In a q & a with Variety‘s Michael Fleming, G.I. Joe director and Morlock flunky Stephen Sommers blurted out the following comments:

(a) “I don’t think the mainstream critics are relevant [when it comes to G.I. Joe] — they have criticized themselves into irrelevancy. Transformers 2 got the worst reviews in the last decade, and it is the biggest hit of the year. More people will see that than any other movie. On my movie, it became so clear to us. Why not make those reviewers pay their $15 like everyone else?”

(b) “I’d shown it dozens of times, all around the world. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Aside from doing close to $60 million, it got an A Cinema Score with people under 25. No matter what the critics say, the under 25 crowd is what’s most important.”

(c) “I know it sounds cliche, but I don’t read [reviews]. Why would I? I make the kind of movies critics love to hate. They love dark and depressing movies. If you make those, you expect they will love you, you need them to love you. The kind of movies I make? They don’t enjoy commercial or popular movies. I would say that geek love is hard to earn, and I got that in mounds. All the internet movie-haters love this movie. To win them over was something.”

Sommers sounds the way I expected him to sound. Like a polluting chemical plant owner or some sort of defensive Palinesque reactionary who talks in simple-minded us-vs.-them terms. Guys like Sommers are what that book, “When Good Things Happen to Bad People,” was all about.

  • MilkMan

    Yes, Stephen, and Taco Bell makes the best Mexican food in the world.

  • BoshBarnetWonkyDonkey

    He’s right on this bit: “they have criticized themselves into irrelevancy.”

    What is the point of reading the vitriolic pans of the old media critics anymore? What does the average man in the street trying to decide what film to see that weekend gain from reading stuff like Rex Reed’s “as funny as infanticide” Funny People review? They don’t get any information about the film, just snark and weak jokes and a holier-than-thou attitude.

    If critics dialled down their bile and actually wrote intelligently about the blockbusters they despise so much instead of falling back on tired cliches, they might be more respected by the public. But they’re too in love with their own sense of superiority to, y’know, give a readable account of what the film is like, what it’s strengths are, what its weaknesses are, etc. That’s beneath them when they could be thinking of new ways to describe the general public as animals.

  • SnarfTheFierce

    Sweet Jesus. “They love dark and depressing movies?” Stephen Sommers is apparently my fifty-nine-year-old mother.

    Whatever happened to the days of the fully-aware schlockmeisters? My kingdom for an Irwin Allen.

  • SnarfTheFierce

    BoshBarnet: my fifty-nine-year-old mother after too much caffeine. You want to talk “old media critics” and you cite Rex Reed? Let’s call in Leonard Maltin while we’re at it.

  • corey3rd

    Sommers got removed from the project. the editors saved his bacon and now he acts like it’s all his genius. typical,

  • anonymous2

    I somehow found myself sitting in a 10pm screening of GI Joe this past Friday night. I sat through the first half of it and I have to say it was a lot better than I thought it would be. It was a very consistent movie. Consistently cheezy, silly, ridiculous, but consistent nonetheless. I think people who wanted to see GI Joe probably weren’t disappointed.

    And is Sommers actually wrong? Jeff might hate him because he makes stupid movies but Sommers is being articulate and staying firm to his priniciples which is something you’s have to respect.

  • Wrecktem

    Go, Stephen, go! I love to see a filmmaker stand behind his work, whether it’s studio schlock or brow-furrowing auteurism. A lot of people worked really, really hard to make this movie a success, and it’s nice to see the director, who’s had a rough time on the pic, stand up for it so forcefully. Yo, Joe!

    Please remember, people have been working months straight with no breaks to bring this to theaters on time for the enjoyment of paying moviegoers. They’ve succeeded wildly and we should all sit back and congratulate them!

