As some of you may know, I am a moderator at MyMedia, which started as one of the biggest LOST discussion forums back in September 2004. I cross-post most of my reviews over there, and recently I was asked to write a quick and dirty primer for the movie review subforum.
After a bit of thought, I realized it addresses one of my main pet peeves about reviewing (i.e., what makes for a good review). The post is after the fold, minus the bits that pertain specifically to MyMedia; I also have added a few further thoughts after it.
I know that there are many people who are intimidated at the idea of writing a review, particularly if they feel that there are some complicated rules, or rigid expectations.
There really aren’t; a good review boils down to a very simple thing: why did you like/didn’t like something? Why did you find it useful/interesting/boring/offensive/likable?
Think about that movie you saw that has you bubbling with excitement. You want everyone to watch it, so you can talk about it, and relive all the good parts. What do you say to a friend to encourage her to watch it with you?
Or perhaps it’s a movie that had many problematic elements, and you would like to discuss it with other people. What would you tell them to convince them to watch it?
Or how about a movie you felt was the most terrible waste of time and money in the history of cinema. What about it makes it so terrible for you?
The level of detail in a review is entirely up to you; the only caveat on this would be giving away a particular twist or surprise ending, because that kind of thing tends to spoil the experience for potential viewers. (I still want to murder my son for spoiling The Sixth Sense for me, for example)
One way to start is to think about the aspects of the movie that resonated with you:
- It’s an action movie, and the fight scenes are great/suck/don’t work
- It’s a romantic comedy, and you didn’t find it funny/didn’t feel chemistry between the leads
- It’s a period drama, and the costumes are anachronistic/perfect
- It’s billed as a science fiction movie, but there is no science
That’s pretty much it.
~ * ~
I didn’t realize until after posting the above, that the second line encapsulates what, for me, as a reader and consumer, constitutes a good review; where good = useful.
Those of you who have known me around these here intrawebs for a while, know that I get my dander up every time someone refers to a negative review as a bad review, and to any and all positive reviews as good reviews. I find it particularly grating when it’s people who talk about how they use reviews to make purchasing decisions.
Because, seriously, how helpful do you find a review that reads, in its entirety, “BEST THING EVER!!! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!!!”
Off the top of my head I can think of at least five bloggers/reviewers who complain about those one-line-gush fests that say nothing about the book, yet commiserate with authors about long, detailed, well-written ‘bad’ reviews. I wonder whether those same bloggers ever stop to think that some of the reviews they themselves have written over the years, would fall under the ‘bad review’ rubric, using that yardstick.
(Yeah, I know, I’m old and cranky.)
Why does this bother me so much? Because I put quite a bit of thought into my reviews. It’s not just reading the freaking book, it’s thinking about why I feel about it the way I do. What works, what doesn’t, and why. And then, trying to put those feelings down in some sort of coherent order. Paying attention to how much I say about the plot, because I really don’t want to spoil someone else’s reading experience, while trying to ensure I give enough detail so that people who have specific triggers know what to expect.
As I type this, I have something like two dozen reviews in draft form, because I just didn’t find a way to write down all those whys I mentioned above. In some cases, I’ll have to read the book again before I can finish writing the reviews. Some of those reviews will never be published, because I just can’t be bothered to re-read the novel–and no, it’s not always that I didn’t like that particular book, it’s more than I’m a mood reader.
I am perfectly aware that I don’t always succeed in answering those all-important what and why questions, but I damned well try, and it pisses me off to have a good chunk of my work dismissed as ‘bad’ simply because it addresses whatever it is that didn’t work for me.
Negative reviews have value, dammit.