Studios and publicists play convoluted games of keep-away with movies all the time — that’s just part of the business. A writer is only as powerful as their outlet and accrued reputation (sometimes the same thing, sometimes not), and even then that doesn’t always hold. When word comes down that the fix is in, the games of suppression begin. Still, the brazenness with which certain studios and PR companies are now… oh, let’s say dissembling in making sure that certain films stay off the radar of legit press (read: trades, weekly papers) is rather dispiriting.
Two of next week’s wide releases, Good Luck Chuck and Resident Evil: Extinction, are the most recent examples, among many, of this new culture. LionsGate and Sony subsidiary Screen Gems, respectively, are waging brutally aggressive campaigns of containment and repression with these movies; they don’t want them reviewed at all, but instead of just saying that, they’re playing around and trying to pull selective back-door strings, garnering feature coverage and a few free-pass (presumably friendly) reviews on power-demographic and/or fan-boy sites. They’re trying to stack the deck, in other words.
Sometimes these tactics take the guise of convenient lies of omission, which leave plausible deniability intact. (“Oh, that was a promotional screening, so our office didn’t know about it…”) Other times publicists will just lie, plain and simple. All of this, flat out, is an attempt to dumb down writing about film, to constrict and tamp it down. Studios and PR brethren won’t come out and say it, but they regard a handful of nouveau riche, Internet-only publications as more malleable, and thus less apt to offer criticism that could be perceived as hurting their product. There’s an element of truth to this, of course, but this is a short-sighted, loser’s game, predicated on symbiotic relationships that can’t and won’t continue forever.
I don’t begrudge studios the right to screen or not screen their product whenever they want, honestly, but such decisions really should be applied more evenly, and with an eye toward outlets that are reputable and fairly comprehensive in their coverage. Trying to “pre-screen” who you think is going to like a film is exhausting and stupid, for everyone involved. And for what it’s worth, I respect a lot more the publicists who are upfront about their complicity in executing decisions with which they might not agree.