  • JD

    I wonder if he genuinely believes his movie is good… or is this just PR? Does he acknowledge that a movie can be mainstream and still be bad or are all mainstream movies inherently good? Critics may be irrelevant as far as this movie’s box office is concerned, but they’re not irrelevant across the board. Basically, their job is to help people discover hidden gems and small films with merit. GI Joe doesn’t qualify. And if critics randomly pretended to like GI Joe — as Sommers seems to think they should — wouldn’t they become truly irrelevant? Their praise for worthy films would become meaningless. “If he liked GI Joe, he can’t possibly know what he’s talking about.”

  • LexG

    Someone forward LexG’s glowingly positive video review to Sommers:

  • BoshBarnetWonkyDonkey

    And if critics randomly pretended to like GI Joe — as Sommers seems to think they should — wouldn’t they become truly irrelevant? Their praise for worthy films would become meaningless.

    Ebert likes all manner of shite, such as Knowing, but he is still respected.

  • corey3rd

    Sommers, Michael Bay and Shawn Levy can give each other handjobs to their greatness,

  • Kristopher Tapley

    There are things in the world worth bitching and getting all high-and-mighty about. That G.I. Joe sucks from the traditional film criticism perspective but works from the traditional movie mainstreamer perspective is just not one of them.

  • BoshBarnetWonkyDonkey

    It’s not just G.I. Joe though. Go to the “Top Critics” section of any film on Rotten Tomatoes and the percentage score will be lower than the overall. Are they really much more enlightened than the rest of us? Or are they just all old, cranky curmudgeons who are tired of their jobs and probably should have retired years ago?

  • NotImpressed1Yet

    It’s the former.

  • drbob

    I don’t understand all the hubbub about GI Joe. This movie is NOT a success. It will struggle to make more than $150 million domestic, and maybe $300 million worldwide. With its budget, P&A, and theater cuts, it will not become profitable for the studio until long after it hits DVD and Blu Ray.

  • CitizenKanedforChewingGum

    As much as you hate to admit it, and as low-thread as he sounds, he is actually right about a few of those things with a few important qualifiers:

    a) mainstream critics ARE irrelevant for the big summer tentpoles…as long as you’re talking BOX OFFICE.

    b) the under 25 crowd IS what’s most important…if what’s important is selling tickets.

    c) most critics DO take a shit on most commercially successful/popular movies…but they generally have entirely good reason for doing so.

    As for whether he actually believes it’s a good film or it’s simply a PR move, I suspect the former but would not be surprised by the latter.

    I also agree with Kris.

  • JD

    Bosh: “Ebert likes all manner of shite, such as Knowing, but he is still respected.”

    If Ebert consistently gave 4-star reviews to dumb blockbusters, nobody would take him seriously anymore. His review of Knowing has value precisely because he slams most films of its ilk. Of course, I can still of ignore (and understand) his Knowing review because I’m aware of his tendency to give directors he likes a pass on anything and I know that Knowing was directed by Alex Proyas, who also directed Dark City (Ebert’s favorite film of 2008).

  • CitizenKanedforChewingGum


  • Chase Kahn

    “They love dark and depressing movies.”

    How infantile and 7th-grade does that sound?

    “the under 25 crowd is what’s most important.”

    So basically, the older and more intelligent you are, the more ridiculous the film is.

  • mtgilchrist

    Here’s a link to the interview I did with him for Cinematical, where he says a lot of similar stuff, and talks about the rumors:

    This took place last week, so even if he was really fired, they brought him back to do press – for whatever that’s worth.

  • mtgilchrist

    Also, he may or may not be right about the “relevance” of critics. Do their opinions have anything to do with the box office receipts? The question is, should they? (The answer is, of course not.) A critic’s “purpose” if you will is to filter a moviegoing experience through their personal feelings and their (presumed) familiarity with filmmaking style and storytelling convention, not reflect the tastes of the moviegoing public. If the tastes of critics were the same as the “public,” they they really would be irrelevant, because that would indicate they only existed to reinforce popular opinion. A critic exists to make sense why something works, why it’s interesting, what about it matters, etc.

