Saturday, May 16, 2015

Movie Ratings....What's your take?

Movie Ratings.  I look at them, do you?  I have contributed to them, how about you?  In one sense the ratings are merely a popularity contest with only a slight connection to merit--even slimmer link to your personal preferences.

Movie ratings are a short cut to making decisions.  If you are just planning a weekend outing to visit a movie theatre and maybe eat out you might have ten choices to make or maybe just two after you eliminate all the "crazy" or inappropriate ones  There is a lot of hype to get your attention and maybe some comments from your friends.  A rating can make the choice a little easier.

How about confronted with a choice of DVDs at your library or convenience store?  There can be a very wide range of choices from old to almost current  and very diverse genres.  Maybe when you go home you check out a few ratings for your next trip.  Or maybe you use your smart phone on the spot.

Streaming services offer an even wider range of options.  I was impressed by Netflix who after evaluating my film choices would give me personalized ratings of other films based on those choices.  Still I would look for other ratings.

The ratings can easily be distorted and when you see films that are only .1 different you really are in danger of making a mistake against your own aesthetic preferences.

Have you noticed there are often very high ratings on just opened new movies, but that over time the ratings seem to come down?  More rarely you may see a movie move up in ratings.

Genres such as action films create expectations.  Viewers looking for blood, speed and explosive action can be very reactive to movies that don't rise above previous films.  Those looking for titillation can also be cruel to lesser or shorter displays of skin.  Romance can also cause disappointment if they don't work out to fantasized scripts.

The biggest gap seem to be between what might be called "art" films and those for the mainstream.  Supposedly art films are a little more difficult to understand and the popular movies go for the jugular straightaway.

Have you ever contributed to a rating?  I have and if I am being honest I am not totally honest.  One factor is called "anchoring" which just means you start with the established rate and either move it up or down depending on how much you agree with the crowd--but of course you are already influenced by the crowd.  Then there is the concept of fairness--do I think the crowd gave it an honest look and in some cases I attempt to correct their error possibly by over compensating.  Then I admit I like to promote what I like and discourage what I don't like.  I am not sure how objective I am as it all seems in comparison to what others have decided.

Some people have a vested interest in the ratings and not just those with a financial stake in a production.  Probably most obvious when a movie first comes out which is why ratings start high and then get lower as others view the film.  If you are an early adopter type (for movies at least) you have a vested egotistical interest in boosting your choice.  Many of us are fans or celebrity watchers--we boost our heroes (established in previous movies)---others of us like to think we are very discriminating and tough

Different systems;  4 star, 5 star, ten--increments.  When you look at Olympic judges where decimals can go out to 3 or more places.  It really comes down to a ranking system--is this one better then that one, then what about this one that sort of fits in between?   Rotten Tomatoes gathers as many official reviewers as possible and simply decides if a review is fresh or rotten, although it sometimes seems  arbitrary as many reviews contain both positive and negative points.

What can you do?  There are only so many leisure hours in a day and going beyond movies there is a lot of competition for your attention.  Of course we look for something we can trust so we tend to gravitate towards a reliable reviewer or system.  Something that reinforces our own bias and prejudice.  Occasionally we are disappointed, but on the whole this natural process works for most of us.

You can spend a lot of time evaluating movie choices.  Does the time add to your enjoyment?  Or does the time merely subtract the time watching?

When I went to high school (over forty five years ago when there was a grade 13) Shakespeare was always a part of the course.  The average high school student really is bored with the straight reading of Shakespeare and going into minute details seems like torture.  The words already strange sounding are made more mysterious with colloquial meanings.  At one point it annoyed me that the teacher could get so serious about such little details.  As I get older I appreciate many of those little details, because they add up to a different deeper impression when understood better.

Those who read my reviews and comments might be struck with my diversity, but really I avoid some categories altogether.  At the same time I fear being stuck in a rut.  There is a huge world out there with lots of beautiful and interesting things I am totally unaware of.  As you open up possibilities the choices can get more difficult.

Film festivals are my favorite place to start.  I trust the selection committees to make some good choices.  A really popular movie with strong financing doesn't need festivals as much as the more arty type of movies.  There is little danger of missing a popular movie, particularly in a genre you already favour, but without the big bucks small movies too often get overlooked.  Winning an award at a film festival gives some promotion and helps to attract money.  Most festivals now have audience awards that reflect consumer popularity.  The more awards the more publicity.  Independent movies, known as "Indies" are not financed by the big studios and find festivals critical to getting launched.

Reading reviews is also key, but not just one.  It is amazing going over the reviews at IMDB the contrast of opinions on the same movie.  In fact often my choice is not made with someone I find agreeable, but with someone not so agreeable--I choose to seek out what they reject.  Many people seem to favor movies with established stars or directors or writers.  Unfortunately I have discovered they all need the money and/or attention.  In Bollywood I am most impressed with Aamir Khan--he is in big demand, but is a very conscientious thinker, selecting one movie a year and going into a great deal of preparation.  Actors able to act in different languages also seem to have more freedom--Mads Mikklesen can be seen in Danish, English and French, usually at a high level.  At one time a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock was pretty much a guarantee of a masterful suspense film.

In small markets there are few arty movies shown and they usually only last for a short run at best.  Maybe I am just too cheap, but most of my movie viewing is by DVD and increasingly with streaming and there you have a tremendous amount of choice, but you have to wait longer than movie goers for the new films.

Photos:  The three movie posters are from movies that had high ratings and lived up to the hype.  Partly because some individuals are indicators of potential quality.  They are selected for their power and they usually make good decisions.  Alfred Hitchcock, Mads Mikkelson and Aamir Khan.

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