In Defense of Criticizing FilmOpinion
As an English Literature major, the main purpose of my education is to read literature critically. I have been taught to notice patterns, absorb themes, and to do my best to get as close as I can to an author's intended meaning.
Traditionally, literature is defined as any written works, especially those of artistic merit. However, the techniques of literary analysis is not exclusively applicable to musty old books; anything from the most esteemed volume of Dickens to a movie with the lowest of budgets are open to benefit criticism. However, many of my peers do not share these beliefs. When criticizing a movie, I am often told, “It’s just a movie. Why are you getting so worked up about it?”
Movies are, for better or worse, one of the most widely distributed and consumed forms of media. The more popular films are seen by millions of people, spreading their themes and artistic merit (or lack thereof) to millions. With the massive budgets of these films and the huge audiences who view them, there is no excuse for a bad movie.
Movies, as a medium, are an intricate blend of audio and visual entertainment. In contrast to the visual medium of photographs and the exclusively audio medium of radio, films combine the two to provide a more deep and crafted experience. This enables movies to create art by blending these two mediums in incredible ways. For instance, the concept and entertainment value of The Godfather are not the only things that stick with viewers, whether they know it or not; the relationship between the cinematography, music, and actors' performances come together in a way that all great movies strive to do. Whether viewers are seasoned critics or the most casual film fan, the image of Vito Corleone in a shadowy room or the strings of the haunting theme sticks with the audience. Therefore, the inception of movies created a way of storytelling that had never been done before.
I would argue that movies can preserve or shed light on a time or a culture. Movies such as Footloose and Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, while not the most artistic films ever made, have a good deal to say about the ideas and hobbies of the people of those times. In the same vein, period films can capture the past for those who will never experience it for themselves. Saving Private Ryan not only captures the horrors of World War II and the sacrifice that the soldiers made for us, but reminds viewers of the terror of war in general and the continued sacrifice of the Armed Forces.
All of this is to say that movies are a form of art, so there is value to analyzing them. Of course, not all movies are meant to be taken seriously. Simple comedy and action movies that are intended only to entertain have value of their own. It is worth nothing, however, that there are standards for such films. The Indiana Jones series of films are meant only to be entertaining and well-made B movies; in spite of that, the differences between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are apparent. The Crystal Skull lacks the grit, the hand-crafted special effects, and the appeal of the main character that the original films had. These films were not meant to be taken too seriously, but fans of the series were outraged by the forth Indiana Jones’s mediocrity. This goes to show that crafting movies meant solely for entertainment is an art form of its own.
In contrast, movies that take themselves seriously open themselves up to additional scrutiny. If an implausible event or a plothole exists in a Marvel movie, the audience is likely to look past it because those movies are meant only to be a fun romp in a fantasy universe. On the other hand, if a film that takes itself as seriously as Batman vs. Superman, critics are going to put up with a much less. The DC cinematic universe may involve an all-powerful alien and a grown man dressed up like a bat, but the movies are as somber as a funeral; furthermore, the directors expect for the audience to take the plot as seriously as their moody characters. This works well in the superbly made Christopher Nolan Batman films; on the other hand, a similar serious tone and plot destroys the aforementioned Batman vs. Superman (along with bad writing, of course). In short, some movies are meant to be taken more seriously than others, but a movie had better be good if the audience is expected to take them seriously.
Finally, we get to the meat of the argument: What is the value of watching a movie critically? Wouldn’t a viewer get more out of the movie by simply enjoying it for what it is? To answer the second question, it depends on the movie. The Hobbit films are entertaining and visually impressive movies. When one digs a little deeper, however, they suffer from crippling pacing issues and occasional disregard for the original source material. Furthermore, The Hobbit pales considerably in comparison to the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films. If I watched The Hobbit without analyzing the plot or comparing it to the book or other films in the series, I would have enjoyed the film much more. In contrast, analyzing To Kill a Mockingbird using the same principles allows me to enjoy the film much more than on a surface level. My appreciation for the film’s score, acting, writing, and transition into a new medium increase my enjoyment of the film.
In the big scheme of things, analyzing films has dramatically changed the way I watch movies; I hate films that are clunky or straight up failures even more than I did before, but I find an appreciation for the truly great films that allows me to enjoy them on an even deeper level. Of course, I have an appreciation for the good-bad movies such as Troll 2 and Birdemic, but the charming terrible-ness of these movies are the exception to the rule.
Appreciation of art is the mark of a strong, developed culture. Historians and philosophers have noted correlations between a lack of standards for art with a decline of societies such as the Roman Empire; therefore, film is an aspect of American culture that is worth holding to a higher standard. Critical analysis helps me enjoy what I love even more, so I’m going to keep striving to dig deeper in the films that I appreciate (or those that I don’t). In all aspects of life, one shouldn't settle for less. In a culture that thrives on entertainment, films are certainly no exception.