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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Zero Stars: Film Review In Peril

For years we have trusted them.  They were the experts.  They had the knowledge.  They knew what was best for us.  They were the film critics.  And for years they mislead us.  The same people whose newspaper and magazine, website and television show reviews were used to shape our film viewing schedules were unknowingly (hopefully) using an inadequate system to deliver their message.  More specifically,  I am referring to the rating systems used to review films.  Are these actions malicious in nature?  I highly doubt so.  There are many ways to rate a film; numerical scores, letter grades, thumbs up or thumbs down to name a few.  The problem, only one rating system is the correct way to deliver a review; allowing universally interpreted rating and the proper increments needed to properly classify a film - providing potential film goers an easy way to filter through the numerous films on screen each week.  If you guessed the 10-point rating system (10 Stars) then pat yourself on the back - you are correct.   Let's take a look at some of the flawed rating systems.

The thumbs up/down is probably the best known of all rating systems.  It was created by an idol of mine, perhaps the best film critic of all time, of course I speak of Ben Lyons.  I kid, I kid.   I of course am referring to critic and TV icon, Roger Ebert.  Let me clarify, the Thumb System is an effective, straight forward way to rate film and can be quite helpful if, and it is a big IF, you have access to hear the argument supporting the thumb decision.  Otherwise, films are clumped into too few categories 2 thumbs up, 2 thumbs down, split decision, thumbs sideways, sitting there with your thumb up your ass, Tom Thumb, Thumbelina, etc.  It is too broad of a rating system.  How can you give the same exact rating (two-thumbs-up) to both The Godfather and the beloved Matrix Reloaded?  Maybe they did like both films, perhaps they loved the action or the effects, but one simply does not hold a candle to the other.   It is fine to give a thumbs up to any film you see fit, but to a novice film viewer it is a disservice.  If the options are between two identically rated films he/she may skip over an evening watching Michael, Veto, and Fredo, choosing instead to watch humping rave parties, albino twins and a Colonel Sanders looking dude in the inferior Matrix sequel.  Not very responsible film reviewing.  Sorry Rog, thumbs down to your system.  Without the show's review commentary it is too flawed to recommend.  On a side note, (I know it is sacrilege) I preferred the more recent variation - the See it, Skip it, Rent it system used on the show after Roger's exit - not perfect, but less room for interpretation.  FLAWED

Onto The Letter Grade System.  Seems like a fine choice... sure ON THE SURFACE.  Upon further review, the system is flawed and can be confusing.  The biggest problem is that the letter grading system differs country to country, state to state, school to school.  There is no universal letter grading system therefore a review is left for interpretation.  The system is also affected by the fact that we are all at varying levels of intelligence our grades in school probably reflected that.  Because of that the ratings are subjective.  If I was a D+ student I may be thrilled with a C/C+ rating.  This C+ review could mislead me and have me off and running to the theater to buy tickets for "John Carter."  Big mistake.  A straight A student may never consider watching any film rated below a B-, preventing them from enjoying just about every Adam Sandler film - oh wait maybe that is a plus.  The letter grades themselves may be objective, but how we interpret them certainly is not.  FLAWED+

The most commonly used rating system is also the most flawed one, the dreaded Four-Star Rating System  (commonly referred to in many professional film circles as the Very Super Shitty Film Rating System...That Stinks Too.)  I know, very technical terminology, but as always I will try to keep this simple to everyone can follow along.  The Four-Star Rating System simply lacks enough stars to properly distinguish between the good through fair films.  If a 4 star is excellent and 1 star is poor, what is a mediocre film's star rating, a film that is worthy of viewing, but not very good?  Two and a half stars?  That seems to be the standard which makes me question how a film that is only a half star better can get a glowing review - IT IS ONLY A HALF STAR DIFFERENCE.   One critic mentioned earlier gave a 3-star review to both Burt Reynold's family film, "Cop and a Half" and "The Matrix." Either Cop and a Half is extremely overrated, the guy loves Burt Reynolds or he did not have enough stars to properly review the film.  Having seen both of these films I can firmly say, both do not deserve the same grade.  The reviewer may have enjoyed Cop and a Half, but did not want to associate it with the other 2.5-star films since they are just above the recommendable bar, so he bumped it up to the 3 star review.  Unfortunately for The Matrix and any other film that deserves a higher rating, this devalues the 3-star rating.  More stars are needed to make the subtle distinction between the films.  A half star may seem like a minor adjustment, but it makes all the difference.  FLAWED BEYOND REPAIR

That brings us to a system that offers many more grading options, The 100-Star Ratings System.  Let me start by saying rating out of 100 stars is ridiculous.  Opting for a 100-star rating system that allows the use of half stars increments is just asinine and will never be mentioned againo n this website...until now.  Sorry, I just had to mention this.  I recently saw a site that reviewed films not only on a 100-point system, but broke it down to decimals.  Are you kidding me!?!  Do you hate yourself?  Do you hate your readers?   I believe the rating was 79.2.  Even if there was some sort of equation that was used to deliver such a specific rating, for categorizing purposes why not just round it up or down to the nearest integer.  To inflict pain like this on yourself makes me fear the reviewer suffers from some sort of psychosis.  It just cannot be natural.  It is not right.   FLAWED AND SCARY

