Reviewing Movie Reviews

On Monday, feeling disinclined to work because of a strained calf muscle and a sore back from soccer, I Tweeted and Facebooked the following: “To Avatar or not to Avatar, this is the question.” I got a flurry of responses to that simple post on both services (far more so than on any other post I’ve made). Folks were very generous in offering advice on the issue, giving me a variety of options. Of course, my lawyer weighed in, telling me not to do it, which pretty much settled the issue. (Just kidding. With my back being sore, three hours in a theatre just wasn’t going to cut it.)

But, before I’d decided against going out to a theatre, I took a look at some movie previews and then read a bunch of reviews for the movies Avatar, Sherlock Holmes and The Book of Eli. What I noticed was a distinct disconnect between the number of stars given to a film, and the actual text of the review. Across the board the reviews got cute and snarky, damning with faint praise, and saying stuff that was just, well, stupid. (Yes, I’m reviewing reviews.)

One review of The Book of Eli praised the movie, but added that the ending was not very good. In fact, the reviewer suggested that the ending was so bad, that it had to be considered separately from the rest of the movie, on its own, and in that context, it’s actually good. This is akin to someone reviewing a restaurant, praising the steak, and dismissing the fact that the dessert cake was crawling meal-worms.

And yet, such a film rates three stars. Go figure.

So, here is what my rating system is for films, based on 5 stars being the top:

1-star: I will make it my mission to find the producer and/or director and beat him within an inch of his life because I can’t get back the time I wasted on this piece of crap. Oh, and he owes me for the ticket, the popcorn and the fact that my guest star thinks I’m an idiot for choosing this movie.

2-stars: Not as painful as passing a kidney-stone, but I am left wondering what moron thought we really needed this film. (I want to find him because I have scripts I can sell him.) Naked women, great special effects or good popcorn are the only reasons this got a second star.

3-stars: The film had two of the three elements every film should have: good acting, sensual visuals and a story that makes sense. All in all, I don’t feel I was cheated out of time or money. I likely won’t see the sequel to this film, and having this film cited in someone’s credentials won’t get me back to the theatre, but at least I’m not leaving the theatre wondering, “What the hell were they thinking?”

4-stars: Okay, this film delivers. Solid acting, some folks rising to great; stunning visuals and exciting sequences that had me gasping at least once; a story that makes sense and does not default to some cheesy “Hollywood physics” ploy to make things work. Characters don’t do stupid things like pulling off their bullet-proof vests during a firefight. This is a film that clearly will have a sequel, and I’ll be happy to see it.

5-stars: Not only do we have great acting, greater writing, a solid story, visuals that make you want to move into the world, but the film makes me think! And I mean think in a positive sense, not “I think this could have been better.” Movies which are adaptations get points for being faithful to the spirit of the original. Movies that are “original” actually get points for being original. This is a film for which I’ll buy the DVD and might even see in the theatres more than once.

There should be a rule that the stars need to match the review. I think I know why they don’t. I don’t believe movie execs actually read the reviews, they just look at the stars. But, then again, I suspect the majority of us just go with the stars, too; so we reap our due when we don’t pay attention.

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3 Responses to “Reviewing Movie Reviews”

  1. I never deliver a review in terms of stars but in terms of financial terms. How much would I pay to see this film again?

    Best review is always going to be any primetime & twice at midnight/buying the DVD. The reviews continue downward as such:

    Primetime
    Matinee
    Pay Per View/Pay Cable (HBO, Showtime, etc)
    Rent the DVD/Watch it online (legally, of course – NetFlix baby)
    Basic Cable
    Network TV
    If I’m dying of entertainment withdrawal … maybe

    Hope this helps … feel free to refer to it if you want, Mike.

  2. I like that breakdown – there seems to be a huge polarization between 1 and 5 stars with reviewers – they either love it or they hate but, but they did like this, this and this. Far too often are films given perfect scores.

  3. So, did you ever go see Avatar?

    I would be curious to hear what you thought of it.

    By your rating system I would give it a 3.5 star rating. The story and acting were actually better than I expected. Seriously, anyone going into Avatar expecting more than an extraordinary visual spectacle wasn’t paying attention.

    The storyline was not original, think “Dances With Wolves” or “Ferngully” in space, and you have the gist of the story. Oddly, what I thought was the best acting came from Neytiri, the CGI female lead. Which in and of itself is amazing and shows just how far CGI has come.

    However, I was interested in seeing what a professional writer thought of the movie, and not someone who went in expecting nothing more than amazing eye-candy and a storyline hopefully not so bad as to ruin the reason for going.