Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Views on Reviews

Guru last week had a post on how not to write a review. He made some sweeping statements that I disagreed with but since I've already expressed my disagreement as comments to that post, I'll just stick to my views here.

A review(of a movie in this context, though it could apply to books, music and pretty much everything else you have an opinion on) is simply put, an individual's personal opinion about a movie. The person who says "Padam Supernga, bore adikkaama poguthu" to the Sun TV interviewer when exiting a theater is, as long as his comment is honest and unbiased, as much a reviewer as the person writing long reviews in newspapers, magazines, websites or blogs. The difference is just in the number of words the two use to express their feelings about the movie. Its upto us to decide which of them we are going to believe.

Since its an individual's opinion, a review is by its very nature, subjective. There is no such thing as an objective review. The very fact that it is written by a human being ensures that. The reviewer's likes, dislikes, expectations about the film, feelings about the movie's theme, cinema knowledge(or lack thereof), mood, the atmosphere he saw the film in - all make their way into his/her review. This subjectivity is what makes the reviews different. Any subtexts the reviewer sees in the movie, any reading between the lines he does and any hidden meanings he construes all arise from his personal makeup. If not for these personal influences, every review would be exactly the same. And that would make things real boring, wouldn't it?

By the same token, is there any review that can be called a bad review? Personally, I don't like reviews that contain spoilers about the movie. There is a reason why they are called 'spoilers' - revealing them spoils the moviegoing experience for the viewer. But I know people who like to walk into a movie knowing everything beforehand. One of my friends even liked to know if a movie was a tragedy or not and forced me to reveal the ending of movies I had seen since he hated sad endings. So the spoiler-heavy reviews that narrate the story to the point of describing the last scene told him exactly what he wanted to know about the movie. So to him, the Kumudam and Vikatan reviews were not bad reviews.

So, just as a review is subjective, so too is your opinion of it. If you really like reading reviews, whether to decide if you are going to watch a movie or just to see what the reviewer said, try out a few reviewers. Find one or more whose style you like, whose frequency seems to match yours more often than not and most importantly, whose reviews you enjoy reading, whatever the reasons may be. It is pretty much impossible to find a reviewer whose feelings match yours on every single movie. So you simply have to find a reviewer whose reviews are well-written. For me, these reviewers are James Berardinelli, Roger Ebert and Mr.Cranky. I like the 3 of them for completely different reasons but I enjoy reading every one of their reviews whether I will see the movie or not and whether I agree with their verdict on a movie or not.

As far as I am concerned, the only 2 qualifications needed to be a movie reviewer are a love of movies and the ability to express your thoughts and feelings about a movie you have seen. Writing about the movie, whether praising or criticizing it, then comes naturally. In my comment to Guru's post I said "I write reviews because I like watching movies. I don't watch movies because I like writing reviews". That to me, is the key to writing reviews. I might watch Meesai Madhavan, Kaatrullavarai and Iyer I.P.S in the same week. But when I pick up my next VCD and pop it into the DVD player, I still experience the same thrill and anticipation that I did when I first started watching movies. As long as that happens, writing the review is a piece of cake. And the day I don't feel that will be the day bbreviews closes...

22 Comments:

At 12:35 AM, Blogger Kaps said...

I'm first again. Putting a template to write reviews makes it quite rigid and as u rightly put it, makes it very difficult to distinguish between two reviews as both might sound similar. Each one has his/her own style and hence it is better to leave it to the audience to decide what is good and what is bad.

A standard template for reviews might make it look like a doctor's prescription....which has the doctor's name & qualification at the top and the medical shop's name at the bottom.

 
At 1:38 AM, Blogger Suresh Kumar said...

I completely agree with you on reviewing movies. Here is my take on "Reviewing/Rating Music".

http://ursmusically.blogspot.com/2005/08/rating-music.html

 
At 1:47 AM, Blogger Sriram said...

balaji, i like ur reviews. Keep going. u rock!

 
At 6:43 AM, Blogger Nithya Swaminathan said...

Completely agree with what u've said... The only way a review can be objective, is jus write in passive voice what happens in the movie... if u r going to add even one more detail, it gets subjective isnt it!

