Why You Should Trust Film Critics
How much do you trust movie critics? Do you look up a few professional opinions on a film before you see it? Are you a slave to the RottenTomatoes score? Or do you insist on only heeding the comments of friends? Over the years, I’ve spoken to quite a few people who claim they disagree with critics and don't listen to them. They’ve chosen to leave the movie decision-making to friends they trust, regardless of their friends’ experience talking about movies.
Personally, I think movie reviewers are still important sources of film criticism. What’s more, I think I know why lots of regular people don’t like them: because many viewers don’t like to hear their much-anticipated picture is junk.
I’ve long been a huge review junkie. My dad put me on to RottenTomatoes years ago, and it’s become a ritual now to check the site every Wednesday and Friday, to keep an eye on how new and upcoming films are doing on the Tomatometer. I also read a lot of Roger Ebert’s reviews, as well as the criticism on film blogs like Slashfilm and Collider.
One thing I keep in mind, though, is that there’s always a chance that I might disagree with those reviews. I don’t look at reviews to get an official stamp of approval on a movie, but to hear what experienced writers have to say about it. Even if a film does poorly with critics, if I think it’s worth a look, I’ll still see it, and acknowledge that the critics are probably right (this usually happens when I’m in the mood for a trashy movie).
This is where I think a lot of audience members go wrong. They will get very excited about a specific movie, through reading about it online or seeing the trailers. The viewer knows in advance that they want to see it, but they check the reviews anyways. Then they see a major critic give it a failing grade or see the Tomatometer turn Rotten. The viewer decides to see the movie anyways, and still enjoys it. Once this cycle repeats for a few times, the viewer loses much of their respect for film critics.
Over time, you see the critics like an strict bunch of fogies. Because you and your friends tend to like the same sort of movies, you come to trust their judgement rather than some face at the top of a newspaper column or online review. Friends (or even Twitter followers) are the better experts, you decide, because they tell you what you want to hear.
The truth is, critics are paid to see movies and write about movies. A lot of them. They see the Hollywood releases, the independent documentaries and the gritty art house films. Most even cover the soon-to-be-cult-classics. Who better, then, to offer an opinion on how well the movie has accomplished its goals, and how it compares to the legions of movies that have come before?
Granted, some reviewers have hidden agendas or are irresponsibly snarky, but the good critics are generally fair and balanced. They take all the elements of a movie into consideration, and offer their opinion on the film, in the same way you or your friends might. Instead of an oppressive, binding judgement of the movie, a review should be seen as just another viewpoint to consider.
You don’t have to let the reviewers dictate the movie you see. They’re also not out to slag every “good” movie that hits screens. Chances are, though, that the critic has reached a more complete appraisal of the film than the average viewer, and it might be worth at least thinking about their findings. You might discover that you actually enjoy a (good or bad) movie more, if you know about why it does and doesn’t work.
The question of whether to trust movie critics reminds me of another, related discussion about writers: the merit of citizen journalists. Some people feel that there is a real virtue in placing the responsibility to record and deliver the news in the hands of untrained, unbiased citizens. Some argue that these people are free of the bureaucracy and official stance of some news agencies. The stories are (allegedly) more trustworthy, because they don’t come from an official source.
People in the journalism industry will tell you that it’s not as simple as that. Citizen journalists are not bound by the same code of ethics or practices of accuracy. According to professional reporters, it’s better to trust the trained news gatherers instead, because they have the experience.
Whether it’s movies or hard news, the solution remains the same: we need a happy medium between professional commentary and amateur observation. The viewers/readers should take both into consideration as a means of deciding for themselves, and trust each source equally.
Movie critics are simply one form of reactionary writing. Just because the reviewer’s experience of watching films allows them to better see the flaws in a release, it doesn’t mean they’re out to ruin your enjoyment. In a way, they want to be as helpful as the friends you trust for movie recommendations. I don’t know about you, but I’m always on the lookout for a new friend with whom I can talk about movies.
How do you feel about film critics? Do they seem like stuck-up snobs to you? Do you trust what they have to say about movies? Are you like me – constantly checking on movie scores? If so, do you have a favourite critic? Post your thoughts in the comments section, and check out some of my related articles on movies: