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Criticwatch - In Any Space, No One Should Hear (Or See) Peter Travers

by Erik Childress

We haven't had to do a Peter TraversWatch in a while. Certainly he has been active enough, getting quoted eight more times than any other blurb whore on the list, but there appears there is legitimate progress being made in his overall value. That remains to be fully seen with seven more months to go in 2012 though we continue to be hopeful. Which is why when we see two Travers quotes in two weeks it is time for a much-needed reminder for studios in how they can do much better than quoting this blurb monkey.

Before we get to those quotes this week, what would Criticwatch be if we didn't heed our own advice about perspective. It would be very easy to say that the major studios are not quoting Peter Travers because they have started to recognize that observers find his words laughable. Of course, that would be a moot point if Travers was actually going negative on the studio films. So naturally we did a little research to make sure we were not polishing our laurels prematurely.

Right up front, Peter Travers has been quoted 21 times in 2012. This is down from 25 at the same period from last year. Not significant, but a start. In this time there have been 37 wide (new) releases from the seven major studios (including Lions Gate.) According to Rotten Tomatoes, Peter Travers has reviewed 25 of those films. 14 in the positive and 11 in the negative. Of those 14 positives, he has been quoted six times (21 Jump Street, The Hunger Games, The Cabin in the Woods, The Avengers, The Dictator and Snow White & The Huntsman). His positive-to-negative ratio on his reviews this year overall is 30-to-17.

So, the potential has been there for the major studios to use him. Especially when he peppers a normally average 2.5-star review with enough superlatives to stand out amidst his mixed praise. But two-thirds of his quotes this year have come from the indies and specialty divisions, which in some respect is even more disappointing considering all the early coverage they get without the junkets. 10 of Travers' 21 quotes have come from films that played the festival circuit where embargoes do not block working critics from beating the embargo-breaking trade mags and junket tramps. Stop that, indies. You get some great coverage from real, passionate writers at film festivals. You don't need Peter Travers. For Moonrise Kingdom, Fox Searchlight could have chosen:

"Terrific work by an enviably talented filmmaker, with a wistful poignance that will stick with you." - Eric D. Snider

- or -

"A living storybook with the emotional depth to boot." - Matt Patches,

- or -

"Moonrise Kingdom is a deeply romantic film, perhaps the sweetest and most compassionate Anderson has ever made." - Andrew O'Hehir,

Instead, Fox Searchlight went with Peter Travers and ended up with this atop their ads:

"Hilarious and heartfelt! An enchanted ride of a movie. A dream cast. Writer/Director Wes Anderson links the everyday and the extraordinary with virtuosos artistry. Moonrise Kingdom reminds us how to be alive." - Peter Travers

Nothing like making your film standout from the rest, right Searchlight?

"Philip Seymour Hoffman directs like he acts, with a sharp eye for the small details that cut to the soul of a character. It's a sublimely acted movie, hilarious and heartfelt, and it stays with you." (Jack Goes Boating)
"Heartfelt and hilarious! It's more than a movie, it's a gift." (Happy-Go-Lucky)
"Achingly hilarious and heartfelt." (50/50)
"...a gem, hilarious and heartfelt…" (The Dukes)
"A hilarious and heartfelt wonder! A new miracle in animation from Pixar…Unique and unmissable." (Ratatouille)
"A sweetheart of a comedy with a hilarious and heartfelt performance by Keri Russell." (Waitress)
"Hilarious and heartfelt. Man up and see Bridesmaids. Kristen Wiig is an indisputable goddess of comedy." (Bridesmaids)
"Hilarious and heartfelt. Irresistible. The Kids Are All Right makes its own special magic. The actors are to die for. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore nail every nuance. Mark Ruffalo is dynamite." (The Kids Are All Right)
"Hilarious and heartfelt. Meryl Streep is a scream. The seriously gorgeous Uma Thurman is effortlessly funny and affecting. What makes Prime a winner is the way writer-director Ben Younger blends raucous laughs with touching gravity." (Prime)
"Hilarious and heartfelt...a winner." (Garden State)
"Hilarious and heartfelt! A potently witty look at Giuliani Manhattan circa 1994. Josh Peck and Olivia Thirlby are terrific!" (The Wackness)
"A beauty of a movie. Hilarious! Heartfelt and achingly true. This is award-caliber acting. Midler is a wow and then some. Her performance here is one of her very best." (Then She Found Me)
"Comic gold powered by a dream cast." (Cedar Rapids)
"Easily one of the year's best pictures! Devilishly clever, mind-bending thriller! Gary Oldman gives a performance that is flawless in every detail. A dream cast. A master class in film artistry." (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
"It's a comic knockout. Sharply funny and touching...A dream cast! Playful." (Crazy Stupid Love)
"A wild ride of a movie!" (The Motorcycle Diaries)

Three of those Travers quotes (Waitress, Garden State & Cedar Rapids) even came from Fox Searchlight ads. He ain't giving you anything you haven't heard from before, gang. It's only the best reviewed film of Wes Anderson's career. Just because the filmmaker is prone to giving us the same old shtick doesn't mean you have to.

Moving onto Snow White and the Huntsman. We already had to suffer the likes of more Shawn Edwards last week, a guy very prone to exasperating his opinion to fit an ad-bound narrative. Universal snuck in a brief quote from Travers into the Saturday ads:

"A visual marvel" - Peter Travers

Again, a] pair of words he is fond of using in non-discriminating ways.

