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Bandwagon Reviewers and Reveal-All Previews May 18, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Entertainment, Movie Reviews, On Writing.
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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.

Bandwagon Reviewers

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.

I like this poster better

I like this poster better

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.

Movies are best enjoyed when you know very little going in

Movies are best enjoyed when you know very little going in

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.

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Comments»

1. Nate - May 19, 2009

Whoa, when you rant, you definitely run with it!
Everything you’ve talked about it’s undeniably on point. I myself am guilty of sort of having an opinion about X movie before I see it base on who is it by or who’s in it, though I try very hard not to do it often. Granted, in some of those occasions I believe I’m on point, like any comedy with Adam Sandler or anything Michael Bay directs, because I just can’t stand their brand of brainless crap, but that’s just me.
Another example: I was already having issues with Watchmen before I even saw it, because I knew they had changed the ending from the book, and though I think the movie was pretty faithful and the closest any adaptation was ever going to get, I still think the whole point of the story was compromised by the change and therefore I only half liked it. (I also had a big issue with the casting of Ozymandias).
Lots of reviewers do give away too much nowadays but I think that they don’t care much (though they should) because the trailers have already been giving the whole thing away months in advance; the terminator salvation is a prime example of this. A key plot twist is flat out given out in the trailer; some say that the movie holds other secrets but I don’t care, they shouldn’t have given that one twist away.
When it comes to Angels & Demons which I just watched it a few hours ago at the insistance of a friend, I’m not going to post a review of it. I don’t like Tom Hanks, something about him, the tone of voice, just irritates me, I have no idea why. Ron Howard isn’t a fave director of mine and I think those Dan Brown books (though as you say, he should be commended on the research done and his skill to weave these intricated plots to entertain people with them) are ultimately silly. I thought the movie was entertaining enough as an action film yet very predictable and therefore I wouldn’t be able to write a fair review of it.
Would I’ll be able to detach myself from my own opinions of something and be fair to a movie regardless of its quality if I was being paid as a profesional reviewer? I don’t know. We are humans, I think that no matter what, part of us, not matter how small, is going to influence our opinions in one way or another. I think it’s impossible to be 100% unpartial, though people need to stop hating on things just because it’s cool to do it and formulate their own opinions and if they can’t, then they need to shut the hell up.
Whoa, your ranting made me rant. See? we can’t stop being influenced.

2. pacejmiller - May 19, 2009

Hahaha – thanks for commenting. I think when I rant I can’t express myself properly. My beef was not really that people judged the film before seeing it, because no one can help themselves from prejudice, but it was the bandwagon, gang mentality that they developed – almost like they were trying to outdo each other in showing that they were the most ‘above’ the film than the previous guy. The criticisms may have started off genuine but then it just became a contest and you could see that the criticisms were not the genuine views of the posters – it as just so they could ‘get in on the action’.

With Watchmen – yeah, I had the same problem with Ozymandias! The guy just wasn’t…well, beautiful enough…he didn’t make be believe he could be the smartest man in the world. Though the actor they got did the best he could I reckon.

And Hanks – while I like him as an actor, I still don’t think he’s right as Langdon. Maybe he’s too good of an actor because like Langdon, he just REALLY looks like he doesn’t want to be there!

3. Nate - May 19, 2009

I read your review of Watchmen and I know you saw the movie without reading the graphic novel.
Believe me, my issues with Ozy in the movie are far greater than the casting of Matthew Goode. Ozy is supposed to be this 50+ year old man and Matthew Goode doesn’t appear to be a day over 30. Zach Frakking Snyder wanted to “appeal” to a younger crowd and that’s why he cast Matthew Goode instead of someone older. Also, in the book Ozy’s betrayal comes as a complete surprise whereas in the movie, it was obvious he was the bad guy from the get go! He’s basically screaming at the camera “hey its me! I’m the one offing superheroes! over here!!” which completely pissed me off. I can deal with all the details they left out for time constrains but that, the muthafrakking change of the ending and Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II are just too glaring an issue for me to dismiss. She was the worst miscast. Read the novel, you’ll see.
Btw, I’m really loving and dreading “The Road” it’s really good. I should be done with it by tomorrow.

4. The reason why (some) movie reviews suck « About Writing – The Personal Blog of Pace J Miller - February 8, 2010

[…] year, I lamented the tendency of movie reviews to reveal too much about the plot (see here), to the extent to which you wonder whether there is a point in watching the movie at […]


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