Movie Critics, Unite

Paul Giamatti in Warner Bros. Pictures' Lady in the Water - 2006
Paul Giamatti in Warner Bros. Pictures' Lady in the Water - 2006
Warner Bros. Pictures

CBS News Sunday Morning contributor David Edelstein fights for his right to critique films.

What a week to be a movie critic. First, we have director Kevin Smith lambasting ABC's Joel Siegel after Siegel stomps out of a screening of Smith's "Clerks II" while sputtering four-letter words — seems Joel was bothered by allusions to sex with farm animals. What a prude.

Then in "Lady in the Water," M. Night Shyamalan gives us a film critic called Farber who's a pale little prisspot.

Do I come off like such a disagreeable dweeb? I didn't think so.

To Shyamalan, the critic represents the doubter, the underminer of childlike spirituality and fantasy. And since Shyamalan fancies himself the next Steven Spielberg and Hans Christian Anderson rolled into one, that means an underminer of him. And because this critic in his arrogance nearly brings about the death of the movie's lovely narf -that's Shyamalan for sea-nymph - he gets what he deserves: he's ripped to shreds by a rogue scrunt – that's Shyamalan for a hellhound narf-hunter.

As I watched the critic mauled, a single phrase went through my mind:

Cue Bugs Bunny: "You realize, of course, that this means war!"

Listen, Night - and by the way, I know that's a fake name - your film plays like "Splash" rewritten by a half-wit Sunday school teacher with delusions of grandeur. It's an embarrassment - it makes "The Village" look hip. It's only not boring when it's laughable. I'd rather watch Joel Siegel mud-wrestle Kevin Smith.

I remember when critics got respect. Cary Grant played a critic. Bob Hope played a critic. And in "All About Eve," George Sanders was Addison DeWitt, a critic so powerful he'd squire around gorgeous young actresses. Marilyn Monroe plays one of them. I never expected that kind of fringe benefit, although at screenings I used to see a famous TV critic pawing interns a third of his age.

People like to say that critics don't matter in an age of multiplexes and movie franchises, and so there's less of a risk in making fun of them. In George Lucas's script of "Willow," the marauding skull head warrior was General Kael after the late Pauline, and the terrible beast was the Siskbert after Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.

OK, we dish it out, we have to take it. But what Shyamalan and others miss is that most critics love movies as deeply as anyone on earth. We still get a thrill when the lights go down; we pray for "The Dukes of Hazzard" - or "The Lady in the Water" - to be transporting. If we do get jaded, that doesn't express itself in negative reviews, but in the pass we give to studio dreck on the grounds that, oh well, critics don't matter anyway. And they're only movies.

I hope I never get jaded enough to say, "It's only a movie," or to let a witless caricature like Farber represent me. I'm ready for you, Night. Bring on the scrunts.