Over the last few days, I’ve been migrating old film reviews from the site they were originally on (and where they still reside) onto this here blog. I’m in the process, over the course of the next few months or so, of trying to get all my online writing in one place and this seemed like a good place to start. But the point is that while I was doing this, I had the chance to revisit about 70 or so reviews from april 2007-april 2008. It was interesting. There were films which I really loved which even this short amount of history has proven ultimately forgettable while other films I didn’t care for have become fondly remembered.
In fact, interestingly, that particular time period, at least according to the films I reviewed, wasn’t a great time for movies. One of the things which struck me, though, was how I review things. I stand by my 9 for August Rush and my 4 for There Will Be Blood but this got me thinking of my personal approach and what, ultimately, does a film review mean. In my review of the 2007 thriller 1408, I said “[critics], sometimes, expect more from a film than possibly the filmmakers themselves.” I still believe this is true.
I think when reviewing a film we have to look at a number of different factors and don’t think it’s fair that a film like Mr. Magorium’s Magic Emporium, while not going to win awards, has to start its critical reception with a lower ceiling than something which has a pedigree. Conversely, I don’t think a film should have a higher ratings floor merely because the names involved have an award-winning past.
Austin based film critic Joe Bob Briggs realized that you can’t judge a film like Danger Zone II: Reaper’s Revenge using the same criteria you’d use to judge Citizen Kane. And why would you? These films have a different starting point and the filmmakers have different expectations. Jerry Bruckheimer (who, incidentally, is a producer and not a creative filmmaker) and Michael Bay (who IS a director) aren’t making movies to win awards. They are not making movies with intense, deep characterizations which people will be talking about for decades to come. They’re making popcorn films, designed for the specific purpose of sitting in a theatre on a hot afternoon and forgetting about life for a while — and they should be judged as such. To be honest, no matter what anyone says, if you go see a Transformers movie which stops in the middle for a beautiful soliloquy about the meaning of life and why existence is a transcendent experience, you’d be pissed. That’s not why you’re there. You’re there to watch things explode and see hot young men and women showing off their muscles and hey, if there’s a story that makes sense, all the better.
I’m not saying this is good or bad, but I am saying we should stop trying to think of these things as anything other than what they are and take them the way their creators intended them. For the same reason, when there’s a film like The Darjeeling Limited, you know (or at least have a pretty good inclination) that writer/director Wes Anderson is trying something bigger. He wants to win awards and be taken seriously as an artist. And so his films should be judged on that intention and whether or not they succeed at their perceived goals.
It’s because of this thinking I can enjoy Sharktopus (while understanding it’s not a good film) and dislike Avatar (arguably a better film) based on the intent of the creators. Can I be wrong about that intent? Sure. At the same time, though, I think my assumptions are fairly well-reasoned. I also think there are films which cross genres and can provide action and deeper meaning, but again, my guess is you’d be able to discern those simply by watching them (as an example, look at the original Die Hard, which is a masterpiece, to the latest installment, A Good Day to Die Hard, which misses the character and pathos of the original in favor of shear, non-sensical action). It’s also how I can give a film which I think works on its own merits a higher rating than one which fails at its loftier goals.
In short, I try to judge each film (and each book) I review as a unique piece of art and take it on its own merits.