When The Shit Hits The Fan

The Black Dog Podcast’s Lee Medcalf has one major bugbear when it comes to fandom; all of it. From his chair on GeekPlanetOnline’s front porch he likes to shake his walking stick and yell at the kids to get off his damned lawn; we’ve tried asking him to stop, but he has a nasty bite when riled…

The other night was like any other over here in my evil lair – alright it’s not a lair, nor are magnolia walls particularly evil, but hell, just go with it – there I was hunched like Lon Chaney Jnr’s Phantom of the Opera, over a hot twitter client. 

When suddenly a tweet appeared that sent me in to an apoplectic rage. 

“it scares me how bad new X-Men movie will be.” 

Just read that line again. A clear statement of fact that the new X-Men movie - First Class - will be bad, scarily bad! 

Now at the time of typing, barely a teaser trailer and some promo stills have made it out on to the internet. The story line is vague at best and the character list is pretty much all that IMDb can provide. 

All of which adds up to very little actual evidence to the quality of a film. And as anyone who was around for the premier of the Phantom Menace teaser trailer will attest, trailers are not exactly super-reliable either. Yet this tweet, is symbolic of the knee-jerk reaction SF fans have to pretty much anything new which is basically to slag it off, start it from a position of guilty and let the accused prove themselves against the weight of ill-formed opinion and preconceived notions. 

It's something I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of, but why? Why is it that we, as fans, are happier to assume instantly that something will be a brain dead cinematic war crime rather than adopt a far more sensible wait and see attitude? 

Partly I think it’s to do with the internet itself. In this modern age of instant communication, memes and open forums for anyone to say anything about anything, it is becoming increasingly hard to stand out. Yet, if you can be first at something, be first to call a result or produce a review or just create the next sarcastic meme then you do stand out or certainly, you fool yourself into believing you have some kind of significance. 

Conversely another possible reason thanks to the internet is, once again, our old friend consensus opinion and the desire to fit in. By automatically taking the default negative view on a subject you instantly become one of the gang because, frankly, everyone is taking that stand point. 

Naturally, you could simply not like the sound of something, but that said in situations where absolutely bugger all is genuinely known beyond the cast list – see Ridley Scott’s is it, isn’t it a prequel to Alien, Prometheus as a perfect example – how can anyone formulate a reasoned opinion on the quality of the product? Perhaps, the crew involved doesn’t enthral, but even directors and other cast members can suddenly surprise in their next production – take Heath Ledger's outstanding turn as The Joker in The Dark Knight, who’d have guessed that, given Ledger's previous turns in Brokeback Mountain, The Brothers Grimm or 10 Things I Hate About You – so opinion based on past performance is still no solid foundation. 

Perhaps in the end it comes down to a simple truth people find it easier to be negative than positive. 

During my time as a reviewer for an SF magazine I often found that a review of something I disliked was a hundred times easier to rattle off than something that required some positive constructive comments. Why? Well, humour based around negativity is easier to write than scouring a thesaurus for another word for excellent and convincingly quantifying that excellence. 

But, whatever the reason for this negative knee-jerk we all suffer, the one thing it has done is devalue our initial opinions when they feed back to the film studios involved. In much the same way as the boy who cried wolf was ignored by the farmer as the wolf devoured him, every “hardcore” fan automatically crying foul as soon as a trailer or promotional still appears has now become acceptable background buzz to be ignored. Once upon a time, the internet and the movie fan talkbackers who inhabited it scared the bejesus out of studio execs. After all, the web became a direct line between the film going public and the film makers who read the same sites. 

During that time, studios would scrabble in fear at bad reviews online or bad word of mouth by seemingly millions of potential cinema goers. But now with the near constant drone of negativity regardless of eventual quality, the studios have learnt that we as fans actually don’t know what we want, but we just like moaning anyway. 

A good example of this, was when the first promo still of the USS Enterprise from the last Star Trek movie appeared. The geek outpouring of hatred because the nacelles appeared to have propellers in them was ignored and sure enough, for the most part, haters became lovers of the film upon its release. This proves to the powers that be, that we, as fans, might bitch and moan but we’ll still shell out to see something if only to proclaim how right we were at being negative about it in the first place. Something which is ultimately a hollow victory for the fan, given that the studio exec that ignored them is now lighting cigars with their £20 note. 

So, I hear you ask, by not being so negative you’re suggesting we can win back our strength of opinion and hotline to Hollywood? Well, no… it’s far too late for that now, but perhaps if we did learn to take a more relaxed wait and see attitude and stopped worrying about what everyone else thought of our opinions, we might find we enjoy a film rather than simply appearing to be a total hypocrite every time you spend six months of time and energy slagging off a film you’ve not seen and then quietly rescind that opinion and take up the “I always loved this film” banner when it turns out to be actually not bad.



This week Lee Medcalf saw lots of trailers and promo stills for new films and he thinks they’re all shit.