"Exhilarating... a once-of-a-kind marvel!" (American Splendor)
"This marvel of a movie lives up to its buzz as an Oscar contender." (Big Fish)
"Kevin Spacey is riveting...doing his own singing he is a marvel." (Beyond the Sea)
"A marvel of swirling amorous intrigue! Keira Knightley is a tantalizing ball of fire." (Pride and Prejudice)
"Allen is the blaze that lights the film. Costner is a marvel, lacing the role with unforced humor and charm." (The Upside of Anger)
"This immersive marvel of a movie sneaks up and floors you." (The Fighter)
"Johnny Depp is a marvel as The Hatter." (Alice In Wonderland)
"Spectacular - a genuine marvel." (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol)

"Is on fire with scares and laughs and Del Toro's visual dazzle" (Hellboy)
"A visual wonderland that is literally a knockout." (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World)
"A knockout! A visual miracle!" (Rize)
"***1/2 Nothing short of miraculous. A high-wire act of visual daring and unquenchable spirit." (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)
"An emotional powerhouse! Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a miracle worker, a filmmaker whose soaring visuals and passionate intensity are artfully blended in this stunning film..." (A Very Long Engagement)
"Visually the movie is a powerhouse." (Speed Racer)
"Harry is better than ever, a triumph of visual wonder and emotional storytelling." (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)
"**** A visual and emotional tour de force." (Where the Wild Things Are)

Such a wordsmith that Travers. Do notice some of the star ratings and pay attention to the films in question above. Some obvious greatness amongst them. Travers' "visual marvel" quote about Snow White and the Huntsman comes from the opening paragraph of a 2.5-star review that ends with the line:

"Today's misfire just might turn into tomorrow's masterwork."

Talk about burying the lead, Travers. He also refers to the film as "conventional" and "a missed opportunity." That is not how he opens his review though. It is in the first paragraph where you can find the "visual marvel" quote as he blasts the other Snow White film of 2012, Mirror Mirror and then offers up that Rupert Sanders' grim version "has a darkness that creeps into the soul." Damn, that's a movie you want to see, right? Most critics would use their opening to set the mood for a review and establish a brief take on their thoughts before expanding on them. Travers instead plants a couple of choice nuggets for the Universal marketers and then goes on to not back up his words but completely contradict them.

Commenting on the look of a film, particularly when its stellar work on the part of a director and cinematographer, is a nugget of truth most film critics are happy to mention in their reviews. Especially when it stands out and there is little else to praise. Hell, we could all do that with Prometheus this weekend. Travers is a guy who likes to please though. He knows he is a go-to guy when it comes to ad-hacking and if he can make it easier for the studio engineers to find the one praiseworthy string of words in his somehow positive review of "a missed opportunity" he is going to do it. Love or like a movie, truth or lie to the hyperbole, this is the essence of quote whoring.

Just look at the Prometheus ads that began on Tuesday. No, Travers is not a part of it but it is time to play our favorite game - Let's Look At The Big Adjectives and One-Word Reviews with the Small Critics. It's a working title

"Phenomenal." - Andrew Freund, MySpace

As we pointed out when Freund appeared on the Dark Shadows ads last month, 7 of his 8 quotes to this point were for films that received reviews that ranged from very mixed to downright, unquestionable pans.

"A wildly whimsical world. "(Dark Shadows) - (40%)
"Thrilling" (John Carter) - (52%)
"Daringly original. Thrilling. "(In Time) - (36%)
"Visually stunning." (The Three Musketeers) - (26%)
"Suspenseful. "(Gone) - (11%)
"One of the funniest comedies of the year!" (What's Your Number?) - (24%)
"The best romantic comedy of the year!" (Something Borrowed) - (15%)

If Prometheus remains in its early high 70s perch at Rotten Tomatoes it will be only the second film to receive such a fresh rating that Freund was quoted on. When asked on Twitter what he specifically found so "phenomenal" about the film, Andrew replied...

"Everything!" - Andrew Freund, MySpace

Precisely what we expect from a one-word reviewer.

"Epic. Brilliant. Masterpiece." - Kevin McCarthy, WTTG-TV

On the first page of Kevin McCarthy's Rotten Tomatoes review page (from The Avengers through to last year's Thor) he uses the word "epic" in some variation SIX TIMES and refers to two films as "masterpieces." One of them is Drive and the other is Super 8 which he also refers to as "epic." Learn some new words, Kevin. Even if both films were in my Top 20 last year, not every film is Lawrence of Arabia.

"Awesome. Mind blowing. Jaw dropping. Spectacular." - Kellvin Chavez,

And it's Kellvin Chavez who wins the battle of the adjectives. He got the most one word reviews into the Prometheus ads compared to his fellow whores. Though here is the catch - Kellvin is not a reviewer of any kind. Unless it is in reference to trailers, TV spots, featurettes and posters. And he is not even good at THAT! Fox choosing to use him as a qualified reviewer is not just misleading to moviegoers anxiously awaiting word on one of the most anticipated films of the year, but it is downright insulting. He is not even an average joe off the street or on Twitter and Facebook being used to show how it connects with humans I guess (a la People Like Us). Chavez exists in some purgatory netherworld limbo in-between film reviews and people who comment on message boards about movies they haven't even seen yet. It is more disingenuous than insisting for God knows how many months that Prometheus was NOT a prequel to Alien only to now have the ads two days before release say with no ambiguity "Before ALIEN...there was...PROMETHEUS."

Well before quote whores, there were film critics. We are still here, Fox. Use us. Not them. And not Peter Travers.

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originally posted: 06/07/12 23:34:07
last updated: 11/17/18 04:16:15
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