I saw a movie last night (if you’re a fan of Nerd Critic, you’ll be able to guess which one) that has a pretty low score on Rotten Tomatoes. I left the theater feeling pretty salty about that score, and then about Rotten Tomatoes in general.
It’s not that I think Rotten Tomatoes is totally useless and always “wrong.” Both of those appellations are malaprop when it comes to a platform that operates in the way it does. It’s nice when everyone loves a movie and it gets a high score on a popular website, and it’s also nice when a movie is an objective failure (especially when it’s a bad faith failure), and it gets a really low score on that same popular website.
The problem with Rotten Tomatoes is that it is extremely reductionist.
Here’s how it works.
A movie review might itself achieve any level of quality and nuance, but Rotten Tomatoes will appropriate that review as either "fresh" or "rotten." After doing this to every relevant review that exists for a particular movie, they add them all up and perform the simplest possible algorithm: If, out of 20 reviews, 10 were "fresh," the movie gets a 50%. In true academic fashion, anything below a 60% is “rotten,” so indicated by a little green splatch.
This sort of reductionism is incredibly seductive because it makes the world seem simple. Is a movie good or bad? Well, look here, we’ve got a score. Now you know. Easy. Why complicate it?
It's not that reductionism is always bad, of course. You can't live without simplifying some things. The question is always which things. Apply reductionism to people, and you’ve got, at best, toxic identity politics, and at worst, racism.
What about movies? We’ve been heavily conditioned to judge movies with a thumb or five stars, which isn’t much better. And Rotten Tomatoes is peddling this same sort of philosophy.
But movies are art, and art is complicated. You want an opinion? Show up and get one for yourself. And I promise you, no one cares about your stupid thumb.