My sister asked me once “What’s the point of movie critics? We don’t need them to tell us what to think. We can make up our own minds.” It made me think of another familiar phrase usually used to throw-off criticism: “Everyone’s a critic”. I think this is true. People need to have an opinion about a film. They do have to think to think about whether the movie they just watched was worth paying for. This doesn’t apply just to movies. This applies to everything else they’re paying for: food, clothes, books, etc. So the real question is what makes a professional critic different from others?
I think I kinda have an answer to that: if people measure the entertainment value of a film, then critics measure its quality. Yes, they can enjoy a film like anyone else, but their job is to observe the film and see how it works or doesn’t work; how well it connects to the audience in its story, subtext or production value. How well the film works as a visual story and how it connects to its message. How does the film work in its own right? But they don’t have to be a quote-on-quote “professional critic” in order to be a good critic. A lot of people are doing this for fun in the Internet (even I’M doing it), and I consider some to be VERY good critics even if they aren’t professional. So I thought about it and decided to write down tips for people who are considering to make a review show in a YouTube channel or something. If they’re starting out, they should be careful with not making the mistakes that I see lots of reviewers do nowadays. Without further ado, here’s the Top 5 DON’Ts for a good film critic.
I will make a Top 5 DOs for a good film critic list in a separate article because I don’t want these articles to be too long. Consider this a two-parter.
5. DON’T assume or misjudge a film
Don’t make assumptions by the trailer or the reviews you’ve read. Or even by the few clips you’ve watched. A funny thing happened to me a while back: I was flicking through the channels and I saw about ten minutes of the middle of Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. I didn’t really like it so much. I saw lots of negative reviews (but a few positives too) on the film and I thought I was going to hate it. But then I took the time to watch it as a whole with my sister. After watching it from beginning to end, I realized I liked it a lot. It’s amazing how something like that can happen.
Don’t just assume that you’ll like or hate a movie just by what others say or by what little you’ve seen. Don’t even make too many expectations. Like maybe a film within a “Top 100” list might or might not be of your taste, and Rotten Tomatoes might not be a reliant source either. And don’t let your assumptions and expectations heavily affect your opinion. A film isn’t bad because you expected something much more out of it, and just because you didn’t want a sequel or remake doesn’t mean you can’t review it fairly. I’ve talked enough. Let’s move on.
4. DON’T criticise the audience
This really offends me and I’ll tell you why. You’re not criticizing the audience; you’re criticizing the film. The audience or fans should only be an afterthought. Sometimes critics would have an attitude of “I know better than everyone else”, like saying, “the stupid and passive people love blockbuster and action films which don’t make them think, but it is we, the sophisticated and smart-minded critics and film lovers who watch films like Citizen Kane or Eraserhead”. Not only does this give critics a bad name by insulting audiences, but it’s also obviously untrue. It doesn’t matter whether they like high-brow or low-brow, blockbuster or art-house, film’s not a way of measuring intelligence. Even if some people like “bad films”, they aren’t stupid. It’s fine if you question “why would people like this?” but you can’t disrespect their opinion. If they like Transformers 2, fine, but don’t call them idiots for doing so.
The same goes for the people who criticize the Twilight fans. Yes, I do agree that Twilight isn’t really good, but I’m not a Twilight-hater and I won’t go around saying that only dumb pre-teen girls watch this or that anyone who likes it is an idiot. That’s none of my business to tell them what they should or shouldn’t like. I’ve seen tons of professional critics and Internet reviewers do this, and they really give me a bad name when they do this. With that I feel insulted as a film lover and a film critic.
3. DON’T be nitpicky
“It’s not about the small details. It’s about the big picture,” says Eddie in Ed Wood. Yes, in a way, but actually it’s about how those details complement the whole picture. Did the visual effects or the music complement the story? Sometimes directors will add small details to enhance the quality of the whole picture. But what about bad details? No movie is perfect: they will have flaws. Depending on the terms of a particular film, those flaws may be distracting (if they’re too repetitive or if they’re too noticeable). I found some plot holes in Terminator 2 (e.g. if only living tissue can travel through time, how was the T-1000 able to travel if it’s entirely liquid metal?) Do those plot holes affect the movie as a whole? Not really. It’s a solid story about humanity and uses time travel to explain moralistic issues. The whole movie is just too good for us to care about the plot holes.
You can’t just mention a few things that bothered you and see it as affecting the whole film. Sometimes it will, but depending on the movie, you’ll end up just nitpicking. For example, most of Roger Ebert’s criticism in his review of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds was over how much he thought the tripods were stupid, as vehicles are much easier to run around with four legs instead of three. Whether the film was good or bad, his statement doesn’t have to do at all with whether the film is good or bad as a whole.
2. DON’T get too personal
All critics are subjective, but they shouldn’t get out of hand when trying to make an observation on the film itself. The point is for the critic to give out a general idea of how the masses might react. For example, you shouldn’t say, “I didn’t like Psycho because it was scary and I don’t like horror movies.” They should say something like, “for a horror movie, Psycho works because it does scare people the right way”. It’s not just one person’s opinion that counts. Here’s a quick lesson on objectivity and subjectivity. Objectivity doesn’t mean “the truth”. It’s a judgement about something of and within the film itself. Subjectivity is a judgement based on personal opinion. Here are two statements side by side:
Subjective: The music is GREAT and CATCHY! I’m a fan of 50s music, so I could listen to this all day! My favorite song was the opening song! LOVE IT!
Objective: The music is very upbeat and works with the tone and theme of the film. It fits in very with the 50s era and isn’t distracting with the story. It actually enhances the important moments of the film.
See what I mean? Both these statements are valid and very important in a review. But if the critic’s too subjective, they’ll say something stupid like, “I didn’t like The Usual Suspects because there was a twist ending and I don’t like being deceived.” By the way, I’m not making this up! A few critics DID say that about The Usual Suspects! How ridiculous!
And the Number 1 tip to avoid as a good film critic or film reviewer is…
1. DON’T lie
Don’t lie about your opinion just to agree with other people. Don’t lie just to act like you know more. Don’t lie just to sound different from others. Don’t lie just to get your name out there. Don’t lie just to exaggerate your opinion. BE HONEST. TELL THE TRUTH. Be brutally honest if that’s what you truly feel (just don’t nag about it all day). Why is this number one if it sounds quite obvious? Because EVERYONE does this. Even I did this at one point in my life. I didn’t want to admit what I felt about the Star Wars trilogy, but in the end I admitted that I just didn’t like Star Wars as much as others did (I appreciate the film, though). Everyone lies about their opinion either to not be left out, or to stand out by being different from others (that way they get noticed). Sometimes they even exaggerate their opinion. That’s just dishonest.
You shouldn’t be afraid to admit what you really think. It doesn’t only apply to film. It applies to everything else. If you don’t agree with others, just say “I disagree”. If you don’t like Citizen Kane, say it. If you like Catwoman (with Halley Berry), say it. Don’t be ashamed about it. The reason why I don’t consider having any guilty pleasures (not even High School Musical 3… yes. High School Musical 3) is because I’m not ashamed of it. I’m actually proud of my interests. The types of films you like or dislike, love or hate, don’t only tell you what kind of understanding you have over film, but they tell you who you are as a person. Your interests are part of who you are. Be true to yourself; as a critic and as an individual.
There you have it! I hope these tips sounded useful for some of you. If you already knew about these tips, I hope you enjoyed reading this. See you guys in my countdown of my Top 5 DOs for a good film critic!