"IF IT WERE UP TO ME, I wouldn't show movies to anybody before they were released," director David Fincher told the Miami Herald last week. "I would do one trailer and three television spots and let the chips fall where they may."
Let's ignore the fact that Fincher's someone for whom dropping $15 for a movie ticket is no big deal, and instead focus on why he's so grumpy: New Yorker critic David Denby published his review of Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo early, breaking the review embargo the film's distributor, Sony, had put in place. Denby's review was positive, but what pissed Sony off—to the extent that producer Scott Rudin threw a hissy fit and barred Denby from all future screenings of his films—was that it had run early. Denby's review was a wrench in the massive, well-oiled publicity machine that studios have worked long and hard to build, usually with the happy help of less-esteemed critics who're eager to gain access to advance screenings.
Who's right in the whole Denby vs. Sony thing only matters to the four movie critics who still have full-time jobs... so whatever. What matters more is the light it casts onto the frequently circle-jerky businesses of film criticism and movie publicity—not to mention a reminder that, despite the crass machinations of summer blockbuster season, it's awards season when studios' claws really come out.
Next week—right when Dragon Tattoo debuts—Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol will officially open, but only after an early, week-long engagement at IMAX theaters, where, in certain cities, the film's preceded by a fanboy-baiting preview of The Dark Knight Rises. Contrary to Sony's Dragon Tattoo gag order, Warner Bros.' goal with Mission Impossible is to get people talking as much as possible—to build positive buzz for two films that open, respectively, in a week's and seven months' time.
As someone who writes about film, I've got a vested interest in all this stuff. But as someone who goes to a lot of films—and as someone who pays for many of the films I see—I've got the same interest as any other moviegoer. In a recession, and when we're flooded with more entertainment options than we could ever wade through, the opinions of a few trustworthy critics become all the more important. The internet, piracy, and digital distribution will continue to change the ways films are made, released, and written about. But what shouldn't change—no matter how pissy a producer might get—is the fact that audiences deserve to know whether or not something's worth their time and money.