  • LexG

    I think Ebert’s pass to KNOWING has less to do with Proyas and more to do with Ebert’s time-testing fascination with any film that features a garish, gaudy, Matthew Barney-meets-Tarsem otherworld with tacky nightmare imagery:

    The Cell, The Fall, What Dreams May Comes, Dark City, Knowing (and others I’m sure I’m forgetting)… I’m sure even if Ebert was on a 2.5-star fence about KNOWING, that tacky, over-the-top final scene set in Tarsemvania is what secured those four stars.

  • CitizenKanedforChewingGum

    That’s pretty spot-on, mtgilchrist. I was discussing a little film criticism at work today, and someone said they don’t read/trust the critics because they never recommend the movies this person enjoys.

    Well, that was a problematic response in a lot of ways (which critics? if you take the time you can generally find a critic whose taste closely mirrors yours, it’s not unlike dating). But first and foremost, I think one of the reasons serious film crit. is dying in this country (and it is, and it makes me sad) is because people think their only “job” is to tell you what to see or skip.

    As much as I love Siskel/Ebert, that whole “thumbs-up/thumbs-down” innovation may is causing more harm than good for the profession in the long run.

  • Patrick Sauriol

    There are reviewers that liked G.I. JOE. Maybe Sommers should conduct a more throughout look around the blogosphere before painting all critics with the same brush. If I had judged all of his films by the atrocity that was VAN HELSING I would have never given JOE a chance.

  • BoshBarnetWonkyDonkey

    A critic exists to make sense why something works, why it’s interesting, what about it matters, etc.

    Yeah, but my argument is that they’ve given up explaining things like this in favour of trying to deliver the funniest putdowns to win the respect of their critical peers. I actually like how Variety will often break a film down into its component parts, with at least a cursory nod to the technical aspects too, rather than just go off on a rant about how “I’ll never get those two hours back!” or “I checked my watch fifteen times!” and whatnot.

    I mean look at this toss:

    How is that helpful to anyone? It’s not even funny. Bradshaw thought “This’ll make them laugh!” and took a one-joke premise and stretched it over his entire review. It’s boring. Review the fucking film, don’t just show us how funny you think you are.

  • BoshBarnetWonkyDonkey
  • bluefugue

    >They don’t enjoy commercial or popular movies.

    Tiresome canard. To take Ebert as an example, he gave the following ratings to the following popcorn movies:

    Star Wars: 4 stars (this also was nominated for Best Picture)
    Raiders of the Lost Ark: 4 stars (also nominated for Best Picture, by the way)
    Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: 4 stars
    Aliens: 3 1/2 stars
    Jaws: 4 stars
    Terminator 2: 3 1/2 stars
    Jurassic Park: 3 stars
    Harry Potter: at least 3 stars to all but Order of the Phoenix (2 1/2 stars for that one)

    If anything, the guy’s too forgiving of popcorn movies IMO (e.g. Tomb Raider).

    Nobody’s knocking popcorn flicks. Just bad popcorn flicks.

  • MovieBob

    To be fair, the critics didn’t really give him a break on his REALLY good movies (Mummy, Deep Rising, Jungle Book) so there’s that.

    I really wish he could’ve gone without dropping a Transformers reference – especially since what he’s made here is 100 times the film that is – but when it comes to genre films he’s basically right: If you make a movie that can be identified as part of any genre other than straight-drama and it doesn’t have some sort of indie/shakycam gloss over it, you can kiss critical respect goodbye.

  • Big Black

    Yes, it’s really surprising that a director of crappy films would decry criticism, isn’t it. Maybe he should challenge all the critics who gave him bad reviews to a boxing match, then he could really prove that he makes good art, and that they are irrelevant. You could sit in the front row, dude, flushed red with a Pepsi and nacho-crazed buzz, cheering on Sommers while he punches Ebert and the rest in the balls. That chick who played Scarlet could bring him bottled water between rounds in-costume and the audience would go fucking nuts, bro.

