I am a big movie buff. My favorite genres include comedy, action, horror, and occasionally sci-fi. That said, I don’t get a chance to go out to the movies as much anymore and therefore I tend to read a lot of user reviews before deciding which film to make the effort for.
Why user reviews over critic reviews? I think they are just more honest and fun. Also, when looking to brush up on some old cult films or pulp classics, it's good to dig through user reviews to see which likeminded film fans agree are the truly classic films still worth an hour and a half of anyone's time. Horror film franchises especially benefit from the user review community - which saved me from the disasters of movies like "Critters 4" and "Hellraiser 9" ... well I skipped 3 & 4, 6-8, too, but "Hellraiser: Inferno" (2000) wasn't bad for straight-to-video.
To start, what should a movie review avoid?
The most disappointing review is arguably the most prominent user review out there. IMDB, RottenTomatoes, and MoviePilot are both filled with them. Despite the “Review” label, these posts are merely film summaries. Unfortunately, years of public school book reports have led too many individuals to believe that simply summarizing what you have read (or watched) as proof that you've actually finished the whole story makes for entertainment journalism. It does not.
"So I watched this movie and this happened and then this happened and then this other thing happened and I don't know why the director did that, but then this happened and then.. well I won't spoil the end for you."
Why not? You've already spoiled the whole movie, why leave out the end?
There is a reason that the filmmaker's own summary included on a movie’s packaging does not give away the whole story. It takes away from the experience of the film. A good summary will introduce the main characters and setup the challenges they face in the story. They don't tell you the whole story, because that is part of the voyage.
So, what makes for a good review? Analysis.
In writing courses, I learned that analysis involves identifying the author's main objective and then discussing how well the author meets that objective. Take this idea into the film world and the recipe for a good film review is very much an analysis in the reviewer’s own flavor, with an opinion of how well the film met its objective.
An Analytic Review
- A brief background on the director (or creative producers),
- A short summary of the setup (not involving spoilers),
- What is the goal of this film? Did it succeed?
- Did you enjoy the experience? Why or why not?
Beyond critiquing solely the director (just as the review of a restaurant is more than just a review of the chef), a good film review should also take into account additional creative contributors to the film. The review should analyze the actors' performances, the art direction, the sound design, the special effects, the stunts, and anything else about the film's presentation that helps or hinders the movie overall.
Ash Williams reviews "The Boxtrolls" - see more at The Kid Reviews.
This is (in my opinion, of course) the recipe for a solid, meaningful film review. As with any recipe, you may alter it to suit your tastes - a serious drama will rely more on the actors strengths than a CGI-packed action film, and should be reviewed accordingly. In fairness, an action film will be reviewed more on those aspects particular to its genre - pioneering stunts; special effects; exotic locations. When you write a review, can you tell us how well these elements worked without a play-by-play of the movie itself? That is the kind of review that will stand out from the crowd. That is what is going to help an on-the-fence film-goer decide whether to suspend disbelief and jump into this director's world.
If you are writing a film review, and at any point of the review you type the words "Spoiler Alert" - then I recommend you seriously consider why that spoiler needs to be included and whether what you are writing is actually a review or is merely a summary. Spoiler alerts are welcome in a forum setting, where it is generally acceptable to assume that most users have already seen the film being discussed.
A good rule of thumb for new films is to check on how much of the story has been released by the studio itself for marketing. Anything that has not been included in their own press releases and promotion is probably a Spoiler. For older films, if the movie has hit basic cable, then one can assume that the story is out and spoilers are not a concern.
Are you a film reviewer? Then tell us how you felt in the movie theater (or on your sofa) as the feature played, what was on your mind after the credits rolled, what questions have been asked or answered, and most importantly - did you have a good time?
But please, for the love of cinema and all film-lovers, do not write any more film summaries. Leave the play-by-plays to the sports networks, and stay creative with our entertainment industry.