12 Rules for (the Review Reader’s) Life

An Antidote to Cinematic Chaos

I’ve been writing reviews for 10 years now (coughs), reading them from as long as I remember. As years pass, I think there is a lot of obfuscation that goes around within the columns of movie reviews, it either ends up describing something else and leaving the reader in the lurch. 

As a reader first (and writer later), here are my rules for review readers esp those who want an antidote to the chaos that is film reviews (also try and make sense of them).

Rule 1: Almost always, when a reviewer says if a movie is socially important, it most certainly isn’t.

Social importance, historical importance, cultural importance are acquired over time, it is most certainly not acquired over the popcorn counter at Devi Theatre and especially not immediately. What’s relevant now, is not relevant next Friday, so yeah.

If a movie captures “this-very-moment” then it’s just that, look for signs of ascribing importance just because the movie addresses current events. 

Rule 2: Almost always, when a review says that the movie can never be classified as good or bad, it can surely be.

This limbo state only represents the inability of the reviewer to share his/her true feelings of the movie at the time due to whatever compulsion.

While there is a set who focus on what are apparently good and bad elements within the film, if they are not able to make up their mind about the film, it is not the film’s fault. It is the writer’s. 

The reasons could be anything and we don’t need to go into that. 

Rule 3: Never trust a movie review that captures audience reaction. Sample: “at that every moment half the audience had their jaw hitting the floor”

Urgh Hmm it shouldn’t matter. Maybe the writers were not hitting their word count.

Extend this rule to providing trivia, and then assigning value to the trivia, so that the overall importance of the film increases. 

The rules fundamentally rise from the fact that reviews have moved away from being observations but into the realm of accreditation, hence assigning momentary importance. 

Assigning importance can be done subtly in many forms, like social norming, by describing how people were howling in the theatre makes us immediately believe that there could be something ‘important’ at the moment. 

Rule 4: Always disregard should have/ would have criticism. 

“They should have killed off the Amudha character early in the movie, like in Psycho” like samples.

This is the “I watch so many movies so I know how better to make them” mode. Much like “how I go on a field trip to Sriharikota and the next month advising ISRO on what they should do on Mangalyaan” mode.

Rule 5: Almost always do not take seriously anything about shot division, color grading, production value , cinematography, sound mixing, box office predictions

Rule five deals with technicality. If reviewers were technically sound, they would (you know) be making movies etc. Especially now, when anyone can make and upload a movie, while here they are uploading umm reviews?

While I do not deny there could be observational critics who could get a sense of how a technical element informs the story element, they are few and far in between and from what I have read, they now function with an arsenal of adjectives, that when overused come with diminishing ‘awe’. 

Rule 6: Semblance of truth can only be found when reviewers write about what they felt while watching the movie.

It ties to some of the earlier rules, reviewers tend to go into social importance, audience reactions, limbo wording when they are not truly able to come to terms with what they feel about a film.

Rule 7: Almost all observations about how the story made the reviewer feel should always be the most important part of the review.

This is because humans have been reacting to storytelling for centuries, it’s built into us. That’s the power of story. So yeah that’s the only valid point to keep reading reviews. Whether the story engaged the reviewer or not. also since reviewers are humans too 🙂

Rule 8: When reviewers tell that the movie-story is predictable, they are thinking that the audience sees the same number of films as they do. 

It is also an addition to rule 7, it only proves that this movie story did not engage reviewers so saying predictable etc.

Rule 9 All of decoding should be avoided, completely.

A movie is a contract between the maker and the seer, and the maker puts in interesting elements consciously and mostly unconsciously. Let the seers make their own connections. When we make our own meanings, imagine the possibilities.

Rule 10 Treat with suspicion, those who say film reviewing is an art form.

Reasons people give to themselves stay in certain professions should not be treated as fact. A film review has high depreciation value. Only the best of the best survive and that too because the movies are great. The movies are always greater than the impression.

Rule 11 You must consider a possibility that you are in the wrong part of the forest if you are reading the reviews for the words and falling in love with it.

Any movie can be simply expressed without much adoration, ornamentation, alliteration, turns of phrase. These are things writers do to keep themselves interested. 

Stay vigilant, sago, reviewers also slip in “we”, when they mean “I” and immediately make us believe that we also fully buy their versions.

Vigilance is key. 

Rule 12 Always read reviews only after seeing the movie.

Please do not settle down and fill your head with opinions before you watch something. If you need recommendations to catch/thrash it then it means that you are better off not seeing something that friday. 

Movies don’t run away. There’s always time.Let movies collect days and dust. 

In our brief period on earth, each person gets to see a finite set of movies. The good news is we can make this a unique playlist. Do not fall for friday fever.

But of course obvious exceptions for some of the rules apply and I can be accused of breaking almost all of them. But this is my observation over the years

This is not an imaginative piece like ” a world without movie reviews” Of course not. But these rules will question the unnecessary ones (them reviews) and strengthen those who seek guidance in understanding them.

Take it or leave it. 

Honest story based impressions are the best form of reviews. And even these represent the frame of mind of the reviewer at that point in his/her life.

Reviews always tell more about the writer-commentator than about the movies itself. So movies first, reviews next. 

It is also important to have specific taste, and such can be developed only when not overly influenced by others.

For those asking: logical fallacies and plot holes are still game in good reviews as they fall very much into the story. While watching a movie, we are first following the story. Discovering a well hidden plot hole/ gap in a movie is like uncovering a magic trick!

Thank you for reading. Hope it was useful.

Thanks to Alex on Film for the Mayor Ebert image from the movie Godzilla

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