The perfect medication

The day Dramamine trumped George Clooney.

By Andrew Essex
July 5, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)
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Readers know better than to confuse film criticism with an exact science. This may have something to do with the fact that film critics are occasionally confusing.

Friday, as "The Perfect Storm" opened at megaplexes across America, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal offered verdicts so diametrically opposed as to have been commissioned by their respective editorial boards. Except for a pharmacological similarity, it's hard to believe the Times' Stephen Holden (hated it) and the Journal's Debra Jo Immergut (loved it) saw the same movie.

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New York Times: "Although a few tilting shots suggest a boat pitching in the waves, the camera remains level throughout most of the storm, so you rarely have a sense of being tossed about on the ocean."

Wall Street Journal: "For an hour and half, we're pretty convinced we're going into the drink."

If you happen to work in the pull-quote farming business, this is cause for head scratching. "It's rare that you see such radically different perspectives," said one marketing exec. Still, she was more disappointed that the New York Times didn't like the movie. The Times, according to a high-ranking Hollywood publicist, is the nation's single most influential review. "I'd consider the Journal No. 3 or 4, actually," said the publicist. "Now they sort of cancel each other out." Others think it doesn't matter: "Big summer movies are essentially review-proof," says Paul Dergarabedian of Exhibitor Relations, a box-office tracking firm. "At least for the first weekend. After that, people rely on friends, family and colleagues. In this case, critics are negligible."

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Holden and Immergut may not have seen the same movie, but they had the same idea.

Times: "In other words, a dose of Dramamine before the movie is not necessary. In denying us any sense of stomach-churning chaos, the movie keeps the violence at such a far remove that it rarely feels especially scary."

Journal: "It's gripping, it's exhausting -- if you're prone to seasickness, it's almost an ordeal ... If the Perfect Storm is far from a perfect film, it's still a pretty compelling ride. And a very rocky one. Bring Dramamine."

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Amid this aesthetic confusion, Warner Brothers, George Clooney and the craft of film criticism may suffer. But at least one group profits: Pharmacia, the makers of Dramamine.

"Obviously, we're very pleased," said Pharmacia flack Mary-Francis Faragi after being appraised that her product had been name-checked by two major media outlets in one morning. "Dramamine is very respected. It's America's travel companion!"

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Pharmacia is the offspring of an April merger between Pharmacia & Upjohn and Monsato. Last year, the two companies had combined sales of $16.3 billion.

When asked if the stock would rise as a result of the plugs, Faragi laughed. Pharmacia closed up 1 1/4 on Friday at 51 3/4.


Andrew Essex

Andrew Essex is business editor of Salon.com.

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George Clooney The New York Times