I fall into that category of ppl, who dont mind knowing in advance the plot etc... every friday i definitely check the rediff reviews, which is nothing but a synopsis of the movie... Shoba Warrier is pathetic as a reviewer... but her kind of review is a prerequisite for me to decide whether or not to watch the movie..:D

And of course, I will read few more reviews in various blogs... as far as Indian movies go, I like ur reviews, Guru's and Sudhish's reviews in his blog... the unedited versions... And still I can enjoy the movie if its to my taste...:D

 
At 7:41 AM, Blogger Arvind said...

It is all a very subjective world and the urge in oneself to express their opinions at the end of reading/watching/listening to a piece of creativity is what is called review

If there are people, who make their decisions based on someone else's opinions, they are willing to take the risk/assurance of the reviewers words.

my 2 cents...

p.s : Before someone beats me up ;) my music reviews are about dissection/critical appreciation of albums (and especially that i love to hear !)

 
At 7:45 AM, Anonymous gp said...

Well said, Balaji.. I started writing reviews, bcos I enjoyed doing so.. I havent writen reviews of all movies since I started.. I watch about 6 movies per week - Tamil, English and Hindi.. (still no kids, u see.. :-))

 
At 7:57 AM, Blogger bhuvan said...

I agree with most of what you said, but what I still don't understand is this: why do you keep watching and reviewing Tamil movies with nothing interesting about them in the first place?!?

I would go so far as to claim, that 60 per cent of modern Tamil cinema is absolutely forgettable waste, 30 per cent is moderately compelling and only 10 per cent manages to be entertaining and - God forbid! - even memorable.

So why do you watch so many bad Tamil films, if a) you (so far)aren't getting paid for it and b) there are many better American, European, South Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Indian etc. films out there you could be watching INSTEAD or even do something else with your precious time?

I consider you a masochist for watching all these quite long, mostly stupid and boring films from start to finish, just to write a review. But at the same time you're my hero, since that way I won't have to watch 'em and can (mostly) rely on your reviews to guide me through Tamil cinema.

 
At 8:51 AM, Anonymous rekhs said...

hey balaji i think ur reviews r awesome and u dont hv to sound apologetic abt yr style
dhool kilapariyay anyways:)
how abt sitting thru selvam???
:( selvam paatu dhaan kaykalai padamaavadhu paarkalamay?
rekhs
ps wld def b better than PS i can assure u

 
At 9:56 AM, Anonymous ram said...

BB, totally concur with rekhs...your reviews...but rekhs, i dont think he was apologetic abt it...he just came up with an apologia...

"the only 2 qualifications needed to be a movie reviewer are a love of movies and the ability to express your thoughts and feelings about a movie you have seen."

--> very true. I think its the expression that really counts...more than the objectivity or subjectivity of the reviews...its how you express it, that really matters...even if you fail to convince the reader one way or another...in the case of bbreviews, i love your reviews...i agree with a lot of your views, disagree with some, but thats not the point-- the point is I admire your skills as a writer and I respect your knowledge of movies...thats all that matters...

"By the same token, is there any review that can be called a bad review?" --> my defn. of a bad review: when the reviewer describes a jil as a jukk or a jukk as a jil ;)

 
At 10:02 AM, Blogger Cipher said...

// The reviewer's likes, dislikes, expectations about the film, feelings about the movie's theme, cinema knowledge(or lack thereof), mood, the atmosphere he saw the film in - all make their way into his/her review. // U r damn right... I had same word in my mind after reading Guru's post....

 
At 10:48 AM, Anonymous vijay said...

balaji, I have the same question as Ram. What provokes you into viewing a medicore movie in the first place? I assume you know atleast a little bit beforehand about the movie and dont have to watch the entire movie to know its medicore. Is it just your sheer love for movies and writing that makes you watch those movies and write about them? Also, is it possible to write an extremely good, well-written review on a movie that didnt make any sort of impact on you?You would be tempted to finish off the review too soon, just after listing the characters and plot details and having nothing much else to write about. What say you? I HAVE read what I consider well-written reviews on bad movies, but am just asking your personal experience with it.

And regarding your 3 choices, Ebert, Cranky and James -dang! those are the same 3 I read occasionally too.Cranky is an example as to how one need not be formal or serious with their writing style of reviews, especially when you have all the freedom in your own blog and are'nt writing for some magazine.Intentional sarcasm or humour, say while reviewing a bad movie, might add some levity amongst the serious reviews.

 
At 10:55 AM, Blogger packer said...