  • frankbooth

    I did this:

    out of sheer surprise when I saw Julianne Moore in that G.I. Joe sendup.

    Who pays for these Funny Or Die things? Do they actually make enough off ads to cover the budgets of these videos?

  • mtgilchrist

    Re: BoshBarnet:

    I wrote two reviews of G.I. Joe, both positive., and neither of them did what you’re talking about:

    For SCI FI Wire:

    For Cinematical:

    That said, I know what you mean. What is really more problematic than the peer-reinforcement of pile-on hatefests is the fact that older critics and print writers dismiss onliners out of hand, or assume they’re in the studio tank, or otherwise compromised by their love for these kinds of populist or “fanboy” or whatever designation films. It’s not one iota different than Ebert’s love for Alex Proyas or Jeff’s love for Michael Mann – they both have a deep familiarity with these people’s work and love them because of it – but that isn’t of more value than the love people have for comic book properties, or blockbusters, UNLESS they’re purely dismissing real and persistent technical and aesthetic shortcomings because “I love it.” Admittedly I have observed that the problems with something like GI Joe are less materially important because of what it has to offer, and who it’s offering it to, but I think it’s sour grapes when critics complain that they weren’t invited to advance screenings of GI Joe and then tear it apart; notwithstanding the fact that they weren’t invited has NOTHING to do with their review, and is meaningless, how can they be surprised when they hate the film?

  • NotImpressed1Yet

    You really think critics not being invited to screenings is the reason GI Joe has gotten so many bad reviews? Wow. Sometimes a piece of crap is just a piece of crap.

  • mtgilchrist

    No, you misunderstand me – assuming you’re referring to me. I don’t think that the reason it’s getting bad reviews is because of anything other than people not liking the film. I was actually referring to the way in which critics like Peter Howell mention in their reviews that they weren’t invited to advance screenings, and then go out of their way to condescend to people who WERE invited to advance screenings, which has – or maybe just should – have nothing at all to do with their feelings about the movie. Because I would certainly love exclusive interviews and press opportunities, but I don’t bitch in my roundtable piece when I don’t get them. It’s unprofessional, and more importantly, immature. AND it has the effect of SEEMING like their reaction is based on not being invited, when I’m sure it wasn’t.

  • Terry McCarty

    I found Sommers’ VAN HELSING to be dark and depressing–but more for the wasted talent and missed opportunities.

  • DeeZee

    “Transformers 2 got the worst reviews in the last decade, and it is the biggest hit of the year.”

    Budget and P+A-wise, though, it’s less of a hit than the first one. And TDK still kicked both movies’ asses.

    “Why not make those reviewers pay their $15 like everyone else?”

    The only people who pay $15 are the suckers who go to the Arclight on a regular basis. [Unfortunately, I might have to do that, too, this Friday, if that's the only place playing Ponyo. ;-;]

    “I’d shown it dozens of times, all around the world. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. ”

    Not positive enough to bail you out of your insane budget.

    “Aside from doing close to $60 million, it got an A Cinema Score with people under 25.”

    Which people?

    “No matter what the critics say, the under 25 crowd is what’s most important.”

    I thought what’s most important is being able to make a movie that crowd can actually like and want to see for more than just one weekend.

  • jasctt

    Deny in al lyoul ike, but SS has a point. No one really listens or cares what film critics say. I was so into film criticism as a budding cinephile but those days are long gone. I think the end, for me, started about the time Pauline retired. After that, it’s al lbeen a fast downhill race to oblivion.

  • Sean Means

    If you look it up on Rotten Tomatoes, five of the top 6 movies at the box office this year – “Up,” “Harry Potter VI,” “The Hangover,” “Star Trek” and “Monsters vs. Aliens” – all earned high percentages from the critics, between 72 and 96 percent. (The sixth movie? “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” this year’s box-office cham-peen.)
    So Sommers’ argument that critics don’t like popular and commercial movies is not just an old lie, but an easily disproved one.

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