[. . .] websites such as Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com) and Metacritic (www.metacritic.com) that tally the nation's reviewers and come up with one overarching dingbat are simply Babel at its most lunatic. If you see a rating and skip the review, fine -- life is short. But you still might miss a performance that could change your life. At the very least, you might miss the best bad movie you'll ever see.Mr. Burr, or any other critic who follows this tract in arguing against the premise of Metacritic and its ilk, is missing a rather critical point in his thesis, and is, in fact, on the verge of arguing against the existence of his own job.
The scale at Metacritic is not more poorly balanced than any individual reviewer's scale: If Mr. Burr centers around two stars of four (50% at Metacritic), and I center around 85% (a "B" on a school-ish rating scale), then Metacritic will center a composite score around 67% if it bases on only our results. The greater the number of reviews (and Metacritic gets a pretty wide cross-section), the more the deviation will wash out, and the more often the same reviewers are used for different movies -- fairly frequently -- the more the statistical center will remain steady. As a user of Metacritic's service, I want comparison -- I've already decided to see a film, so tell me, which, out now, are the best?
Look beyond his "Babel" abstraction, though, and you'll see the other complication: Mr. Burr admits that Mr. and Mrs. Average do not have time to see every film -- or, he reluctantly admits, to read every review -- and he agrees that simple "dingbats" -- his term -- can help them decide which films to see and which to skip. If this is true, then a iconic percentage score that buries the individual prejudices of reviewers is a godsend. Note the dearth of 100% scores on Metacritic, and consider that if your preferred review source was the one which under-rated The Godfather (Variety, apparently), then you might have skipped it. If you're on the same wavelength as Mr. Burr, you might never have even read the review, but only seen its 4 of 5 beside another film which got the full five stars. This is not an acceptable outcome, especially when we have the technology readily available to mathematically balance out such aberrations.
Reviewers provide the easy-to-use grades because people don't always have the time to read the reviews themselves, but don't want to accidentally see Gigli. If we agree on that, Metacritic is a blessing. After all, it does provide links to the full reviews, if readers are inclined to follow them.
If reviews should not feature grades, then Mr. Burr is not doing his job correctly.
He should call it how he sees it: meta-info sites are cutting into his readership, and, it follows, his value to his newspaper.
Don't worry, Ty: we like you, and don't want to see you unemployed. (Jay Carr, on the other hand. . .)
Don't argue yourself out of a job in the process of arguing to save your job.