‘something serious’: a dragon at the zoo

Earlier this week, New Yorker film critic David Denby broke an embargo on reviews for David Fincher’s version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  Denby was invited to see a screening of the movie on the condition of being able to run his review on or after a specified date – a date set for everyone who would see the movie before it’s official release date.  It’s not entirely uncommon for such embargoes to be broken, but, via The Playlist, I found getting to read Denby’s reason interesting:

The New York Film Critics Circle, in its wisdom, decided to move up its voting meeting, as you well know, to November 29, something Owen Gleiberman and I furiously opposed, getting nowhere. We thought the early date was idiotic, and we’re in favor of returning it to something like December 8 next year. In any case, the early vote forced the early screening of “Dragon Tattoo.” So we had a dilemma: What to put in the magazine on December 5? Certainly not “We Bought the Zoo,” or whatever it’s called. If we held everything serious, we would be coming out on Christmas-season movies until mid-January. We had to get something serious in the magazine. So reluctantly, we went early with “Dragon,” which I called “mesmerizing.” I apologize for the breach of the embargo. It won’t happen again. But this was a special case brought on by year-end madness.

Denby’s ‘we’ seems to refer to the editorial staff of the New Yorker.  Or at least he’s tying himself to that collective when it comes to needing  something serious for their magazine – which isn’t, apparently, Cameron Crowe’s “We Bought a Zoo.”  I’ve heard a few people interpret Denby calling it “We bought the Zoo” in reference to the saying “buying the farm,” but such would only be a tiny bit more dismissive than adding ‘or whatever it’s called’ to the not-quite-correct title.  Personally, I’ve enjoyed pieces of Cameron Crowe’s films more than the whole things, but it’s hard to imagine there not being enough in his latest film to write a sincere piece on.  “We Bought a Zoo” is supposed to be slightly lighter fare (a comedy-drama) , but I suspect that Denby’s ‘something serious’ extends beyond needing something that doesn’t have a comedic element: it’s the need, or want, for a serious prestige film.  In the remake of an acclaimed Swedish film based on a bestselling novel – directed, no less, by the director of one of last year’s most critically acclaimed films – Denby’s organization has a lot of material to maintain its own credence.  Crowe’s career, as of late, isn’t supposed to be in a similar fashion.  If he was a ‘nobody’ who made a movie on a ‘nobody’ property full of ‘nobodies,’ then I suspect all the Icelandic landscapes in the world might not make it look serious enough – even if the movie was good and thoughtful.  And that’s a shame.

To be fair, there are a lot of movies that come out in a given year, and everyone makes preconceived notions about what movie he or she will or won’t see.  But most of us who aren’t consciously esoteric give varied films a chance beyond prestige, and even if they’re not great, they can sometimes speak to the world at large enough for us to have a worthwhile dialogue about them.  I guess you’d have to not really be interested in that world to do otherwise, or maybe it’s just the bottom line that prestige periodicals are as much a business as tabloids.

If you’re thinking none of this is abnormal, you’re probably right.  But rarely is it so transparent.

Oh, and to be completely honest, I really liked Crowe’s “Almost Famous” the first time I saw it.


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