We sometimes forget that the word "fan" is short for "fanatic," a person, according to The Canadian Dictionary of the English Language, "marked or motivated by an extreme, unreasoning enthusiasm."
Fandom usually is pretty benign, often admirable, occasionally charming. But it can have its, well … dark and, yes, fanatical side, as the independent film blogger Marshall Fine discovered (or perhaps rediscovered) Monday afternoon. This is when the veteran New York-based movie maven had his pan of The Dark Knight Rises – a film for which the compound adjective "much-anticipated" seems decidedly anemic – posted on the online review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
It was the first negative notice for the movie on the popular site and it unleashed a guano-storm of abuse from offended Batfans, including a smattering of death threats among the 900 user comments. Lest we forget, virtually none of these commentators, unlike Fine, had even seen the film, which opens Friday. However, such has been the hype, pent-up demand for and emotional investment in The Dark Knight Rises that it seems believers in the miracles of the first two Christopher Nolan-directed Bat-flicks – call them Crusaders for the Cape – will truck no apostasy with respect to the third.
More abuse followed shortly after Fine's post when Associated Press critic Christy Lemire's dump ("coldly cerebral … overstuffed") appeared on the site. For the next few hours, Rotten Tomatoes tried to police the posts and remove the most offensive comments. But when the volume became too daunting, the aggregator announced it was suspending user comments for the time being – a first in its 13-year history – perhaps until midnight screenings of The Dark Knight Rises are over Friday morning.
Reached at his office Wednesday, Fine, who has written on TV and film for umpteen newspapers and published biographies on directors John Cassavetes and Sam Peckinpah, was philosophic about the vitriol. "It goes with the job. If you're going to express your opinion in a public forum, you've gotta expect people to respond, and not everyone's going to agree with me." At the same time, he did confess to being "surprised at the size of the response and how fast it came." The death threats, too, were "new," he said. But "I can't say I take it all that seriously. It's kind of an easy thing to do anonymously on the Internet."
Meanwhile, Fine isn't planning to curtail his reviewing or take any cautionary measures as a result of the kerfuffle. Indeed, he's thinking he may revisit the first two Nolan-directed cinematic Bat-flights, Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), to see if something more can be written now that the trilogy is complete. Then again, maybe not. He laughed. "I feel it must be a slow news week if I'm in the headlines."
Lemire, for her part, was keen to comment on the tempest in the Bat-cave and her contribution to it.
However, AP's director of media relations in New York said Wednesday it would be "limiting ourselves at this time" to an earlier statement from Lou Ferrara, the agency's managing editor for entertainment, sports and interactive media: "As a movie writer and critic, Christy gives her opinion and we expect people will agree with some of her reviews and disagree with others. It's unfortunate when the conversation turns ugly."
In the meantime, apostles of the Winged Wonder can take comfort that naysayers like Lemire and Fine are very much in the minority among reviewers of The Dark Knight Rises. As of Wednesday afternoon, about 120 of them had their reviews posted on Rotten Tomatoes, 86 per cent of whom, including Rolling Stone's Peter Travers, Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter and Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, were giving its two hours and 44 minutes the big thumbs-up.