Mark Kermode. Kermode and Simon Mayo review the latest UK movie releases on a weekly BBC Radio 1 show. Kermode browbeats the submissive and unsure Mayo, and his hectoring rhetoric leaves the listeners in no doubt as to his opinions, opinions which are usually told as irrefutable facts.

Kermode brings the same scowling sarcasm to his latest breezy collection of essays, The Good, The Bad and the Multiplex. The first essay, Let's Go to the Pictures is an amusing riff on the ghastly experience that is a trip to your local multi-screen cinema. He's quite right – it is absurd to imagine that anyone (with the exception of the 17-25 male viewer demographic for which practically every movie is commissioned) would actually enjoy the trip. First there is the on-line booking system to negotiate and accept that the tickets will actually cost more for having the temerity to pay in advance. Then at the cinema, situated in a soulless industrial park in the middle of nowhere, the unfortunate cinema-goer runs the gauntlet of extortionate carbonated drinks whilst wading through a sea of discarded popcorn. Once in their seats, which they found for themselves without help from non-existent ushers, their misery truly starts. Regardless of the movie, the auditorium will always contain a number of packs of those sneering 17-25 males, making snide comments at everyone and everything, giggling at juvenile innuendo. A large percentage of the audience will be tapping away on their smartphones creating an eye-catching and attention-grabbing glowing white and blue backdrop. Then there's the one who decides that they simply have to put their knees on the back of your seat. They'll quickly realise that's an uncomfortable position, but instead of desisting, they'll squirm around, punching the seat back as they search for a better position much to your frustration.

The second treatise, Why Blockbusters Should be Better, explores the phenomenon of diminished expectations. The public go to the summer event movies with little expectation that they will actually enjoy the experience, so when the movie transpires to be not quite as bad as the critics and the general background hubbub suggest, they go home largely satisfied. Add to this foreign sales, DVD sales and pay-per-view television, and we arrive at a situation where, no matter how bad the blockbuster was, it will eventually turn a profit. Stinkers such as Pearl Harbor and Waterworld actually made decent money – not on ticket sales, but the public are more than happy to commit their cash on DVD “to see what the fuss was about”. Kermode's contention is that since a studio can make a dreadful event move such as Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End that will certainly make money, why not make a good movie like Inception instead? This is persuasive, and the old arguments that the public want lowest common denominator trash without needing to engage the brain, is patently untrue when you consider Inception's arthouse sensibilities.

Kermode comes unstuck in the fourth instalment What Are Film Critics For? The suggestion that the scribblings of critics don't influence the outcome of a movie at the box office is nonsense. There are indeed many instances when word-of-mouth has saved a film having received a critical mauling. There are also many times the critics have loved a film and the public have voted with their feet. All of that is a given and no-one in their right mind will argue. However, Kermode doesn't account for the legions who scan the periodicals, typically just reading the first and last lines of a review (which is usually all that is required to determine the critic's view) and counting the number of red stars against the title. This will form the basis of the decision on whether to see the movie or not. Of course no-one has ever undertaken any analysis on how many readers actually do this, but it can't be dismissed as a selection policy – something that Kermode conveniently overlooks.

Kermode's writing is always lively and interesting, but the problem is it always feels the reader is being lectured. Lectured by a film critic who freely admits he loved the risible Hudson Hawk. This is unforgivable.