For want of a button battery, a critic was lost....

I've mentioned that I'm a fan of Joss Whedon's work, so I've been keeping an eye on the reviews for The Avengers, since I'm probably going to break habit and actually go see it in the theater. For the most part, critics seem to like it, but a rather notable exception occurred yesterday in The Wall Street Journal.

That reviewer clearly did not enjoy the movie, and he singles out a slow first act as a problem. But he puts "an asterisk" onto his lack of enjoyment and goes on to note (emphasis added):

Now, about that asterisk. I saw "The Avengers" in 3-D at a screening in Hollywood at the ArcLight, a multiplex known for excellent projection. As soon as the opening credits hit the screen it was obvious that something was wrong; the images were dim and badly out of register. I should have known that the problem was a dead battery in my glasses, since the same thing had happened—in a different theater—during last year's disastrous screening of "Clash of the Titans." Instead, I sat there stewing with frustration, and assuming the projection was to blame, since a couple of friends who'd come with me were having the same problem. One of them went out to complain, but nothing happened. A few minutes later he went out again and returned with replacement glasses for himself, his wife and me. Someone had told him the glasses were the culprit, but those batteries were dead too.

The third try did the trick; he passed out three pairs of glasses that worked. By then, though, I'd been distracted for most of the first act, and felt more empathy than I would have preferred for Bruce Banner's problems with anger management. That's the main reason I'm recounting this here. The technical screw-up was so upsetting that it may have skewed my judgment about the movie as a whole. I think I settled down, but I can't be sure, and I can't omit mention of the problem from my review.

The other reason has to do with the status of theatrical exhibitors as the weakest link in the 3-D process. (Some theaters have already been caught reducing light levels on the screen to extend the life of expensive projector lamps.) What happened to me and others at the ArcLight the other night was the height of absurdity. Here we were watching a production that cost somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter-billion dollars. Yet our enjoyment was compromised by button batteries that can't cost more than a buck a pop. And we were an invited audience, privileged to see an advance screening, not moviegoers paying hefty premiums for their 3-D experience. I shudder to think what they see.

Your book. Your book is the quarter-billion dollar movie extravaganza--because, let's face it, the time and energy and money required by book production is but a small fraction of the time, energy, and lost revenue required to write the freaking thing in the first place.

The one-dollar button battery? That's your copy editing and your book formatting and layout.

When done well, these things cannot make someone enjoy something they wouldn't enjoy anyway--this critic may have disliked Avengers even more if he had been able to actually see the first act. This makes less-experienced writers believe that these things are trivial and don't matter. The problem is, when these things are done poorly, they can turn a potential fan into someone who goes, "Meh, I didn't really enjoy it."

You want people to get "swept up in the story"? PONY UP FOR GOOD BUTTON BATTERIES, ok?