The term ‘everybody’s a critic’ has almost quadrupled in relevance since the rise of social media and outlets like YouTube in recent years. Now, anyone from the highest paid newspaper critic to some kid in Detroit fresh off a Media course can critique just about anything: TV, music, books, comics, clothing, food and of course, this website’s subject of choice, cinema.
With just a camera or keyboard to hand, the sky’s the limit: talk about the new and old alike, using stars, grades or a simple thumbs up for your rating, even using your personality and tastes to build a loyal following that can then land you sponsors and higher profile gigs. Plus, your everyman position gives you a connection that most professional critics lack. Sounds like a sweet deal, right?
Well, there’s always another side of the proverbial coin; those who simply switch on a third-rate webcam and ramble on for twenty minutes in an incoherent and often clumsy manner, or spam Amazon and IMDB with all-caps laden diatribes. These are the people who, bless them for dreaming, just don’t cut the critical mustard. Common symptoms include over-generalization, to the point of having nothing to substantiate their claims, rambling on just one minor point like a disliked actor or random scene for five minutes or lines, and not even having the grace to cut out pauses, guffs or other lingual errors in their review, video or written.
Of course, on the particular volatile platform of the internet, there will always be disagreements and people who go against the consensus. Nothing wrong with that, as it shows independent thought, but there are some tired excuses and straw men that make me wonder why some of them even bother. In the following piece, I’ve compiled all my pet peeves with these sorts of videos and articles, hitting the most repeated and frankly, laziest, cards out there, used to justify why someone likes a film that hasn’t been received with open arms by the critical community. So, let’s quit babbling and dive right in:
#1 – It’s an (insert genre) movie. Just enjoy it for the (one element)!
Anyone who’s been around any comments section should recognise this one. While I most often see this card used by the likes of Bay and Sandler fans, this applies to any film or franchise that piles on the eye candy in a thick syrup, be it in digital wizardry or cheap laughs (Transformers, Underworld or Resident Evil, among the many).
While you can certainly have an aspect of a film that is your favourite or you were particularly impressed with, using that as the crux of your argument doesn’t work for one simple reason: a film is a layered experience made up of multiple components. Everything else should, in some way, assist the other; if you have a big dumb action romp, the story, tone, music and performances, among other things, should compliment that. If something is trying to be taken seriously, with some kind of an end of the world story, but then unloads nonstop jokes involving robots balls, obnoxious nerds or farting animals, something isn’t right.
#2 – It’s not trying to win any Oscars/awards!
Even if a film isn’t aspiring to be the next great milestone in entertainment, or hoover up Oscars, and just wants to be an amusing diversion for two hours, it still has to work on its own terms. 1954´s Godzilla didn’t exactly get any awards love, and yet it’s considered one of the finest monster films ever made, as well as one of Japan’s most famous films period, toe to toe with the works of Kurosawa and Miyazaki. By comparison, the likes of, say Steve Zaillian’s All The King’s Men or Ridley Scott´s Exodus: Gods and Kings had high-profile casts and crew, and they still ended up being labelled among the worst films of 2006 and 2014 respectively.
This also applies to people who say ‘Well, not every film needs to be Citizen Kane!’ or whatever high-profile film they know of but probably never saw. Die Hard is not a great film in the same way as say Gone With The Wind is not great in the same way as 2001: A Space Odyssey. These films all work well in very different ways, and that’s how they should be judged. Same with your film of choice.
#3 – It’s just like the book/source material!
Also applies to the ‘oh, but the book explains it!’ crowd. I go to a film to see a film. If I want the book, I’ll go to a library or bookstore and read it. Books and films are not structured and paced the same way, so even if a film is faithful to its source, it can still make for a clunky, slow and dry experience. Just look at 2006´s The DaVinci Code for a prime example of adhering too closely. Books have the luxury of being able to allow for extensive introspection, description and a plethora of subplot to create an entire world for the narrative and characters to inhabit. A film, on the other hand, has to be more concise and use a lot more shorthand to communicate themes and character.