I agree with your opinions about the qualifications being a reviewer. The most intriguing thing i find about your reviews is the way you hide the plot, this is common thing i found in yours and eberts, but unfortunately i always try to look for plot first.

 
At 12:37 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

kaps, exactly! as long as u put to paper(or type in notepad!) what you felt when u saw the movie, your review will be unique.

suresh, yeah i did read that post. and agree 100% with it.

sriram, thanx :)

nithya, well said. u're right, the only way to be objective is to narrate the story. and that would be called a synopsis and not a review! a review is what u feel about the movie and since feelings differ from 1 person to another, they r defly subjective...
most of rediff review is taken up by the plot. but i think shobha does OK on not revealing spoilers...

arvind, thats a very nice definition. and as i've indicated in the comments, your detailed music reviews r a pleasure to
read.

gp, aaaah... i remember those times of 6 movies a week :)

bhuvan, the only reason is, i absolutely enjoy watching a tamil movie. when i go to the rental store, a new tamil movie is always my first choice and i opt for other languages only if no tamil movies r available. i do not read other reviews beforehand and so, i always start watching one in the hope that it will be good.
and free time is for doing something i enjoy right?
and as i've mentioned in the post, i do not watch any movie "just to write a review". i do not know its bad until i start watching it and once i have, i can never abandon it midway.

 
At 12:52 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

rekhs, ram's right. defly not apologetic. just my thots on reviews. didnt have access to 'selvam' songs. adhaan kekalai. but will see the movie as soon as it is available :)

ram, "I admire your skills as a writer and I respect your knowledge of movies" - thats high praise. thanx! but that was well-put. if i were to write an email to berardinelli as to why i read his reviews, thats exactly what i would say!

cipher, thanx!

vijay, good questions that prompted some introspection on my side too :-)
i'm guessing my answer to bhuvan answered some of your questions. to be honest, i try to know as little as i can about a movie but i don't allow what i know to dictate an opinion about it before i watch it. typically, i know only the cast and the genre of the movie but there's always a 'kaalatpadai' or 'amudhe' that goes against the trend and makes me glad i saw the film. so i always approach any movie with an open mind...

and i'm guessing that yes, its my sheer love of movies that prompts me to write about the ones i see.

whether a review is good and well-written has to be decided about the reader but i think it is possible to write a review on a movie that didnt impact u. and i've written a few of those. the fact that it didnt impact me and the reasons why it didnt would be a review wouldnt it? the review itself would defly be shorter than the review of a movie that had a great impact, but i think u would have some kinda feeling on any movie and that feeling becomes the review.

packer, thats intentional :) i think too much of the plot is a spoiler by itself. i try to reveal only as much of the plot as needed to reveal the genre of the movie and to write the rest of the review. a personal guideline is to never discuss the plot after the interval in detail :-)

 
At 1:40 PM, Anonymous ram said...

"if i were to write an email to berardinelli as to why i read his reviews, thats exactly what i would say!"

--> i would write the exact same thing to ebert, whom i admire a lot more than berardinelli...

 
At 2:33 PM, Blogger Vettees said...

Balaji
Good one.I would go with Vikatan review.For me Hinu never gives a honest review.Samw way I sometimes visit webulagam for reviews and there they are bashing every movies.

 
At 2:34 PM, Blogger Vettees said...

Sorry typo error it shoud be HINDU

 
At 4:35 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

ram, nenachen :)

vettees, hindu used to praise every movie. i think the reviews r better now. but i never read vikatan review before seeing the movie. they reveal too much about it...

 
At 1:45 AM, Blogger Venkat said...

Hi Balaji
Here is my take on reviews:
http://blogpur.blogspot.com/2005/08/letter-to-guru.html

 
At 12:15 PM, Blogger Kumari said...

Hi
Came across your page blog-hopping and been here since yesterday reading every single post from the first. All done, finally!
You have a highly entertaining style and i've read the review of every one of my fave movie to see what exactly your perception was...couldn't say i agreed at every point but hey! this place makes for an excellent read and i plan to come here more often. So do pls continue with your reviews coz we need them for more reasons than one :)

And a BIG hello to the li'l ones :)

 
At 4:07 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

venkat, i've read that and commented too...

kumari, wow. thanx for the really nice words. always good to hear such compliments... do keep coming back :)

 
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