Chances are anyone who is reading my blog knows who Roger Ebert is. He is a Pulitzer-winning writer most famous for film reviews. He is probably the most famous and well-regarded art critic alive today. Because of his fame, and his subsequent influence on the film industry, I was disturbed by this quote, given in a response to criticisms for his negative review of Thor:
“I don't consider my reviews instructions to readers about whether they should see a film. They're more like a continuing conversation. Nobody enjoys it when people get too wound up and start shouting. I hope to have a good time at a movie, and to provide a good time in writing a review. My guide is Dr. Johnson: "Those who desire to partake of the pleasure of wit must contribute to its production, since the mind stagnates without external ventilation."”
I feel that Mr. Ebert has seriously misunderstood what his job is. A
film critic is, of course, supposed to provide something entertaining
in his reviews (and Ebert is one of, if not the, most humorous and
entertaining critic who’s work I read). However, finding a funny way to express the feelings you felt at a movie is not the way to write a review. A
critic’s job is not to say whether they will like the film, or whether
their audience will like the film: It is to say whether or not the film
A prevalent theme in film critic’s attitudes is that a person’s view of a film is their own opinion and is not true or untrue. I find it astounding that someone who would believe that would devote their life to writing their opinion. Yes,
film critics like Roger Ebert are able to entertain us with their
ability to express their thoughts, and they are fortunate enough that
their verdict on a picture generally matches that of their audience. But
in the end, this reduces reviewing art into a mere display of the skill
and wit of the critic at the expense of the filmmakers.
of the amount of effort that goes into making a film: All the people
who have invested their time, money, and careers into it. Judging
their work based on something as arbitrary as your own enjoyment of a
film and then telling readers you do not know whether they should or
should not see their work based on that is incredibly hurtful and
But critics like Ebert seem to see this as their job. To
achieve consensus, they have(unconsciously) made the system more
elaborate by not even basing their reviews on their own opinions, but on
a standard of what a good movie should look like. Frequently, a picture is judged solely, or at least mostly, on its artistic merit. And what is artistic merit? Some of it is creative achievements in the industry; some of it is crafty ways to sway the audiences mind. But, frankly, most of it is a belief of what a film critic’s opinion should be.
As a result, we see the best reviewed movies are often horribly morally askew. Take, for example, The Dark Knight. The acting is brilliant; the imagery beautiful; the mood very powerful. But for all of its merit, the ending point of the film is (SPOILER WARNING) terrible. Batman decides the people of Gotham are too foolish to understand the full truth, so he makes up lies to please them. He enforces the peace by invading their privacy and taboo levels of brutality, and he replaces the law with his own code of honor. And his only qualifications for the job of Batman—a job he violently ensures will only be his—is that he is rich, strong, smart, and through natural gifts “superior” to those around him. This is a fascist, Nazi-esque look at life. A very convincing, powerful look at life, but a fascist one all the same.
Before giving a film a good grade, a critic should think of a few important things. First, they must identify exactly who the film’s audience is. That is not necessarily the same audience the picture was marketed for. After deciding who the film is intended for, one must think whether that person will be pleased by the movie. One should keep in mind the standards of the audience. For example, a movie like The Smurfs is meant for children. Therefore, view the film as a child would view it. This is probably with an eye less harsh than the critic’s personal preference is. Finally, the reviewer should look at what people will take away from the film. A movie that appeals to its intended audience and has little objectionable content, yet does not give the viewer anything or much to take away probably deserves a B. The grade should be higher if either it offers a moral or message that goes beyond its basic story, or if it reaches a broader market, or if it excels artistically far beyond anything else in its genre while not becoming offensive (it is artistically superior to most films around).
is probably most controversial about what I have said is that it allows
a movie with no original content and only a very small market who will
only be mildly pleased to get a passing grade. Most critics judge a film based on how they enjoy it, and how impressed they were. Being
well-versed in movies, they will almost certainly have a far higher
standard that the viewer who pays to see the movie because they like
that sort of thing. This is because of the myth that a critic’s enjoyment of a film should directly correlate with their review of the film.
I admit, I found very little entertaining content in The Smurfs. The little creatures were cute enough, but the slapstick humor was evident to me as unoriginal and bland. However, I know a small child will love the picture. And, what is more, I know the small child will not take away a bad message.
In contrast, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Thor. It was funny, well-acted, full of fun battle sequences, rim with amazing visuals, and altogether entertaining. However, I would give that movie an overall grade of a C-. For
all of its positive content, it treats excessive drinking as a harmless
and routine occurrence, and in fact links it to one’s masculinity. Sure, it was only one scene. And the writers had no intention of making that a part of their film’s message. Nevertheless,
it is an undeniable fact that people will watch it and, probably
subconsciously, get the idea that intoxication is a joke.
This is because the core of what a review should get at is what a viewer will take away from a film. If the film is The Smurfs, the viewers will be children and will thus take away a good feeling. If
the film is Winter’s Bone, the viewer is someone intending to receive a
deep and powerful message, and chances are they will get that. If
the movie is Thor, the viewer is someone who went to see a fun action
movie, and they will take away both a great time and an idea that
excessive drinking is okay.