July 18, 2012 at 10:45 AM ET
RottenTomatoes.com has suspended user comments on a film for the first time following a fan uproar after two critics posted negative reviews of "The Dark Knight Rises" on Monday.
The review-aggregating site rates films by a percentile approval rating. As of Wednesday morning, "The Dark Knight Rises" stood with a 94% approval from critics and 96% "fresh" rating from the audience. But two reviews appear to have set fans off: Marshall Fine of Hollywood and Fine wrote that the film was "grandiose not grand," and the Associated Press' Christy Lemire said that the film "lacked the spark that gave 2008's 'The Dark Knight' such vibrancy."
The backlash overwhelmed the site, said Rotten Tomatoes editor-in-chief Matt Atchity, who told the AP that "it just got to be too much hate based on reactions to reviews of movies that people hadn't even seen."
In a post on the site titled "This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things," Atchity explained his reasoning behind shutting down comments for the film: "As expected, we saw a mountain of comments come in about (Fine's) review, and we're policing them to make sure they're in line with our (terms of service). Broadly speaking, threats and hate speech will get your commenting privileges revoked.
"But Marshall has the right to not like the movie, and people have the right to express their disagreement with him (although if you haven't seen the movie, your arguments may be on shaky ground)," Atchity wrote. "And we have the right to pull your comment down and ban you if we think you're acting inappropriately."
Warner Bros. is both the studio for "The Dark Knight Rises" and the owner of Rotten Tomatoes (via Flixster.com), but there is no indication that the company asked Atchity to take action.
In a second twist, critic Eric D. Snider posted a review for "Dark Knight" which pranked many readers. He began with negative comments about the film, calling it "easily the most disappointing Batman film so far," then wrote "just kidding." Snider chose to post the opening sentences as his Rotten Tomatoes tease, knowing fans would see only the negative lines and get upset. Snider hadn't actually seen the film yet, Atchity wrote, also berating the critic for linking the review to his personal site while listing Film.com in the Rotten Tomatoes teaser.
"This is not the first time he's done this, nor is it the first time his journalistic ethics have been brought into question," said Atchity, who added that Snider's reviews would "no longer apply to the Tomatometer."
Atchity told The New York Times that commenting is likely to start up again later this week, but that site editors are looking at other options to prevent this from happening in the future -- perhaps even as soon as the December release of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," another strongly anticipated film with a large, passionate fandom.
He noted that the site may decide to end the practice of letting anonymous users comment on reviews, or take away the comment function entirely.
"It's within the realm of possibility," he said. "I'm not sure that's page views we really want."
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