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By Doug Brunell | May 27, 2004

Years ago ….

“I thought it was vile and far too violent,” the female senior citizen was saying into the camera, her equally old female companion nodding in agreement. “I don’t believe they should make movies like that.”

The reporter then informed viewers that the two women had just watched Pulp Fiction.

“We went to see it,” the woman’s friend explained, “because it was getting great reviews like ‘Forrest Gump,’ which we loved.”

The idea of senior citizens watching “Pulp Fiction” because it got “great reviews” just like “Forrest Gump” amuses me to no end. Granted, I always thought people would be able to discern the difference between movies like “Forrest Gump” and “Pulp Fiction,” but apparently two good reviews means the two movies will be about the same in content and tone … at least to some people.

One would hope we’d get smarter with time.

Ten days ago ….

The girl overheard me talking about 28 Days Later. She informed me that she just rented it.

“What did you think?” I asked.

“I hated it! It was too scary.”

“It’s a horror movie,” I pointed out. “What made you rent it if you don’t like scary movies?”

The girl looked at me like I was the idiot. “It got good reviews. I didn’t see it when it first came out, though, because it looked like something I wouldn’t like. Then I saw it at the video store and thought it might be fun to see.”

We didn’t get any smarter between “Pulp Fiction” and “28 Days Later.” In fact, we may have fallen a few rungs on the intelligence ladder.

It is conceivable that a person may have mistakenly thought that “Pulp Fiction” was much like “Forrest Gump” in overall tone at the time of two films’ release dates. If a person only read the review blurbs and didn’t see a single trailer for either movie, he or she would’ve seen that both movies were being hailed as major achievements being worthy of Oscars. If you knew nothing about the two films other than that, it’s possible (however unlikely) that you would think the films could be similar. In all honesty, though, I doubt many people came out of “Pulp Fiction” thinking “Forrest Gump” would be anything like the film they had just watched. Apparently I can’t say the same about “Forrest Gump” fans.

Flash forward to present day and we find a girl who rented a horror movie based on some reviews. She hates horror movies because they are “too scary,” but rented it anyway because critics were (correctly) saying it was worth watching. She knew what it was, but went against her own common sense and watched it.

“So you rented a movie you knew looked scary just because it got good reviews?” I asked.

“Yeah, I guess.”

“And you hate horror movies, right?”

She nodded.

“That makes no sense.”

So she explained herself to me, and I thought my head would explode. “I saw The Good Girl, which was an awesome movie, and it got good reviews. I thought if people were saying ’28 Days Later’ was a good movie, too, it would have to be good in the same way as ‘The Good Girl.’ It would be a nice story and have some laughs. A good movie, you know? Maybe a tiny bit scary, but like The Others.

I had no idea what she was talking about. When I asked her how she could even compare “28 Days Later” with “The Good Girl,” her answer was simple. “They both got good reviews.”

I was thinking the “Pulp Fiction” mishap and this one could be two isolated incidents of severe brain damage brought on by pollution, but as I talked to people whom I don’t consider to be film buffs, I got similar answers.

“Yeah, if a critic gives two movies excellent reviews, you can pretty much guess they won’t exactly be the same, but they’ll at least feel about the same.”

“If Monster’s Inc. gets a thumbs-up and so does Finding Nemo, you know they aren’t identical films, but they probably will have vaguely similar themes. Nobody compares ‘Finding Nemo’ with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre because one is an excellent film and the other isn’t, and it’s obvious they aren’t even close to being the same.”

After I recovered from these remarks, I had to ask these people if, in order to determine whether or not to see a film, they actually read the whole review or just the quotes used in the ads. The answer was always the same (though said differently each time). “I just read the ads.”

I wish I was making this s**t up, but I’m not. As a critic of movies, music and books, this kills me. I see it as an affect of our sound-bite culture, and it scares me to death. Hell, I’ve recommended both Hacks and Irreversible, but they are two totally different kinds of films that are excellent on their own levels. I can only imagine what would happen if someone thought “Irreversible” would be similar to “Hacks” just because I recommended both films. That would cause a lot of therapy.

Back to the girl. “So,” I asked, “after you saw the movie, what did you think about the critics who gave ’28 Days Later’ positive reviews?”

“Like they lied. I wasn’t expecting it to be ‘The Good Girl.’ I knew it would be kinda of gross ’cause it’s a scary movie, but I thought maybe it’d be like a less scary “Scream.” How are you supposed to tell which movie is okay to see if they are two different movies that both get good reviews?”

“Have you ever thought that maybe both were decent movies in their own right … for what they were?” I asked.

She didn’t get it. “Maybe next time I’ll just go with what I feel.”

“Or read the entire review of a film first. That will usually tell you what it’s like.”

She rolled her eyes. “I doubt that. I got lied to big time with that scary crap. That’s the last time that happens.”

Again: I wish I was making this up. God, do I wish that. It’s true, though, and I wonder what the next decade is going to be like. I can’t imagine it getting any worse. Then again ….

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