I have never been particularly optimistic about moviegoing during the pandemic. As early as mid-March, I had resigned myself to the absence of a summer movie season. The thing about coronavirus is that it doesn’t care about anything. It can’t be reasoned with. It can’t be outmaneuvered by a savvy company. While internationally, other countries and territories have done a far superior job at keeping COVID under control, the U.S. has failed badly at fighting the virus. Nevertheless, movies are starting to arrive in our theaters.
Why are movies coming back? It’s not because the coronavirus has subsided in America. While the rate of infections has dropped slightly in the last few weeks, America is still far ahead of other nations when it comes to the spread of the virus and deaths caused by it. We have not “solved” coronavirus. Testing is still abysmal. There is no real tracing program. Your mileage essentially varies by state. Coronavirus can also be carried asymptomatically, so posting a sign outside your theater saying, “Please don’t enter if you don’t feel well,” isn’t really a solution. But theaters feel they have to come back because they fear that without any government stimulus, especially for independent theaters, there’s a serious risk they may never reopen.
And the theaters haven’t offered any serious solutions. We know that it’s probably not the brightest idea to sit inside a room with a bunch of other people. The theaters can play hygiene theater by spraying down seats for an airborne virus and pretend that they’re going to work to space people out, but stories are already coming out that theaters have no enforcement or oversight of attendance. It doesn’t really matter if you say you require masks except for eating concessions and then don’t even check to make sure people are abiding by those loose rules.
To publish reviews normally as if there’s no pandemic and there are no health risks is irresponsible. To publish reviews without any awareness of the current landscape can be seen as an implicit endorsement of attending the theater. That would be putting our readership’s health in jeopardy, and we don’t want to do that. We can’t pretend everything is normal when obviously it isn’t. By the same token, we can’t pretend we’re public health experts. We write about Batman and Star Wars for a living.
So where does that leave us? We service an international audience and other countries haven’t catastrophically screwed up their coronavirus response. They figured out how to resume a semblancy of normal life. I also believe that criticism is not just Consumer Reports, and just because someone reviews a movie doesn’t mean you should go see it right now. Furthermore, when a film isn’t screening for the press (as with the case of The New Mutants), we don’t want our US-based writers to risk their health seeing a movie with the general public for the sake of a review.
This is all to say that when it comes to reviews for theatrically released features, we will be including the following note at the end of reviews during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we strongly encourage individuals to check with the recommendations of public health officials and CDC safety guidelines before seeing a movie in a theater.
This isn’t to lord the freedom of critics over readers. It’s to value the opinions of people who can see the movie safely while acknowledging that we’re in the middle of a public health crisis. If the public health recommendations go against seeing a movie at this time, we strongly urge you to follow the advice of experts, not people like me who can name all the Star Wars bounty hunters, but not couldn’t get higher than a “C-” in high school science.
I know this sucks if you’re amped to see Tenet or The New Mutants or other theatrical-only releases, but your health matters. The health of your loved ones matters. Your lives matter. When you feel that it’s safe to watch these movies, our reviews will be waiting for you.