By comparison, plenty of films have changed or altered a number of elements from their original source and been made into fine films. Frankly, I could be here all week listing examples, but I’m sure you know the ones; your Harry Potters, your Lord of The Rings, your Godfathers etc. These works streamlined the narrative to the important elements i.e. the ones with most emotional residence and most critical to the central theme(s) of the piece.
#4 – Nostalgia
Childhood can make anything seem wondrous and magical, can’t it? The cinema screen was a portal to another world of mystery, excitement, danger and things beyond your imagination. Sometimes, so much so you have a hard time divorcing said magic from the film itself. You didn’t care about plot or characters or internal logic because it was such a novelty to your young mind.
Now look, if a film made a big impact on you as a child, or you saw it at a certain moment in life, then great for you. However, harsh as it is to say, no one but you, your friends and your family cares if you saw the film when you were seven, or when you were going through your first breakup. None of this has any bearing on the film´s actual quality. It just happens to be pure coincidence.
As an example, I saw films like Inspector Gadget and The Flintstones as a child, and I can recall entire sequences from memory alone. Does that magically make them good films? Absolutely not. In fact, while we’re on the subject, make sure you’ve at least watched the film within the last three/four years before you go screaming at ‘haters’ about it. The memory lies, after all.
#5 – Well if you liked this movie, then you have to like this one! Hypocrite!
This is just straight up lazy.
By this logic, if I like Spider-Man, The Dark Knight and Civil War, I, therefore, should also like Fant4stic, Spawn and Batman & Robin because they’re all superhero films, or that because I was one of the few who found merit in 2013´s The Lone Ranger, I should also like bloated nonsense like Jonah Hex or Wild Wild West, which I most certainly don’t.
Films are a case by case basis, and are not created equal: not all action films are exciting, as not all comedies are equally funny. Because I think Uncle Buck is a funnier John Candy comedy than Wagons East does not make me less of a fan of the man’s work, or a hypocrite: it just means I felt one was better than the other, and I would explain that in the review that you just chose to ignore to have a tantrum.
#6 – Waving statistics in your face
This refers to people who try to use similar reviews, usually from big name critics, or box office figures to say, ‘See? See? These people like it too!’.
Like the aforementioned, this is an absolutely useless argument as, by that logic, if most of the critics didn’t like the film (ironically, why you decided to start cherry picking those quotes in the first place), or that said film is tanking at the box office, therefore, you shouldn’t like it either. It’s so easy to turn this argument against you. Not to mention, what they said, or how money something made, will not make a bit of difference to someone who didn’t like it.
#7 – Insults
Another lazy tactic used in desperation when you have no aces up your sleeve. Be it classics like ‘You’re all stupid trolls!’ and ‘Aw, critics are just stupid jerks!’, to even high-profile critics themselves saying ‘Well, you don’t get it’ when discussing some art house production. These are idiotic attitudes, only making you look childish and, dare I say, in denial about the film.
If you want people to take your defence or counter-review seriously, make actual points supported by evidence, not whining like a three-year-old whose mother won’t buy him the new LEGO set. It’s tempting, especially if your film has been the target of near continuous internet bile (BvS, anyone?) but resist. You’ll be thankful later.
#8 – Well, what have you ever done?/Let’s see you do better!
When all else fails, just denounce the opposition’s creative powers. Tell that video reviewer or magazine writer that they are failed creatives, or that they wouldn’t know cinematography from camera maintenance. Tell them how hard the filmmaking process is, because of course, they would nothing about that, and how you should pity those unfortunate filmmakers working on some of the most beloved properties in the world.
Alright then, internet Wiseguy, have you ever made a film before, or written a feature-length script, or experienced the purgatory that is being a Producer and organising massive shoots on tight budgets with executives breathing down your neck?
No, you haven’t?
Well then, don’t go pointing fingers at everyone else, then. Simple as. Do you need to be a chef to say the steak is overcooked, or that the toast is burnt? Do you need to be a scientist to point out that someone has urinated in the swimming pool?
And with that, I’ll be closing off my little list. Hopefully, you too can now avoid making the classic errors that undermine many a film lover’s debates, and even perhaps make a little name for yourself in the process as someone who constructed an effective defence of an otherwise unpopular film. Work hard enough, and you could have people believe Gods Of Egypt was a misunderstood masterpiece!
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