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Want to See a Movie? Parents May Want to Wait a Week

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At the risk of sounding like a complaining film critic, this year Hollywood is changing the rules of the game, and it may ultimately affect consumers—particularly parents—more than critics.

“The movies most likely to not be screened to critics are ones targeting young audiences.”

So far this year, there have been a total of 12 major release movies that critics have not had the privilege of seeing prior to opening day. To put that in comparison, one report I read recently noted during all of 2005, only seven movies did not have advance screenings.

It's no surprise that most of the movies without screenings were titles most likely to be panned by reviewers. Still licking their wounds after a disappointing year at the box office, many studios have obviously decided to carefully consider which films will most likely attract positive buzz. If it they think a movie will become a turkey in the weekend's entertainment sections, marketing teams will attempt to minimize the damage by not allowing film critics to let the bird out of the bag.

Unfortunately, there are some flaws to this scheme. It's a hit and miss game to predict what movies critics will and won't like, especially when it comes to family films, a genre that appears to be especially earmarked as not being movie critic friendly. But even reviewers, like myself, who specialize in family audiences, are being lumped into the critical mass and are being kept from seeing films in time to meet newspaper deadlines.

So families who went seeking for information about movies like Doogal [http://movies.go.com/parentpreviews/review?rid=77595] and The Wild [http://movies.go.com/parentpreviews/review?rid=77615] were unlikely to find anything more than promotional fluff. And parents who had teens begging them to see Ultraviolet [http://movies.go.com/parentpreviews/review?rid=77600], Scary Movie 4 [http://movies.go.com/parentpreviews/review?rid=77614], and Stay Alive [http://movies.go.com/parentpreviews/review?rid=77613] would have also found it tough to get content information from websites offering these services.

For parents who already struggle to know which movies may be good choices for their children, this new trend will make things more difficult, because the movies most likely to not be screened to critics are ones targeting young audiences.

In an Associated Press article on the topic, Dennis Rice, publicity chief for Disney, alludes to this development: "If we think screenings for the press will help open the movie, we'll do it. If we don't think it'll help open the movie or if the target audience is different than the critics' sensibilities, then it may make sense not to screen the movie."

But there is an ironic twist to this story. Last year, a movie originally intended to be a small art house film became a household word thanks to the many critics (I, not being one of them) who hailed it as groundbreaking cinema. Brokeback Mountain would have hardly made it out of the box office gates if it hadn't become the darling of critics' organizations across the continent.

Can studios have it both ways? The public is actually in control of that decision. In our present marketplace, where a movie is expected to perform exceptionally well on its opening weekend, audiences may want to reconsider supporting a film for which no critical information is available. Instead, think about taking the kids the weekend following the opening. That way, you can still read artistic and parent-oriented reviews of the film to get a third party opinion about whether or not you should spend your dollars at the box office.

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About the Reviewer: Rod Gustafson

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