Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Tag: reviews


My review of Tron: Legacy, the film to which I alluded last time, is now up. You will notice I enjoyed it, yet it also marks the first time I have been really frustrated by the need to offer a star rating at the end. Its critics will hate it for a range of reasons, all of which I agree with — it’s a film of unexplored concepts, ponderously paced, thinly plotted, and incredibly self-indulgent. Charlie at Ultra Culture, which I noted in my last point, absolutely hated it. And I agree with everything he said. But as a techie/film geek it does exactly what I want in a number of areas so that if accepted on its merits it’s both an impressive achievement and rather enjoyable. I could easily have given it anything from two to three and a half stars, which would completely alter the impression of the preceding text. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t partly influenced by the desire to promote great use of 3D over shoddy conversions like Clash of the Titans or gimmicks like Alice in Wonderland.

Interestingly, the same is true of the second film from the day, Mike Haggis’ The Next Three Days, starring Russell Crowe as an everyman teacher who ends up breaking his wife out of prison. I enjoyed it and would comfortably rate it a three-star film, but its structure — its opening two thirds a slow burn character drama followed by an explosive final act — will alienate much of its audience. Thriller fans will find much of the film too slow to sit through, while those who enjoy the drama will find the actual break and escape sequence utterly implausible. For me that same slow burn opening meant I was far more invested in the characters by the payoff, heightening its intensity.

Obviously the star rating is as much an opinion as the text of any review, but in this case it seems rendered useless. I’m curious to know what people would think of alternative approaches, which other media have also begun using. One option is simply to ditch the rating and rely on the text, but I think it remains important to have some form of summary position at the end of a review to highlight the strength of any recommendation (recommendation is, I feel, a crucial part of the critic’s role). Breakdown ratings that cover different aspects of the film are no better. Perhaps my favourite option would be a short list of pros and cons, and perhaps a “see this film if you like…” targeted recommendation. Since you are the people who read them, I’d love to hear your thoughts, either in the comments or directly.

In unrelated news, while I haven’t engaged with Wikileaks directly here, Glenn Greenwald’s levelheaded debunking of various pieces of critical media coverage is well worth reading.

Should Reviewers Pay?

A few years ago I was quite a highly rated reviewer over at Amazon, since I reproduced a lot of my film reviews for DVDs on the site. Late last year Amazon contacted me with an offer to join their Vine programme. Essentially they supply free copies of books, CDs or DVDs to be reviewed. The system works via a regular newsletter with the items that need reviews, and the reviewers can pick any in which they are interested. Recently I’ve reviewed Extraordinary Rendition and The Banquet (do feel free to rate them up!) in this way.

While writing the review for Extraordinary Rendition I realised the inherent flaw in providing such review copies for free. An extreme view, propounded by some, is that reviewers should pay for things like everyone else. The free model is common in most industries on the basis it would be far too expensive to purchase every product in order to provide reviews for each. However, the money one parts with is a fundamental aspect of one’s evaluation of a product’s worth. When an item is free we are far more likely to forgive flaws.

I am happy with the eventual review that resulted, but it required a significant amount of rewriting. The issue is that the film contains an incredibly important scene that I think everyone ought to see — the CIA approved “waterboarding” interrogation technique is transformed from a conceptual notion in the press to a brutal on-screen reality. So the experience of having watched it was good. However had I paid for the DVD I would have been rather unimpressed with the overeall package, because as a film it has major issues (largely structural) which permeate and deflate the effect of the entirety. Nor am I likely to rewatch it.

Reviewing a product, particularly for a store, has to be seen as a purchase recommendation, not merely an abstract analysis. I still worry that, had I initially been writing the review here I would have go so far as to say “rent this but do not buy it”, something I may have been unwilling to do when the product was freely provided via a web store. I think, however, that armed with the knowledge that not paying was inevitably informing my view, I was able to factor that in and produce a review I can stand by.

"Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2023 Priyan Meewella

Up ↑