Tuesday, March 24, 2009

About movie ratings

(Who am I kidding, exactly? I don't live in the world of a professional critic. While Mr. Bowman's system remains my inspiration, I have to add the "negative one star" in order to separate "the usual crap" (no stars) from the "physically painful to sit through". When you're negotiating DVD rentals with your family on a Friday night, brother, you'll thank me to know the difference.)
I've read the movie reviews of one James Bowman for many years. Mr. Bowman is as much a cultural critic as he is a movie critic. I love his reviews and usually learn something more from them than just whether I should see the movie or not.

In addition to being a wonderful writer and incisive thinker, Mr. Bowman has identified a major flaw in the traditional 5 star movie rating system. You can read his explanation on his own site, of course. Here I'll give my thoughts and explain why I use the same system.

Five stars are much more than are needed. All it really accomplishes is to capture one man's opinion of the fine shades of mediocrity that we encounter in most movies today. What exactly is the difference between a 3-star movie and a 2-star movie, anyway? One is merely pretty crappy and the second very crappy, I suppose. But, this is no longer part of a useful critique; rather it is a sort of consolation prize for movie-makers who rose above the awful to make something merely unremarkable.

To the point then, the system I'll use here only has three possible ratings:
  • Two Stars : Wonderful. Must see.
  • One Star : Good. Worth seeing.
  • Zero : The usual crap.
And to be clear, the default is zero. Time is valuable. If a movie is just "O.K.", then I will give it no stars. I will only give it a higher rating if I would actually recommend to my friends that they see it.

Having read many of Mr. Bowman's reviews, something that sticks out is his view that Hollywood is a business. (Well, obviously.) And, their biggest customers are teenagers. Ergo, a large number of movies are adolescent pablum. And, even when a movie is not obviously so, I believe that quality is often secondary to keeping the pipeline full of new movies. Understand this and you'll understand why you often leave the cinema disappointed.

So, be careful: You can never get a refund for two hours of your life.