With more and more films pushing the boundaries of the movie-going experience, it seems that almost everyone has an opinion about the latest blockbuster in the cinema. In fact, if you go online right now, you’ll see a bunch of critics deconstruct everything about a movie, from the music and performances to the color grading and the visual effects.
It’s one thing to like or dislike a movie (we’re entitled to our own opinions, after all), but it always seems like these intellectual, academic-type critics love to rip on popular films that everyone loves. Whether it’s stuffy reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or those annoying scene-by-scene breakdowns on YouTube, it always seems like these high-falutin’ critics love to hate the movies that you love personally.
Sometimes it gets to a point where you ask yourself: Am I dumb for liking a movie that a critic hates? Am I some kind of Philistine who can’t tell the difference between real art and crud?
Well, not so. What everyone needs to understand is that critics and audiences have a very different perspective on movies and they look for very different things. Just because you like something a critic hates doesn’t mean you’re uncultured.
But what makes a film critic’s perspective so different from “regular” people?
Understanding the Critic
The universal stereotype of the professional film critic is that of a boring, stuffy, elitist jerk who probably wouldn’t know what fun was even if it stared them in the face. These sweater-vest-wearing knobs hate everything popular: sci-fi movies, chick flics, anything animated, and of course, the biggest comedy blockbuster of the year. Basically, if more than 5 people like it, they think it’s terrible.
That’s the STEREOTYPE, however. How close is it to real life?
Rather than relying on old and tired tropes, let’s try to understand the film critic’s perspective:
Most critics don’t see films as entertainment; rather than seeing movies as spectacle, they see them as cultural artifacts, tools to be used in the academic study of the cultures that produced them. As an offshoot of literary criticism, film studies has always necessitated the employment of art theory. As such, the film critic’s academic approach belongs to the cultural anthropology discipline, thus requiring it to be more in-depth and more concerned with its cultural value.
Rather than basing a film’s value on enjoyability, the film critic studies the larger cultural impact and implication of a particular film.
Think of it this way: film critics focus more on the wider context in which the films were made and how they’re seen by audiences. To the film critic, movies, as well as other pop culture items, are the examples they can provide in support of a particular theory they have about society, humanity, or art in general.
Critics also put a spotlight on the filmmakers themselves, often comparing different films from the same director, or actor, or studio, etc. This is called the “Auteur Theory”, which is a particular branch of film criticism that sees a single director’s films as a collective representation of his or her vision. Other critics might approach their criticism by analyzing a particular actor and how that artist approaches the different roles that they take on. Film critics might also look at the studio that’s producing the movie and analyze whether or not the film was released to cater to a particular audience or if it’s just a way for the studio to make money.
Regardless of how they approach a movie, the film critic will always do so from an academic perspective, analyzing the deeper and wider connotations of films, although they do so at the expense of seeing films for their entertainment value.
This is why they’re stuffy and uptight: they have to be. And you don’t have to agree with them when they say a film is good or bad, because as an audience member, you’re seeing films from a very different perspective.
Understanding the Audience
So, if the critic is the snooty academic, does that make the general audience a mass of dirty slobs who are aggressively uncultured? Of course not, and no critic would argue that as well. But for every Tree of Life that gets ignored for the latest film in the Transformers franchise, film critics jump on the opportunity to decry humanity’s steady slide into an idiocracy, the success of another mindless Adam Sandler comedy more proof of our cultural devolution.
But that’s where the film critic gets it wrong, mostly because most of these mass-produced studio franchises weren’t made to be seen from an academic perspective. Simply put, they’re not made to be taken seriously. More often than not, these films were made by studios to generate as much profit as possible, and to do that, they need a spectacle that’s easy to market and easy to watch.
These mass market movies aren’t high art; they are, however, rich in explosions, car chases, witty one liners, explosions, hand-to-hand fighting, explosions, gun fighting, explosions, sword fighting, oh and, explosions. It doesn’t take much to create a movie that will have people lining up at the box office, and when it’s done right, it translates to serious profit for the studio.
All these, of course, are added at the expense of deep dialogue or poignant story telling. But that’s ok, some films deliberately avoid those things so that they can focus on creating a spectacle, a lights-and-sounds show that distracts people from reality, even for a brief moment.
And The Winner Is…
You can be both a critic AND an audience member, depending on the film you watch. Even in serious academic studies, criticism is only applied to a handful of subjects, as some pieces might not have enough substance to critique, and that’s ok. Not all movies were made to be studied, some movies are just there for you to enjoy. But conversely, there is a certain beauty in examining a “serious” film for its academic merits, and there’s nothing wrong with appreciating an arthouse film more than a major blockbuster, and vice-versa.
The only takeaway? Don’t be a jerk; let people enjoy things!