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Ask the Critic: Kenneth Turan

October 28, 2004

Question: What's your read on the use of quotes from reviews in movie ads?

Turan: In the best of all possible worlds, anyone interested in what critics have to say would read their reviews word for word. But the reality is that people often end up reading no more than excerpts, sometimes only a few words long, in ads.

Every critic has stories of words taken out of context to imply approval where none was given, but that has gone on as long as the film business has existed and probably always will. Then there is the oft-repeated story of David Manning, the fictional critic made up by a studio because, even in a world of blurbmeisters willing to say almost anything, the advertising department couldn't get exactly the quote they wanted from a flesh-and-blood person.

One of the tricks the studios use with real people is to print their words in huge letters and print the name of the originating writer in the smallest legible type they can find. If you want to be an educated consumer -- and if you're to have a prayer of surviving in a marketplace where tens of millions of dollars are spent trying to influence your decision, you'd better be educated -- there is a simple technique to apply. The next time you see a big quote ad, don't read the blurbs but look at the names of the organizations quoted. If, as is currently the case with "Sideways," the quotes come from several reputable sources -- this paper, the New York Times, Time, Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, etc. -- it's probably safe to go. If they don't, no matter how ecstatic the verbiage, you'll be better off staying away.

Got a question? Go to calendarlive.com/askthecritic to e-mail The Times' experts on pop music, movies, TV and restaurants, or to browse a free archive of responses.

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