For, Friday, July 3, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lest you think our current president invented ridiculous hyperbole with his self-aggrandizing Tweets, here’s a 30-year-old column about the kind of hype that movie studios use in ads, lifting quotes from movie reviews. It ran in the Deseret News under the headline, ‘Critics fan flames as movie hype heats up,’ on July 22, 1990. The movie titles are old but the hyperbole remains the same.

It's the season of hyperbole, and I don't mean just from movie studios.

Critics all over the country are gushing over certain movies, and the studios are all too happy to take quotes out of context and use them in newspaper ads.

In defense of movie critics — my species, after all — let's face it, how many ways are there to say "good," "bad" or "indifferent"? Now narrow your thesaurus expectations to variations on "good," since that's all that studio press folks are interested in.

On movie pages in recent weeks you may have seen: "thrilling," "dazzling," "heart-stopping," "a bulldozer" and "mind-boggling" — and those were all in one ad, for "Total Recall."

Other adjectives that often appear to be screaming at you in large type — and all of these have appeared in this summer's movie ads — include "terrific," "uproarious," "hysterical," "classic," "a gem," "a triumph," "exceptional," "sensational," "spectacular," "sparkles," "beautiful," "magical," "magnificent," "tantalizing" and "witty."

Most had exclamation points after them, of course.


And the latest cliché is "Two thumbs up," whenever Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel agree on something.

When single words are simply lifted from a review, it's hard to blame the critic. Writers who review hundreds of films each year are simply searching for a way to make the writing interesting and different from every other review.

But it does get strange — and it's hard not to think that some critics write with ad quotes in mind, even if you agree that a particular movie was great, there’s no question that some of the praise is over the top.

On one movie page in a recent entertainment section, there were ads describing "Bird on a Wire" as "a roller coaster of a movie" and "Total Recall" as "a thrill ride" — as if they were playing at amusement parks instead of movie theaters.

Other recent examples:

"The most delightful series since ‘Star Wars.’ ” (Richard Schickel on "Back to the Future, Part III")

"Bill Murray will grab hold of your sides and tickle you half to death." (Jeffrey Lyons, "Quick Change")


"The best film of the summer." (Siskel, "Die Hard 2")

"The funniest movie in a long time." (Gary Franklin, "Betsy's Wedding")

"A terrific screwball comedy." (Peter Goddard, "Ghost Dad")

"A classic fantasy." (Hal Hinson, "Back to the Future, Part III")

Well, you get the idea.

Maybe we need to redefine "screwball comedy" and "classic."

But the winner of the 1990 Gene Shalit Bizarre Ad-Quote Award goes to Dixie Whatley, co-host of that syndicated "Siskel & Ebert" clone, "At the Movies."

The winning quote ran in huge type in print ads for "Internal Affairs," the Richard Gere thriller released earlier this year:

"I was so enthralled I forgot to breathe!"

I've forgotten a lot of things — an appointment, my wallet, a birthday, to put out the cat. … But I'm pretty sure I've never forgotten to breathe, no matter how enthralled I was.