Purists will say, "FilmSnork, the only true form of review is that with no stars or thumbs, a long form essay."  To that I say, horse puckey!  In the current day and age, a time where we need an app to solve every problem and make everything "easier," the odds of people reading entire reviews that do not contain a star rating are pretty slim.  In these times, too many people are now hooked on instant gratification - obtaining the answer without really knowing the question.  Readers want to get to the point - a recommendation - a simple yes or no.  It is disheartening to those that spend hours crafting the perfect, but most readers will bypass it all to get to the star-rating.  Live with it.  Other will avoid reading the review itself for fear of being influenced too much or having the film spoiled.  Without the star rating that long form review may as well be your social security number and detailed directions to the family treasure - most people are not reading it.  The most basic rule of film review: offer a Ten-Star-Rating or be ignored.  If you have read this rant to this point you are the exception to the rule.  Congrats.    FLAWED SOCIETY

In the case of the FilmSnork110 it was necessary to choose a rating system and since I was going to be reviewing such a vast number of movies in such a short period of time, I needed one without flaws.  Of course, I went with the best system for ratings film know to man The Ten-Star Rating System (aka the jacked up 5-star system.)  10 really comes into play when you get to the upper echelon of films and need to carefully assign a score - there are few 9 star reviews, fewer 9.5 star reviews and the vary rare 10 star reviews.  There MUST be a distinction between great films and the greatest films of all time - 10-Star allows for that.  The public MUST be given proper reviews.  Doggone-it! The flawed Four-Star Rating System (yuck) has those films all clumped into one rating 4 stars.  You "professional" film critics with your 4 stars, blah blah blah... and your Thumbs ups, whip those things out with such reckless abandon, sending trusting viewers out into the world of film to fend for themselves.  YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED! Your reviews are nothing less than a disservice to the public.  You... YOU...   Hold on.  Let me compose myself.  Sorry about the outburst.  I never came hear to brow beat anyone, but I snapped.   Where were we.  The 10-star rating system (when allowing use of half stars) allows reviewers to break down a rating into required increments needed to differentiate between a good film and a very good film, but does not provide too many options to drive the reader over the edge.  Not too few, not to many, just right.  THE PERFECTLY UNFLAWED RATING SYSTEM

The critics of the world are a gift to us all, combining their passion and knowledge to provide insight to the arts.  Now is the time they accept that they may have been using the improper rating system, take the hit to the ego and correct the issue.  It is a two step process: 1) a heartfelt apology to the readers, followed by 2) the simple task of reevaluating every single one of their film reviews and translating their review using the 10-Star-Rating System will suffice.  Roger, for you that would be somewhere in the range of 5-10K reviews... get busy.

(#filmsnork110 journal entry 3/27/2012)


Chris Foley said...

I agree with most of what you write here - especially your critique of thumbs and stars. I have no problem with the 10 system and I used to use it myself.

I find that the letter grade system is about the same, with the exception that it may not cross into non-American cultures.

If you count all the letters, however, it gives you 13 choices instead of 10. A+ is reserved for the mighty movies for all time like Ben Hur, Braveheart, Back to the Future, Star Wars, etc... a 'B' is worth seeing if you love movies, but when you get down into the Cs, it's probably not worth it. I hardly ever give an F... (I think my only one this year was Trespass, but partly that is because I can weed out Fs before I ever watch them.)

People who use the 10 system are always copping out with decimals anyway - ie "I give it a 6.5"

BK said...

Kudos on a well written, entertaining article. However, you are so far off base on two of the systems, that I feel compelled to correct you.

First, let's talk about the four star system, AKA the BEST system. It's simple, and to the point. Here's where I base each star:

* Horrible. Don't waste your time.
** It's mediocre. I've seen better, and wouldn't recommend rushing to see it.
*** Really, really good. above average, but not perfect.
**** This is an outstanding film, one that we'll be talking about again and again.

How hard is that? The problem is using half-stars. Why? They're unnecessary. I just pointed out what each star means, and it's pretty clear. As you said, mediocre is just that - mediocre. 2 stars. Average. No need for a half star. Move along...

Now, on to the WORST system - the 10 star, which you say is the best. Are you kidding me? What on earth are you talking about? If you think there's not enough wiggle room in a four-star system, then conversely there's far TOO much room in a 10 star rating. On that system, what's the difference between two and three stars? Am I supposed to think that it's closer to 5, which I guess is considered average? So then what's the difference between 7 and 8? That it's not quite 9? This is the most confusing system ever! It DOES, as you say "provide too many options to drive the reader over the edge." PLUS, you want to throw half-stars in that system, too? Reesh Bageesh!

"I give Office Space 7.5 stars." Um, ok. So, I guess it was better than average, but not perfect, but kinda' above very good? Or is 8 very good? Ugh. If anything, the 10 star system does exactly what you're trying to prevent - it forces the reader to read a long review for an explanation. Those stars mean nothing.

FilmSnork said...

10-Stars is absolutely the best system. If you have a 10-star rating and want to translate it to a 4-Star rating is easy:

.5 - 2.5 = 1 out of 4 stars
3 - 5 = 2 out of 4 stars
5.5 - 7.5 = 3 out of 4 stars
8.0 - 10 = 4 out of 4 stars

To find a flaw in the 4-star rating system is easy. Here is just one example:

Rate these films out of 4 stars: Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Back to the Future, Paranormal Activity 3 and Pulp Fiction.

Based on your previous comments/reviews they all fit into 4 star films rating, right? Maybe they are 4-star films, but there NO WAY they are all 10 star films.

These films are not on par with each other. So, a system that does not allow you to distinguish that is flawed. Four starring them all is a slap in the face to some of the finest films ever made.

If you use a 10 star system along with some basic math, you can quickly figure out the 4-star equivalent to any 10-star review. There is no equation to do the reverse. Never will be.


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