Back in 1907 right around the time your Uncle Stevie was learning to shave American humorist Gelett Burgess (best known for his poem ''The Purple Cow,'' which ends with the immortal line ''I'd rather see than be one'') published Are You a Bromide? For a special booksellers-convention edition of 500 copies, Burgess self-designed a jacket featuring a good-looking young lady with a come-hither smile. He named her Miss Belinda Blurb, and the copy on the back of the book read "YES! This is a BLURB!" Are You a Bromide? has been forgotten, but the word Burgess coined stuck, and blurbs have since become an integral part of movie advertising.
A quick scan through the film section of your Sunday paper could almost make you believe that the industry is on an all-time roll, releasing a steady stream of entertainment gems. ''Are we really living in the golden age of cinema?'' the naive entertainment shopper might wonder. Veteran filmgoers (not to mention veteran EW readers) know better. Great movies are probably not as rare as purple cows, but they don't open every week, either; the blurbs just make it look that way. So for the bewildered among you, I am pleased to offer Uncle Stevie's Blurb Translation Guide. It might be smart to tear this page out and tuck it into your wallet for easy reference. If nothing else, it'll give you a chance to rethink your options before going to see Did You Hear About the Morgans? (''Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker are a perfect combo!'') at the local multiplex, where it will be finishing its less-than-distinguished run in front of two dozing winos and half a dozen businesswomen playing hooky for the afternoon. Okay, here we go—blurbs ahoy!
''One of the best films of the year!'' This is the Mother of All Blurbs, most commonly sighted on TV and in newspapers around awards season. TRANSLATION: ''It's not.''
''Delightfully funny! Chemistry galore!'' (Leap Year) TRANSLATION: ''You might laugh once or twice, but don't count on it. The actors are clearly breathing, however, and sometimes they breathe on each other.''
''Prepare to die laughing!'' (It's Complicated) TRANSLATION: ''You will see actors you know and respect doing wacky things!'' Also, ask yourself this: Do you want to die laughing? I suppose it would be better than choking to death on a steak bomb at Quiznos, but still.
''Clint Eastwood is a master at the top of his game!'' (Invictus) TRANSLATION: ''Clint Eastwood sure is getting old and wrinkly, isn't he?''
''The most romantic movie of the year!'' (New Moon) TRANSLATION: ''No sex. No nudity. Many smoldering glances.''
''The perfect family comedy!'' (Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel) TRANSLATION: ''Your kids will laugh; you and your wife will feel years, centuries, and perhaps even eons pass while you wait oh, God, please let it be soon for this squeakfest to end.''
''[Emily] Blunt puts the Vicki in the young Victoria!'' (The Young Victoria) TRANSLATION: Sorry, I have no f---ing clue what this means. It's from Rex Reed, who can be dense and allusive, kind of a Blurb-O-Mat James Joyce.
''Peter Jackson scores again!'' (The Lovely Bones) TRANSLATION: ''Gosh! Those Lord of the Rings movies sure were good, weren't they?''
''Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law were born to play this duo!'' (Sherlock Holmes) TRANSLATION: ''It's a buddy flick.''
A few generic blurbs also deserve mention.
''Magnificent!'' usually means ''Good scenery, but otherwise it'll bore your breasts off.''
''X and Y as you've never seen them before!'' translates as ''Well-known actors who have been hideously miscast!''
''Fun for the whole family!'' means ''You'll all be bored and your 3-year-old will at some point whiz in his pants.''
''The best performance of his/her career!'' means ''We're hoping for some nominations so we can get this turkey into the black.''
Matt Weatherford, who has written the most honest and insightful movie reviews of the last 12 years on his blog, The Filthy Critic, has a running sidebar about blurbs called "Hey, Whore, how's the whoring?" That's a bit on the mean side, if you ask me, but it doesn't hurt to re-state the obvious: Blurbs aren't reviews, they're ads. Nobody's ad is going to feature Owen Gleiberman announcing, "X makes Gigli look like Citizen Kane!" So you have to be careful. In other words, be sure to check the translation.