I’ve got no new material and I’m getting tired of studying all day, so I’ve decided to have a rant about a couple of things.
There’s nothing that irritates me more right now than bandwagon reviewers – people who jump to unequivocally praise or attack a film without having experienced it themselves, for no reason other than the fact that everyone else is.
After putting up my reviews of Angels & Demons, I decided to have a look around at some other reviews on the ‘Internets’ to see what others thought of the film. The reviews were mixed, but the general consensus was that the film was an upgrade on and had more action than its ‘dull’ predecessor, The Da Vinci Code, though the silliness of the plot and its conspiracies were heavily criticised. As someone who enjoyed the movie, I thought the comments were fair. The film was far from perfect, but it was, after all, based on a novel, and it already did its best to minimise the most preposterous elements of the plot.
One thing led to another and I found myself on some forum discussing the film, and I was appalled by the number of people blasting the film, and the novel on which it was based, to bits. The problem was, almost none of these people had actually SEEN the movie or READ the book. They had based their views entirely on an unflattering review of the film (1.5/4 stars) found on the forum’s website (and the reviewer had not read the book either). All of a sudden, Angels & Demons had become the worst movie and the worst book of all-time. They fed off each other, seemingly getting more and more excited at deriding a film they have never seen and never will. Look, if they had seen the film or read the book and thought it sucked the big one or had issues with its themes because of religious sensitivities or even had genuine reservations about the film for whatever reason then fair enough. But what do they think they are gaining from this self-validating, bandwagon behaviour? The irony is that in trying to make themselves seem ‘above’ movies like Angels & Demons through their baseless barrages, all they are really doing is exposing their own insecurities.
One poster even criticised the film’s screenwriters, Akiva Goldsmith and David Koepp, saying that those two alone were enough to for him to ‘keep away’. Goldsmith has worked on films such as I Robot, The Da Vinci Code, A Time to Kill, I Am Legend and won an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind, whereas Koepp has to his name films like Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World, Snake Eyes, Stir of Echoes, Mission: Impossible, War of the Worlds, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Panic Room and Spider-Man. Just about every screenwriter has a few stinkers in their resume, but one must have exceptionally high (or phoney) standards to make a conscious effort to avoid movies written by those two.
Anyway, it got me thinking – just to what extent do film reviews alter our perception of a film, even on a subconscious level? I refuse outright to read any full review of movies I intend on seeing at the cinema beforehand (though I do try to gauge things on a more general level), but the fact is, many people make their decisions on what movies to see and avoid based purely on reviews they have seen or read. And consequently, oftentimes those people may go into the film with a pre-conceived opinion of it, which rarely changes even after they’ve actually seen the movie because they’ve already made up their mind about it. Or perhaps people generally have a tendency to conform to popular opinion – if everyone thought a movie sucked but you secretly liked it, would it in some way impact your outward expressions about the film?
I wonder how far this extends – do reviewers themselves get influenced by what other reviewers may have said? I think it’s a possibility. If all the top reviewers are declaring a film a masterpiece, would a lesser known reviewer be willing to risk his credibility by panning it (or vice versa)? Given reviews and (consequently) word-of-mouth can essentially make or break a film at the box office, I think this raises some very interesting questions. Sometimes all it takes is a few bad reviews from critics at advanced screenings for things to snowball and doom a film to failure (or worse, straight to DVD!).
Two things that ruin a movie
(1) Previews that reveal too much or show the best scenes
To me, the movie preview/trailer is a double-edged sword. It’s intended to attract people to watch the film, and so they are tempted to show you the best scenes by cramming them all into a couple of minutes. But in doing so, they tend to reveal too much, to the point where they almost need to put a SPOILER warning on the preview. Especially if they show scenes from the end of the film where there is a twist. When audiences actually go see the movie, they know it’s not over because they haven’t seen that particular scene yet.
Another problem is peculiar to previews for comedies, where they feel they must show all the best jokes. I don’t know how many times I went to see a comedy because of the couple of good jokes in the preview, and they turn out to be the ONLY worthy jokes of the entire film!
My best movie experiences have been the ones where I knew virtually nothing about the film, going in not knowing more than just a basic premise. If the movie turns out to be good, it exceeds all expectations, but if it’s crap, no advance knowledge would have rectified that.
I still remember when I was back in high school and planned to see Armageddon with a friend after school one day, but he was late and we missed it. Instead we went to see the only other movie on at that time, a film neither of us had even heard of, called There’s Something About Mary. To this day, that film still ranks as my best movie experience of all time. We both came out feeling like we had torn all our abdominal muscles. I’m sure I would have loved the movie even if I had heard about it beforehand, but going into it completely clueless made it very special.
I understand the need to sell the movie, and for infrequent movie-goers, knowing what a film is about and getting a sense of whether it is any good is crucial in deciding what movies to watch. But for people who watch a lot of movies (like me), it can definitely ruin a movie by revealing too much or creating unrealistic expectations.
These days, if a preview of a movie I want to watch comes up in the cinema, I close my eyes and turn away. If I have no intention of watching the film, I’ll check out the preview to see if it can change my mind. Recently I’ve taken a liking to ‘Teaser’ trailers – they let you know the movie is coming and give you a taste, but no more.
PS: I couldn’t help but sneak a preview of Night At the Museum 2 during my last trip to the movies. Was it just me or was the preview really unfunny? For its sake I hope they kept the best jokes out of the preview!
(2) Movie reviews that reveal too much plot
Another reason why I don’t read full reviews before seeing a movie anymore is because they reveal way too much.
Nowadays, most movie reviews, professional or otherwise, provide SPOILER warnings in advance – but these are largely limited to ‘twists’ – and even so, simply knowing that there is a twist in the movie will often end up spoiling it. I remember when my sister came home from watching The Sixth Sense and began raving about the ‘twist’ ending. She wasn’t the only one because everyone was talking about it. Consequently, despite not knowing what the actual twist was, I ended up figuring it out minutes into the film when I got around to seeing it for myself. It was still a good film, but I wonder how mindblowing it would have been had I not been been warned about the twist in advance. The same thing happened when I watched The Usual Suspects, though to its credit, that twist still got me!
It’s not just the twists either. So many reviews I read these days spend half the word count (or more!) outlining the plot. I don’t have a problem with revealing the general premise of a film because most people want to have an idea of what the film is about, but what’s the point of summarising what is going to happen in the first half of the film? I want to know if the movie is worth seeing, not read a synopsis of the plot!
Take an example of a review of Angels & Demons I found at a respected newspaper’s website (skip this paragraph NOW if you don’t want SPOILERS!). In this relatively short, 15-paragraph review, it tells us that: (1) Langdon wants to but is denied access to the Vatican archives, so he can’t finish his book; (2) they are about to elect a new Pope and the 4 leading candidates have been kidnapped; (3) the villain has a canister of antimatter and will blow up the Vatican if he is not stopped before midnight; (4) it seems the secret ancient sect of the Illuminati is behind it all; (5) Skarsgard’s Swiiss Guard character is against Langdon and Mueller-Stahl’s character is an ‘arrogant’ cardinal; (6) there are a number of ingeniously sadistic murders ; (7) the film has a fanciful climax; (8) the Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Square and Piazza Navona are among the places Langdon will visit.
Taken together, that’s pretty much half the film right there. If I hadn’t read the book and accidentally stumbled upon this review before seeing the movie it would have KILLED half the excitement and enjoyment. At least the first half-hour of the film would have been sat through in boredom because the review already tells us what’s going to happen!
Okay, rant completed! Now back to studying.