The Difficulties of Reviewing Movies

Let me preface this entry by saying that I thoroughly enjoy running this blog.  I love talking about films and delving deep into the finer details.  Nevertheless, if there is anything negative about all of this, it lies in some of the difficulties of giving scores to movies in my reviews. 

What makes this so hard is that I have to weigh how much I enjoy the movie against the quality of the film.  While these two aspects often go hand in hand, there is also some conflict in many cases.  I have always thought that in reviews, the ratings of films need to be given based on these two measures for purposes of credibility.  However, showing two scores would perhaps be unnecessarily complex — especially considering that sometimes the factors overlap and other times they do not — so when I give a score, I try to consider each of these factors about equally.  I figure that’s what most critics have to do, and perhaps some even place more emphasis on the quality measure.  While I have settled on trying to weigh these measures equally in my reviews, it is difficult nonetheless, and I find that inconsistencies often come about.

Take, for instance, the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Obviously, these three films are all critically acclaimed and are undeniably well-made.  Most viewers love these films as well.  However, I found myself in the minority on these movies.  For whatever reason, I just could not get into the storyline.  I did not enjoy the films very much at all, but I still recognized their quality.  In the end, I would probably give each of these movies about two out of four Tommy Ds.

Better than 'Lord of the Rings'? Yes and no.

To look at the other side of the spectrum, consider the movie Happy Gilmore.  It is by no means a quality piece of cinema.  It is the epitome of all the criticism Adam Sandler has received over the years for his mindless comedies.  That being said, I really enjoy watching it.  It is very funny to me, and it has a plethora of quotable lines that most people will recognize when you drop them in normal conversation .  So what would I give that?  A 2.75?  That seems too low when I consider how much I like the movie (but then am I leaning more towards enjoyment?).  A three?  Maybe.  Does that make it better than the three Lord of the Rings films?  No.  It just means I enjoy it much more (and perhaps, like I said, without consciously meaning to, I skew my ratings slightly more in favor of enjoyment, even though I try to consider quality just as much; this really makes you think about the exact thought process that goes into it).  Expectations also play a role.  When watching a movie like Happy Gilmore, I know what I am going to get.  I am not looking for anything groundbreaking.  When going into something like Lord of the Rings, I expect to be blown away.  My perceptions are thus influenced prior to even viewing most movies.  Considering all of these factors makes it difficult to come up with an exact score for a movie.

We can also delve deeper into the matter of comparing movies.  For example, I gave the movie eXistenZ 2.75 Tommy Ds.  Then, when I reviewed Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I gave it three Tommy Ds.  I had to think about it though.  Did I really think Apes was better than eXistenZ?   This was also a tough comparison because they are two very different types of movies.  Anyway, I wasn’t sure that I should give Apes a higher score, but I ended up doing so.  That then made me question if I rated eXistenZ too low (I criticized the body horror stuff in that movie, but the story was very good).  In addition, many movies tend to become more favorable to me over time with repeat viewings and with additional thought about them.  That makes me think that it’s not always great to write a review immediately after watching a film, but it’s easiest to do that because it’s fresh in my mind that way.

To get back to the issue of comparing films, I find that there are often inconsistencies in review scores and in personal rankings/preferences.  This once again brings about the enjoyment versus quality issue.  When I try to compile a list of my favorite movies of all time (look for that to happen on this blog sometime way down the road), I definitely consider my enjoyment of the films more so than their actual quality (not that I dismiss quality completely; it is still important).  Considering this, I would give Happy Gilmore a much higher ranking than its equivalent review score.  That creates apparent inconsistency, but it is explained by the differing (or inconsistent!) means of measurement.  Some movies — like The Shawshank Redemption — make it easy for me because they are very high-quality and I enjoy them immensely.  Additionally, I oftentimes glean additional enjoyment out of high-quality aspects of the actual film-making, so there is some definite overlap in many cases.  Many films, however, make me have to consider these two issues and consider how I am evaluating them — writing a review, ranking them in order of personal preference, or rating them on Netflix.  This latter forum for evaluation also makes me emphasize personal preference more, because I want Netflix to recommend movies that I’ll enjoy.

