Why the clamor for "objective film criticism"
Francesco Corso, Staff Writer
In an increasingly interconnected age, it has become possible for individuals to voice any opinion online with an increasing degree of ease. With that comes a variety of opinions on a number of different topics. One such topic is media criticism, especially movies. There have been a number of polarizing movies released in recent years that have elicited an array of user reviews submitted to sites such as Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. With that has come this notion that there is a form of objective criticism of film, which is completely oxymoronic and antithetical to the very nature of criticism.
First thing’s first: we need to establish what the purpose of reviews. Reviews are designed to inform potential viewers about whether or not a movie worth seeing. Professional critics are specifically paid in order to voice their opinion about a movie and give it a numerical rating based on how they viewed the overall quality of the movie. Due to the fact that critics often see significantly more movies than your average moviegoer, they often may have differing opinions and tend to look at movies differently, oftentimes being more critical of things that typical audiences may give a pass. As a result, several organizations such as Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and CinemaScore have formed to track how general audiences felt about a movie. It is worth noting that Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic are inherently flawed in their methodology as the anonymous system allows users to make multiple accounts or utilize bots to automatically create reviews. Furthermore, these sites are prone to self-selection bias as individuals who really liked or disliked a movie are more likely to leave reviews which can skew the results. CinemaScore is significantly better as they conduct random polling in movie theatres in major cities across the country. Ultimately, these metrics are gauging the same thing: opinions.
So, if reviews are inherently opinionated and thus subject to the bias of those leaving a review, what can we do to alleviate that? In short, we can’t. Simply put, movies are an art form and art is subjective by its very nature. There is no mathematical formula that can be utilized to determine if a film is good or not. Some may still remain unconvinced however and may even provide several objections. What about claims like, “the acting wasn’t convincing” or “the CGI doesn’t look that good?” Clearly, those are objective statements, right? Wrong! As stated above you can’t really quantify a statement like that. You only provide an opinion. Ultimately, the idea of “objective criticism” is nothing more than a fleeting dream. An “objective review” would ultimately be close to worthless as all one can really do is relate to what happens in the movie, without actually analyzing anything. At that point, you’d basically have a synopsis or an overview.
Finally, with this whole debate, I have to address the elephant in the room. That elephant, of course, is the claim that somehow critics are compromised by large companies such as Disney, by accepting bribes in exchange for good reviews. This claim rose to prominence upon the launch of the movie “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which was near-universally slammed by critics, sitting at a lowly 27 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with an audience score of 63 percent. The narrative is somehow that Disney, who owns Marvel the main competitor to DC Comics, paid critics to give the movie bad reviews in order to cause poor performance at the box office. Conversely, the narrative also suggests a film like “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” which has a critical and audience score of 91 percent and 45 percent respectively, saw Disney, who also owns Lucasfilm, pay critics in order to give it good reviews. Simply put, there is absolutely no evidence to corroborate this story whatsoever. On top of that, there is an easy answer to explain these discrepancies. People want different things from movies and thus have differing opinions. The main conclusion here, putting aside the flawed nature of the audience score for a second, is that critics largely didn’t like “Batman v Superman” and a little over half the audience did, and conversely, critics nearly universally enjoyed “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and the audience is divided on the subject. There is no conspiracy, nor are critics wrong. They simply disagree with audiences for any number of reasons.
At the end of the day, one should never base their view of a film based on reviews. You should watch it for yourself and form your own opinions. If you sit there clamoring about “objective criticism” or assert that your tastes are more refined, then you’re simply wrong. People are all different and thus, tastes in the film will differ alongside that.