08/07/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Two Face

This batch [of summer movies] is light on sequels, gloomy in spots (as with "The Dark Knight") and heavy on comedies...The mix may not perfectly match the mood of an audience looking for refuge from election campaigns and high-priced gas, said Peter Sealey, a former Columbia Pictures marketing executive...
-- The New York Times, May 15, 2008

The success of "The Dark Knight" is an example of what can happen when an array of factors coincide...The brooding film, directed by Christopher Nolan, also fits the nation's mood, Warner Brothers executives said.
-- The New York Times, July 28, 2008

Different writers, to be sure (Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes, respectively), but it raises this question about movie audiences: Do we go to films to escape the national mood or reflect it? And it raises this question about The New York Times: Do they want any overall consistency in their coverage or don't they care?

So just what are the "array of factors" Brooks Barnes gives (via quotes with industry executives) for The Dark Knight's continued success? They include: 1) expertly executed promotion plan, 2) a brooding film that matches the national mood, 3) a sour economy forcing families toward cheaper entertainments like movies, and 4) the "storm of publicity" following Christian Bale's questioning by the police last week.

Wow. Nothing on the stuff Michael Giltz talked about last week. No mention of the word "quality." No mention of the phrase "word-of-mouth." That's part of the problem with relying on quotes from industry executives. Those guys are in a bubble. They're in a town that talks up movies constantly so they can't tell the difference when people really start talking up a movie. In Seattle (or in Omaha, Denver, Minneapolis, Detroit, Atlanta...), it's a little easier. One wonders if relying on industry executives for quotes about movies is a little like relying on Dick Cheney for quotes about WMDs.

I mean, seriously: "Storm of publicity"?

The danger with these articles, in which everyone's lying a little to get what they want (industry executives crediting themselves while the New York Times gets their important "national mood" story), is that it distracts from what truly matters: quality. Thus it perpetuates the notion that you can succeed without what truly matters: quality.

Remember, Spider-Man 3 set an opening weekend record last year and then stopped short. Its final tally ($336m) barely doubled its opening weekend ($151m). Why? It wasn't that good. The Dark Knight keeps going. Why? Because it's good. Plus it's dark and escapist (both) and it's the Batman brand and it's Heath Ledger (both) and everyone's talking about it and we all want to be part of something everyone's talking about.

But none of this would've mattered if it wasn't a good movie.

Subscribe to the Entertainment email.
Home to your favorite fan theories and the best movie recs.