When dealing with reviews, one must also understand that just because two movies have the same score does not mean that I consider them to be equal.  After all, there are thousands of movies, and I only offer 16 possible scores (most critics offer fewer, but Tommy D’s unique brand uses quarter-point increments).  As a result, a ton of movies will have equivalent scores, but there is no way one can conclude that that makes all of those movies the same.  While assigning numerical scores is quantitative in nature, there is a qualitative aspect that goes into comparing films to one another.  That is why two movies receiving a score of 3.75 Tommy Ds is not necessarily in the same vein as two people each scoring a 95% on an academic exam.  For instance, I gave both A Beautiful Mind and Taxi Driver scores of 3.75.  Does that mean I consider them to be equals?  No — I actually consider Taxi Driver to be a little bit better, but not quite by enough to give it the full four Tommy Ds.  You see how hard this is?

Despite sometimes being as confused as Jude Law's character was for most of 'eXistenZ', talking movies is still worth it for me -- and my reviews still carry some weight.

With all of these difficulties, inconsistencies, and the occasional cognitive dissonance I experience after assigning a score to a movie, you might ask why I even bother doing this and why you should consider my reviews with any degree of significance.  There are several answers to each of these questions.  First, the pros of discussing film far outweigh the cons of giving scores.  As I indicated earlier, I love talking about movies; that’s why I have this blog in the first place.  I also think that reviews and scores are an integral part of any blog.  I feel this blog would be very incomplete without them.  Additionally, with the recent implementation of the Tommy D rating scale, I can continue to push my personal brand via movie reviews!

That leaves us with what my reviews might possibly indicate and why you should think they’re credible if I myself am seemingly so uncertain about many of my own scores.  The thing is, if you can understand that I try to consider my personal enjoyment and a film’s quality about equally during the review process, you can better understand what my scores mean.  Also, actually reading the entire review (hint hint…I want more readers) will really give you a better idea of what I liked and did not like about a film.  Whether that has to do with enjoyment or quality should be easy enough to infer through the body of the review.  Lastly — and this of course goes for any reviewer or critic — my reviews are completely opinionated!  This might seem to take away credibility, but a) I back up my opinions at least on a film-by-film basis by discussing them deeply in each review, b) I’m an expert and my opinions are the very best and always right (just kidding…but not really…), and c) most importantly, if you read through this blog (could I advertise it any more in this paragraph?), you will get a better idea of how I review and the kinds of things I generally like and do not like about movies, so combining that knowledge with the score I give for a film will give you a better idea of exactly what that score means.

These thoughts might be a lot to digest and might also be fairly confusing, but I think that just speaks to the difficulty and complexity of the reviewing process.  There is a lot more thinking that goes into it than one might realize, as I have just discovered in the brief time I’ve been operating this blog.

Note:  This entry will henceforth — and retroactive to all prior entries — be considered the official disclaimer for any noted inconsistencies in and between Tommy D’s reviewing and potential rankings of films…NICE.

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About Tommy D

Clemson and UGA alum with a market research job in LA. And I kind of like movies.

Posted on September 12, 2011, in General Movie Discussion and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I think it’s best to write a review and give a score shortly after watching the movie. You see, if you watch the movie and give a score then it’s what you actually think. The longer you wait, the more you convince yourself that the movie was less of a deviation from what you expected or want to give it. It’s the opposite of rating music like I do on my blog because I don’t listen to a song once and then think about it. I actually listen a bunch to get a better feel for the song. It would be worth waiting if you rewatched the movie.
    Just my 2 cents.
    I am very grateful that “Tommy D’s unique brand uses quarter-point increments.” Thank God!

  2. I see what you’re saying. If I re-watched the movie immediately then I think it would help in the accuracy of my review. Thinking about it might make take away from the accuracy, but then again, if there’s a part of it that I do not quite understand (this is very rare…haha), then thinking about it and coming to an understanding could be helpful.

    Also, the more I think about it, the more I realize that whether I mean for this to happen or not, my review scores are often more of an indicator of my personal enjoyment. I notice that there is a lot of congruity with most of my scores on here and my corresponding ratings on Netflix, so maybe I would actually give Happy Gilmore a higher score. My reasons for that rating (and for all others) would still be given in the body of the review, so perhaps there is not always a standardized process for all reviews — each film is treated individually..

    I think that I try to consider the aforementioned two factors more equally in cases where I do not like the film but I see it is of outstanding quality (like ‘Lord of the Rings’) or vice versa (although an extreme case of this latter situation is rare). And of course, like I said, quality and enjoyment often go hand-in-hand.

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