In Hollywood, a great deal of attention is paid towards noteworthy actors and filmmakers. In many ways, this makes sense. After all, they are most often the faces that we recognize from the screen, press tours and, yes, even TMZ and the tabloids.
Nevertheless, if the conversation should turn towards those who help us to be informed about films (i.e. the critics), the list of names becomes far more sparse.
In fact, one could argue that there are merely a couple of names that have broken through to become household names. For instance, most people can easily identify Roger Ebert and the late Gene Siskel.
And, of course, there is the incomparable Leonard Maltin.
No, he may not have coined a phrase like “two thumbs up.” Nevertheless, beginning his writing career at the age of fifteen, Maltin has been actively reviewing films in print, online, and on television for over 45 years now. Over that time, he has become one of the most well-known and trusted critics in Hollywood, a success that he attributes to his “honesty.”
“People sense that they’re getting ‘straight talk’. Personally, I consider this a high compliment. They sense my enthusiasm. If I can convey that, then I have succeeded.”
What’s more, Maltin also believes that there is always a strong personal element inherent in every review. In other words, he believes that it is “unavoidable” that one’s life influences the way that they connect with a film.
“Everything you are and everything you’ve done in life affects the way that you see a movie, whether you want to admit it or not. There are so many facets in life—all of these things are factors in your reaction to a movie, though some are more candid than others.”
Throughout his career, Maltin is perhaps known best both for his frequent spots on Entertainment Tonight and his yearly book of capsule reviews, Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide. Updated yearly since 1987, Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide contains over 16,000 reviews and remains the most complete and reliable movie resource guide there is. With this week’s release of the 2013 edition of his famed book series in mind, Maltin maintains that films that have the most impact upon him are those that break formula.
“I’m always struck by originality,” he claims. “That impresses me more than anything. Although, sometimes I’ll see a formulaic movie that works so well that I have to eat my words.”
With this in mind, Maltin has become increasingly frustrated with Hollywood’s inability to seek out innovative new projects. When speaking about current box office trends, he notes that, “as Hollywood becomes increasingly concerned with revenues in Russia and China, we seem to be getting even more flashy, comic book films and lowest common denominator, high concept movies.” Although he is not opposed to these types of films, he does contend that he doesn’t “want a steady diet of them.”
“All I’m interested in is variety,” he claims. “I like chocolate but you can have too much.”
As a result, Maltin also contends that there’s ‘no disputing’ that the overall emphasis on ‘big event’ movies has created two Hollywoods: one that pushes blockbusters in order to make money and one that seeks awards recognition. Says Maltin, “As much as I may carp about awards season, if it weren’t for them, we might get nothing but comic book films. Streaming and downloading and other innovative ideas means that there are new outlets for indie filmmakers. So that’s helpful as well.”
To Maltin, the reality is that “box office is driving creativity in Hollywood.” He explains that the primary concern for Hollywood currently lies in cheap or well-known properties with the largest potential for financial return, leading to constant ‘reboots’ and ‘remakes’. To give an example, Maltin focused on the recent focus on familiar fables.
“I’m discouraged by all the fairy tales,” he claims. “Just because [Tim Burton’s] Alice in Wonderland did well, everybody decided that they should do Snow White. All of the stories are public domain. [The upcoming Les Miserables remake] is another timeless property that has been made innumerable times. People have been seeing the musical around the world for 25 years or more. I guess the only question I have is: what took them so long?”
Further, Maltin also suggests that this trend extends to the current interest by Hollywood in a return to Biblical epics as well. With so many extremely high profile productions of Biblical narratives such as Aranovsky’s Noah, Spielberg’s untitled Moses film and even Will Smith’s proposed Cain and Abel project, one might assume there is a sudden spiritual rebirth in Hollywood’s production agencies. Maltin, however, suggests otherwise.
“I think it’s another case—albeit on a higher level—of appealing to a worldwide audience. [Traditional Biblical narratives] can sell in Zimbabwe as easily as Missouri. I do hope that the movies are good, though.”
If Maltin is right, so do I.
It’s clear that he believes the appeal of these stories lies primarily within their box office potential. Assuming that he’s correct, one hopes that the quality of storytelling provides the audience with more than just another trend in studio tentpoles. As a filmgoer, my desire is to see these projects be told with depth and meaning. As a Christian, my interests in projects such as these increases dramatically.
Similarly, as an experienced film critic, Maltin is also a man who seeks quality over quantity. Reacting against films that are “carbon copies of something that [he’s] seen six times before,” he continues to emphasize the value of creative and intelligent filmmaking in an industry that looks primarily to marketing as its motivation. With this sort of commitment to his craft, I’m certain that we will continue to receive great work from him for a very long time.
Especially if he persists in offering the “straight talk” that the public has come to expect from him.