The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the world in many different ways. We have all learned to wear masks, and very simple things can seem daunting for those that fall in the high-risk box. Something as simple as a trip to the grocery store can be a terrifying experience if you live in a city or county where cases are spiking, and you want to keep yourself and those around you healthy. It's been months since people have done some very simple things, and one of those things is seeing a new release movie in a theater. For me, as a critic, it was am abrupt shift. I went from going to the theater at least once a week to not setting foot in one since early March. The fellow critics that I usually see at least once a week are people I haven't seen since the last time we all gathered to review a movie. Theaters are in the process of opening up in some cities, and new movies are looking to come out later this month and early next month. That puts me, as a critic, in a rather strange position.
A review of a movie is not just a "go see or not" piece of writing but looking at the impact and complexities of the project itself, or at least that's what a review is supposed to do. On some other level, it does also tell audiences whether or not I personally believe that a project is worth supporting. It's easy for someone like me to think that I could go to a press screening, and I would be okay. Those of us that review movies rarely eat theater food, so none of us would be taking off our masks, and if the screening is closed, which they probably would be, then it would be easy for the dozen or so of us to maintain social distancing. However, a theater full of the general public is not the same thing. The general public does buy concessions, which means taking your mask on and off, and there would be more than a handful of people in the theater.
So, as a critic, I'm presented with a moral conundrum; how can I sit here and recommend a movie to people when I personally do not believe it's safe for people to go to the theater? I want to see The New Mutants or Tenet, but do I think it's a good idea for people to go to the theaters right now? I really don't, and my place of privilege means I could probably see these movies in much safer conditions than the people I am recommending them to. If they decide not to screen movies for the press, I'm presented with my own problem; seeing movies is my job and the thing I am paid to do, but do I want to risk my health to go see a movie so I can write my review? What about those living in cities that aren't reopening or that getting theatrical releases? What are the critics in those cities supposed to do so they can do their jobs? I haven't been presented with either of these options, but the opening dates for new movies continue to creep forward.
The last of the convention domino fell with New York Comic Con, and the fall will likely see a spike in cases. At the moment, September to December hold some major releases that could be coming out at a time when we shouldn't be going to the movies for the sake of everyone around us. So that leaves us, critics, with the moral question; how can we recommend and critique a film when we don't feel it is safe for people to go and see said movie?