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‘Dragon Tattoo’/'New Yorker’ Situation Shows Why Embargoes No Longer Work

Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig in David Fincher's 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' Photo: Merrick Morton

Gasp! The New Yorker has broken an embargo on its review of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the much-anticipated David Fincher version of the crazy-popular book by Stieg Larsson.

IndieWire has the email chain between New Yorker reviewer David Denby and the film’s producer Scott Rudin, which you can read here. Rudin also contacted other reviewers urging them to stick with the December 13th run date.

In a nutshell, the end of the year is crunch time for reporters on the movie beat because so many films come out at once in order to be considered for awards season. In an effort to fit everyone’s schedule, Dragon Tattoo was specially screened by the NY Film Critics Circle (Denby is a member) earlier this month with a December 13 embargo date. The New Yorker has decided to run its review today.

As Denby says, it is a positive review with the use of the word “mesmerizing” and the assertion that “you can’t take your eyes off of Rooney Mara,” the actress who plays Lisbeth Salander. But Rudin isn’t impressed. The crux of his argument is, “but you promised.”

This situation speaks to the reason why embargoes are growing even more old-school and, according to many PR pros and journalists alike, increasingly irrelevant in an age of Twitter and other real-time information sources. The second anything is said about this movie, it’s going to be all over the place because of social media and blogs like this one.

NPR points out the “oddities” that have become part of the film critic/filmmaker song-and-dance, among them, the special favors that pass between the movie makers and the reporters, and the inclination to simply exclude a noteworthy film that doesn’t fall into line with scheduling.

But more than that, the article exposes the sensitive nature of this arrangement. If one person falls out of line, the entire media plan goes out of whack. By breaking the embargo, it undercuts other coverage of the movie, putting the media strategy in jeopardy and inconveniencing other writers and editors. Other outlets may consider shortening their reviews, or might not give it as much prominence. For this movie, there very likely won’t be a problem getting coverage. But, nevertheless and most understandably, the filmmakers don’t want to take  any chances and despite its popularity, media outlets don’t want to run yesterday’s news.

Denby and others have argued that the end-of-year timeline is too insane to be maintained as is. With the now-revealed threat of this happening, perhaps next year will breed changes.

Still, Denby did promise, and there’s something to be said for keeping your word. Denby is being criticized for that. Moreover, we have to say, it’s tacky to then bash We Bought a Zoo as part of the reason why you can’t keep your promise. Save your negative review for the actual negative review.

[image via; h/t NYT]

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