Reviewing movies no easy feat
Writing a terrible movie review is easy. All you have to do is slap an opinion on a page and tell people exactly how much you personally enjoyed a movie, put a few generic statements in about the cast or the director and in
ten minutes, you can have an article ready to print.
A good review isn’t as easy, though. If a reviewer is doing his or her job correctly, it takes time, knowledge and skill to craft exactly what a movie is doing — and more importantly, deciphering the goal (or goals) the movie is trying to fulfill.
Before even walking into the theater, the critic needs to know the facts about the movie he or she is critiquing. How much money was spent producing the movie is crucial; an independent flick can’t be judged on the same level as a summer blockbuster, simply because of the amount of money involved. Is the film an original work or is it being adapted from something?
If it’s a remake of a previous film, you need to know how the new movie differs from the original. Who wrote the screenplay, and what else are they known for? What about the director? How does the cast look — has anyone worked with either the director or another cast member before?
Then comes the movie itself. Reviewers are concerned with many different things: the plot of the movie, its narrative structure, the cinematography and sets used, and of course, the acting. But that’s just the first layer. A writer also has to pay close attention to camerawork, directing, and the goal of the movie — different film genres call for different takes on reviewing. For instance, reviewing “Zombieland” is completely different than reviewing “The Godfather.”
Next up is the acting. A critic’s job is to objectively measure the performances given — whether the actor or actress is an Academy Award winner or just fresh talent. Anthony Hopkins, one of the most talented living actors, gave one of the best performances in history in “Silence of the Lambs,” and one of the worst of all time in “The Wolfman.”
At the same time, an actor’s bad track record shouldn’t influence a review — just because Megan Fox hasn’t ever acted well doesn’t mean she can’t give the performance of a lifetime in a future film.
Most people think an actor’s performance should be judged on their believability; the reality is that’s only halfway true. If actors are given bad lines, but do the absolute best they can with the material they’ve been given, they still should be commended for the performance.
One of the hardest parts is judging how well the director performed his or her job. If the movie has an uneven flow — that is, if some parts of the movie don’t contribute towards the movie’s goal — then the director is at fault. If the narrative structure of the movie isn’t clear, then the director is at fault.
On the other side of the spectrum, if the movie has some moments that are incredibly memorable, the director has done his or her job well. A reviewer can’t forget the type of movie, either; a horror film has a completely different set of criteria than a romantic comedy.
You would think that once a writer has judged the plot, acting and directing that they’re done, but there’s still quite a bit left. Is the movie’s special effects and sound done well, or are they generally lackluster? Remember that these aspects are directly influenced by the budget.
Editing is something that many reviewers either lightly touch on or forget about altogether — but it’s one of the most crucial aspects of a film.
A movie can succeed in every department other than editing and still be terrible; “The Village” is a perfect example. If the audience knows that the monster isn’t a real monster before the final showdown, the suspense of the movie is completely destroyed.
On the other hand, brilliant editing can add to a movie immeasurably — “Pulp Fiction” wouldn’t be nearly as great if it was told chronologically.
After all of that, the real work begins. Once a reviewer determines how well the cast and the director did their job, you have to focus on the movie as a whole. What was the film’s main goal? If it’s an action movie, is it entertaining or is there violence for the sake of having violence? For a horror flick, was the suspense built up well or did it fall flat overall? Is the movie trying to make a statement on a social issue — like “Brokeback Mountain” — or is it parodying something, like “Monty Python and the Holy Grail?”
If the movie is trying to take a stand on an issue or issues, then a reviewer’s job is to relay how well the film succeeds or fails. And if it isn’t trying to do anything but entertain, make sure the audience knows that as well.
Then comes the actual writing process. The cardinal rule of movie reviewing — with absolutely no exceptions — is to never spoil a movie for someone. It’s the worst thing a reviewer can do. Even if the movie in question is the most horrible piece of garbage in the history of cinema, you have to make sure readers can still try and enjoy it with an open mind.
Give a sense of what happens, say what actors or actresses did a decent job, but under no circumstances should a review spoil even part of a movie. It’s one of the hardest things to deal with as a reviewer, because many movies (“The Sixth Sense,” “Psycho”) pack a punch in the finale that needs to be addressed. Give the tone of the movie, say it ends great — but never ruin anything. If that point seems hammered in, it’s because every reviewer from time to time forgets this.
So, that’s how a movie critic’s job works. It’s not easy, and it’s not just an opinion; it’s an actual review of how well a film performs its tasks. A reviewer can’t just sit and watch like a normal audience member; he or she has to judge the quality of the work presented, and that’s never an easy task.