As a child, I adored going into stores selling books, films, and CDs. I could spend hours browsing through their collection, gazing at the covers of films or DVDs, and then not buying anything.
I still love the feeling of stepping into such a store. But now, I also feel slightly overwhelmed— like a single human with 24 hours in a day, encompassed by the vast, endlessness of human-made content. A part of my brain reminds me that I would never be able to watch or read even a fraction of what they have on display in my lifespan.
Out of all the options available, how do you choose? And on what basis?
When it comes to films, I’m the kind of person who simply has to read reviews. There are people out there who disagree with my approach, preferring instead to ‘watch the film themselves, form their own opinions, and write their own review.’ To them, I say, you have an awful amount of free time on your hands (or perhaps you’re compromising on sleep to binge films and shows, which is arguably worse). Instead of sitting through a terrible or even sub-par film, I prefer to wait for an extra day or two for the reviews to arrive in the papers. The problem is that these days even the reviews can’t be trusted. Every media firm is politically aligned one way or the other and their pockets are stuffed enough to sway the words that spill out of their pens. NDTV, for instance, gave a higher rating to Veere Di Wedding than to Infinity War! Calling this decision ‘questionable’ would be a colossal euphemism— whether the reason was paid influence, terrible taste or a Marvel-loathing reviewer, a 2.5 to Infinity War is still unacceptable.
Stark differences between the opinions expressed in one film review and another are also quite common, which is why I read several of them before finally deciding to watch the film. Moreover, I like reading critic as well as public reviews. Critics sometimes view a movie from an analytical and technical perspective, picking out flaws that only film connoisseurs care about. These shortcomings may impact the movie-viewing experience of an expert but the general public, consisting of people like you and me, often do not really care for these things. We may not even notice them.
To take just one example out of the many, Aladdin’s recent live-adaptation was received by critics with mixed reviews. Depending on which critic you ask or trust, the film either ‘maintained a feel-good factor throughout its duration’, ‘was pointless in a particularly aggressive way’, ‘ended up tripping over itself’, or was ‘colourful and pretty.’ For me, an average film-goer who knows nothing of the recipe behind a great film, the movie was an entertaining ride from the start till the end. I thoroughly enjoyed the acting, the colours, the sets, the humour, the dancing, the drama, and most importantly, the newly empowered and bold Princess Jasmine, who refused to be silenced. It is, of course, a remake that should be compared to previous screen retellings of the story, but it does manage to successfully put its own spin on the tale and make it relevant in today’s times. Tons of regular people, without a trained eye for good cinema, would agree with me. On Rotten Tomatoes, the ‘Tomatometer’ for Aladdin, indicating positive ratings by professionals, stands at 54% compared to an audience score of 94%. The film has grossed more than $1 billion in the box office, demonstrating that the masses across the world clearly loved it. The numbers speak for themselves, and this is definitely not the only film for which this is the case.
Considering all of this— the doubt cast on the authenticity of film reviews, the inconsistencies between different critical receptions, and the disparity between the opinions of the people and professionals— we come back to the question we started with: How do you choose?
Well, if you want to be really thorough with your pre-film watching research, then your only option is to refer to all of these sources and figure out what the majority of them agree upon. Mostly, though, the process is usually more intuitive than it appears to be. For me, if a film captures my attention, I have the time on my hands to watch it, and the reviews are mixed or above average, I would choose to give it a chance.
And now, it’s only going to get easier for us to decide what to view. With companies like Netflix and Amazon Prime improving their recommendation systems, perhaps there would soon be no need for any of us to go to all of this trouble. These algorithms will be able to decide what will be worth our (limited) while, better than even we can!
Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this issue dedicated to cinema.
P.S. I just realised I missed a golden opportunity to write a letter to cinema, and end with the salutation ‘with love‘.
Oh, well.6 Likes