A reviewer who delves into the realm of popular culture films knows that it is a dangerous but necessary part of their job. Usually in the science fiction genre, these cult films are made for the fans, with a limited external audience taken into consideration. However, there are some films that attempt to explore horizons that cater to universal ideologies, hoping that the human spirit will respond and enjoy the story that is being told.
These are the films that are shot down by Anthony Lane.
Whether it be a well-deserved missile attack on Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (30 May 2005) or a shot-in-all-directions to bring down the good ship Star Trek (18 May 2009), Lane possesses the ability to take these films and make them retreat to their fandom hideaways, never to be enjoyed by an average moviegoer. Worse is his rampant desire to take the fans of this genre and make them feel like frustrated adolescents all over again.
Watchmen provides another case study for Lane’s critical repertoire, and continues to serve his belief that the genres is devoid of true human suffering and understand due to its supernatural elements. It seems as if, in his opinion, the only thing worse than the existence of such films is that people participate in the culture that suspends disbelief. Lane is here to tell the read that normal people can’t tell the difference between Watchmen and that orange guy on the sea horse from the cartoon Flash Gordon. He also hangs his reputation on the ideology that nothing is more relevant in film than a genuine reflection of human emotion. According to Lane’s review, Watchmen does not reach this ideal, which automatically makes it a failure.
Several elements are employed to position the reader to accept Lane’s representation of Watchmen. Lane uses his first paragraph to display his knowledge of the contributing elements to the film – the science fiction genre, and the style of the graphic novel. By using his opening lines to drop names such as Persepolis and Maus, he begins to establish his credibility and expert knowledge of the genre. Cunningly, he singles these two works out as ‘masterpieces’, setting up the binary opposition and apparent problem in the graphic novel genre – that there is a serious imbalance between the few good works and the plethora of useless material. With his precise word choices and implied credibility, it appears to be a well-founded argument. However, he seems to get careless later in the review when he generalises the graphic novel as a “comic strip”. While it is in the closing sentences of the review, it is enough for fans of the graphic novel to question the true authority that Lane has on the subject matter when he oversimplifies any comic-book art as art produced for comedy.
Maus was hardly a laugh fest.
Lane not only calls upon his knowledge and experience of the genres, but also of the people who enjoy the work. Belittling them not only as fans of ‘stuff’ but also as ‘masonically loyal’, an uninformed reader could easily be positioned to think little of the subject matter and presume the worst of those who do enjoy it. It is an over-generalisation that asserts these characteristics as universal rather than simply typical. Although it is another method used to confirm Lane’s credibility, it does not communicate its intended meaning with people who are fans of the genre. Instead, he appears to walk up to these fans, steal their lunch money, and throw them into the nearest locker.
Perhaps Lane sees this as a small concern, as he is aware of the intended audience for the review – wealthy citizens residing in the ‘regal’ metropolitan areas of the United States. He certainly does his best to cater to this demographic through both language and structure. Crude and demeaning terminology is frequently used to describe elements of the film – the plot ‘grinds and squelches’, a character looks ‘like a porn star left overnight in a meat locker’, and the script is ‘incoherent, overblown, and grimy with misogyny’. In contrast, more formal vocabulary and reference to political and cultural issues gives an implied attribute of moral superiority to readers who choose to agree with Lane’s negative assessment of the film. It not only positions Lane as a dignified professional, but also bestows this level of sanctimony on the reader if they accept the intended reading.
The structure, while typical of a film review, serves Lane’s purpose perfectly. As mentioned previously, Lane is able to assert his intellect early in the review. This is a perfect precursor to the rant that expels his intense disapproval of the film, retching his way through his view of the plot faults and lacklustre characters. He finally hurls his harsh judgement of those who would choose to view it through a critical commentary of ‘the lack of suffering in media’.
This is where the review is going, and Lane finds it easy to step onto the soap box and proclaim science fiction’s inability to provide an adequate depiction of suffering – only a portrayal of violence. It speaks to a contemporary United States begging for a voice with a sweet timbre, but doesn’t take into account the original context of the graphic novel – to deglamorise brutality, showing the messy consequences of humanity’s struggle to find meaning and in turn depicting the true, instinctive selves that fight a constant battle with social civility. It seems to indicate that Lane’s knowledge of the original 1986 graphic novel is lacking.
Lane has a loud voice in film criticism, and a cultivated ability to use language, form, and ‘knowledge’ to persuade his readers. He is also aware of the audience that views his works. However, many of his devices can be deconstructed through critical analysis and research into his style and into the subject matter. It not only shows his lack of understanding of science fiction and its accompanying genres, but develops a recogniseable patter that would have made his opinion of Watchmen just as predictable as the common stereotype of a jock that pulls a nerd’s pants up to his armpits and gives him a swirly.