Movies · Sports · Television

Why reviewers are like sports broadcasters

I’ve noticed that there are two types of critics out there, especially in the written format. You have either: (1) the one who gives a plot synopsis scene-by-scene; or (2) the former film student who overly describes the technical aspects such as cinematography. Or, in other words, you have a play-by-play person, and the analyst with the color commentary.

One reason why Siskel & Ebert was so successful for so long was that both critics were talented enough to master both styles of reviewing. Usually, when discussing a film, the first would give a synopsis-style summary, and the other would counter with a more analytical style. Of course argumentative disagreements is a formula for television gold, but what I found more fascinating was hen they agreed on a film for different reasons (you know – like the classic Miller Lite ad campaign: Tastes Great or Less Filling.) Many have tried to replicate the formula. None has succeeded. Roger Ebert could never find anyone as talented as Gene Siskel. Richard Roeper lasted the longest, but it took years before he really hit his stride on television.

I’m not knocking critics. Everyone has their own style, and I can’t begrudge someone for not being able to be something that they’re not. Just be aware of what style you’re reading. That’s normally not a problem when you’re reading a professional critic. It’s the amateur online reviewers that concern me. Most follow the play-by-play style, to the point of giving away major spoilers. The worst offender is Wikipedia. But at least Wiki doesn’t have a rating scale. Most amateurs have a very positive curve, where almost every film is no worse than a “B”, or a 7/10. I understand that everyone has their own biases, but credibility is strained when there is hardly any difference between the truly sublime, and a guilty pleasure.

It’s rare when you find an amateur review in the analyst style. Maybe it’s a college student who is auditioning for a New York Times internship. However, these reviews have a tendency to be more about the critic, and not the film. It devolves into a “this-is-how-I-would’ve-directed-this” review.

As you may or may not have noticed, I have decided to forsake both styles in my reviews. What you read here is exactly the way I speak when someone asks me about a film/show/game/etc. I will go off on tangents. I will make obscure references. For; I assume, you already have a gist of the plot. If not, there are plenty of other sources that can give summaries, and discuss all the technical aspects much better than I can.

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