We see a lot of critics out there who are trying to help people know what is and isn't worth their time. Critics can be extremely helpful when they know how to do their job, but sometimes they don't, and are thus unhelpful. There's a website that you probably use called rottentomatoes.com. They are what's called a review aggregator, and that's not as bad as it sounds. No, not a review aggravator, like we would sometimes think. If you are unfamiliar with the word and don't have a dictionary handy, an aggregator is a person or institution that compiles as many sources of one subject together to make them easier to find. Rottentomatoes.com is a review aggregator, and I really appreciate their help. They are a neutral party, a part of the environment, as Ted Carpenter would point out, that performs a service and has no outspoken opinion, but instead, they compile a list of movie reviews from around the internet, and hundreds of newspapers around the US and other English speaking countries to create something called the tomato meter, which states a proportion of reviews, the negative against the positive. All this in case you're not sure what Rotten Tomatoes do. It's easy to see what critics think of a film at a glance, and if I don't like the consensus, I'll scroll down and see what a few critics thought.
They are only a compiler, a neutral party, and sometimes I have to remind myself that. What is annoying is when I see critics who don't agree with me for the wrong reasons. How can I say that a critic would write a review for the wrong reasons? Well, oftentimes what I do to analyze a situation, or circumstance, or any phenomenon is I'll write a list.
Here's a list of things that critics do:
1) They write an opinion piece to help people not waste their money.
2) They analyze a film or story based on its plot and tell you if it's even a good story.
3) They try to help people look at a film through different eyes with a broader perspective.
4) They pick and choose any of the above things to make it harder or easier to write the kind of review that they want to give the film, based on their preconceptions.
I am serious about 4). If you look at several reviews written by the same critic you can quickly see what I mean, and this isn't fair. If they don't like the film, they'll outright say it, using number one. If they like the film, they might try to give real reasons that are based on facts, using number two. If they're neutral, they'll probably try to look at it from the perspective of someone who they know would like the genre.
This is not a universal trait in critics, but it is, all the same, annoying when I find it. The other thing that critics should take into account, but seldom do, is take into account what the filmmakers had to make the film with, and this is usually based on the budget. For instance, it's annoying when a low budget animated film gets a rotten review because the animation is bad, like in Hoodwinked. Hoodwinked is a full length animated feature that (Quite admirably) used just over 5% of the budget that big budget animated films get, which they were judging it against. That is simply an unfair comparison. Duh! The animation isn't going to be as good, because they can't hire the regular 200+ animators that a big budget film (Usually a $130-200 million budget) normally have to do the animation. With $8 million, (Hoodwinked's budget) the majority of it is going to go to the cast, over animation.
Actually, in the end, Hoodwinked's poor animation quality gave it a charm that big budget films don't have because of their clean and polished nature (My opinion). Regardless of how well the filmmakers did with such a small budget, it was criticized by many because of its animation.
Another case of something similar happening, but with a different skin is a critic faking the demographic. This also happens a lot in children's films. Critics tend to think it's okay, and professional to write a review based on their perception of what they think a child likes (or should like) oftentimes very erroneously. It is as if they don't like children's films, and because of that, they have to use a disproportionate mixture of 1 and 3, which don't mix very well. Usually these reviews don't affect the overall consensus, but that doesn't change that it does happen and they usually are saying things like, some of the content would be too hard for children to appreciate, or some of the emotions are too complicated for children to understand. I hope you see the silliness of this.
Really, a reviewer should combine all three and write a review like this: 10% of 1), 85% of 2), and 5% of 3). Some critics write a review outside of their genre like this: 20% of 1), 10% of 2), and 70% of 3).
Sometimes there are review websites that are making reviews for a particular demographic, like pluggedin.com, where christians write reviews to help other christians know what is safe for their kids (and themselves) to watch. I really don't have a problem with this, even though it looks like they use a disproportionate amount of 1). Actually I have to do this.
Another thing that critics do:
5) Base their review off of a system that is generally accepted by his target audience.
In this case, what is written in the Bible. The Bible is like the lingua franca for evangelical and fundamentalist christians. If one person has judged a film against it, then anyone else who agrees with it can accept it as a non opinionated review on the part of the reviewer. I don't know if there is a website that uses other religious standards to review a film, like the Quran, Bhagavad Gita, etc. But I do know where the reviewer is coming from if his review is objectively reviewing the film not based on his opinion, but a pre-stated set of standards. No, the Bible is not a manual on how to review a film, but it does explain what is honorable and what is not, so it can be used effectively in this way.
To sum it all up, if you are a film reviewer, there are a few things you need to make sure you're not doing, which is easier than a lot of things you should be doing.
1) Do not state judgements of the film concerning possible clichés, and other story constructors as if they are universal truths that all agree with. Not everyone agrees on what is a cliché and what is not, and in any case, not all clichés are considered bad by everyone. The same is true for any other thing that you think could have done better. As a writer, I see things that could have been better, but I make sure people know that it's my opinion, and in many cases, they disagree with me.
2) Do not say anything, or give yourself a reason to say anything along these lines: "If I was a ____, I would not have been ____." You're admitting that this isn't your area of expertise, and you are using artificial authority by transferring your possible clout from where you do have expertise. Just say that you didn't like the film. You don't need to say that you wouldn't have liked the film if you were someone else. Even worse, don't say "I liked the film, but if I was a ____, I wouldn't have ____."
3) Don't judge a film based of the message unless you have a higher authority. This happens a lot when religious films are criticized for being religious. If you are a christian reviewing the film, don't pretend that an anti christian message negates the quality of the film. This is difficult, I know, to accept, but important to stick to. If you are not a Christian, don't pretend that the christian message of the film negates the quality of the film. Sometimes you might be afraid that if the film you are reviewing has a clearly defined, clearly stated message, and it goes against what you believe, you aren't allowed to say anything good about it, or the good you do mention isn't relevant because of a big conjunction. Remember that film quality might come second, but don't blur the lines between message and quality. If you disagree with what a film is saying, make sure your reader knows that, but don't write off a film because it is of bad quality absolutely because it goes against your views.
P.S. This is my opinion of what critics should and should not be doing. If you have your own opinion, leave it in the comments, or post a link to your blog if you have a lengthy rebuttal.
I'll write another post some other time about how I judge the quality of a film aside from my own worldview. This post is already too long.
And as always, thanks for reading.