Owen Gleiberman
February 11, 2010 AT 07:58 PM EST

Like, I suspect, the vast majority of you, I long ago gave up taking the strenuously overexcited, blurb-machine movie-critic quotes that dot newspaper, magazine, and television ads very seriously. Sure, there they are, every week, proclaiming this mediocre Ice Cube road comedy to be a laugh riot, or that cruddy hell-on-earth horror film to be the most terrifying leap-out-of-your-seat frightfest since…the last cruddy hell-on-earth horror film. But really, who cares? The quote may come from one of the usual gang of ersatz-legitimate, mysteriously affiliated review-meister idiots (the ones where no one really knows entirely who they are, or even if they exist), or they may come from that one very well-known mainstream film critic whose name I won’t mention, but whose words of impeccably crafted overpraise seem to sing from the top of just about every movie ad. Either way, who really bothers anymore to harrumph in outrage at anything that emerges from the blurb-whore-industrial complex? This stuff isn’t criticism, and barely pretends to be; it’s wallpaper. Even poking a hole in it is scarcely worth the effort.

But let me pretend to harrumph, for just one minute, at a quote that’s currently out there — not only because it’s so over-the-top that it practically begs to be shot down, but because it actually comes from a respected and even scholarly critic who obviously deluded himself into thinking that he was doing something other than what he was doing. In the ads for the Red Riding trilogy — a three-part, five-hour British serial-killer drama made by three different directors — the venerable critic David Thomson hails the three films, together, as “better than The Godfather.” How’s that for a nuclear nugget of hype compacted into four little words? So simple! So matter-of-fact! So unadorned by even a solitary exclamation point! (Amusingly, Thomson’s quote, which I read on the IFC Center web site, is taken from a piece that originally appeared in the New York Review of Books, a publication that, over the years, has been so stubbornly iconoclastic when it comes to movies that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they’d run a dripping-with-disdain “revisionist” takedown of The Godfather back in 1972.)

I have not seen the Red Riding trilogy myself (Lisa will be reviewing it in our upcoming issue), and so for all I know, I suppose that it could, theoretically, be better than The Godfather. Perhaps it’s also superior to Citizen Kane, The Birth of a Nation, Psycho, Nashville, and Gone With the Wind. It may, in fact, be a greater work of art than the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Anna Karenina, or the Bach Mass in B Minor. But somehow I doubt it.

What’s amusing about this quote, and maybe just a bit sad, is that Thomson, author of the compulsively readable The Biographical Dictionary of Film, obviously meant it sincerely. It’s clear that he was deeply stirred by the Red Riding trilogy, and wants you to see it and be stirred by it too. But by writing that it’s “better than The Godfather,” he’s doing something quite the contrary: He’s setting up everyone who sees these films to have their expectations dashed a bit. And, of course, he’s calling attention not just to the work onscreen, but to himself. For that’s the true, underlying purpose of blurb-whore mania, isn’t it? Whether low end or (as in Thomson’s quote) high end, it’s to create an advertisement for the writer. In this case, though, it reduces even a good writer’s words to a scary, leap-out-of-your-seat laugh riot.

So can you name any over-the-top movie critic quotes that stick in your head? What’s the worst one you ever read?

You May Like