Friday, April 9, 2010
The Rating Scale
So the other day when I wrote a one minute review of Next Day Air Andrew over at Encore commented that the movie sounded passable but he was surprised by the high rating which I allotted (3.5 out of 5). This inspired me to throw out some context. There is one fundamental rule that I believe when it comes to scoring films: it is pointless. I do it because it comes with the territory, but really, what does a rating out of four or five prove? It doesn't assess the worth of the film itself because it is based on the preference of the writer and reflects their experience of the film and not the film's overall worth, in which case you should scrap the rating and just read the review. That's what it is there for in the first place. It also doesn't assess the worth of a film in relation to other films because every rating is the rating solely of that film and not all films. It is possible to use other like films to justify a certain rating but when I give a five star rating to Up in the Air that by no means makes it the equal to The Godfather which would also get five stars. Up in the Air is a five star film in the world of corporate human comedies and The Godfather is a five star gangster movie. In no way do either of those five stars cross over in relation to one another and I don't even begin to know how they would begin to compare in the overall world of film. However if The Dark Knight is a five star movie then the other four Batman movies before Batman Begins are around 2-2.5s. Now, as for why I use five stars. It's because I like that extra star for indifference. Four stars doesn't really give you much wiggle room. However, in terms of thumbs up or thumbs down, five stars offers the 3-3.5 range which is basically the same (overall indifference) but 3 reflects the thumb tipping slightly in the down direction while the 3.5 reflects the thumb tipping slightly in the up direction. But again, we're beating a dead horse because, as proof right in the first paragraph, the meaning of these ratings exist solely in the mind of the reviewer (Andrew perceives 3.5 to be of greater worth than me and that's his right). To me good film criticism has, is and will always be about someone who writes about film sharing their experiences with those who like to read about film. As I've said elsewhere on this site, I read a review not to know if the movie is good or not (I can decide that on my own) but to see what reviewer X had to say about it. When I read Andrew's blog I care much more about who his personal favourite actors and actresses of the decade are and why he thinks so rather than what films he thinks I should be seeing because, knowing me, I'll probably see them regardless. With that said, in most cases, to reference Jean Renior once again, the reviewer is often more important than the film he or she is reviewing, which simply acts as a springboard or starting point from which that person can begin to share their personal thoughts, fears, anxieties, philosophies, emotional responses, etc. Film criticism, like all art, is fundamentally composed of two parts: the emotional and the intellectual. It's on one (or both) of these two levels that all great film (and art in general) moves us on. If a film doesn't stimulate a viewer's mind or move them to some emotional response then it has failed and this can only be expressed in the body of the review, not in the arbitrary number I put in brackets after the film's title.