Let’s examine critics of art and storytelling…

This post is a response to something written by William Birch. Normally, Will is prolific with his writing on Theology, Church History and social issues. Occasionally he also offers his insights on new films. His most recent review was on the financial blockbuster Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. You can read that review here.

It’s no secret that BvS has gotten a lot of press simply over the reviews. Audiences are loving it worldwide and critics have been extremely… well… critical. If you go to the popular movie review website Rotten Tomatoes you will see the movie got a 29% from a pool of critics while the audience score was 71%. That’s a giant margin!

Will then wrote a great article, essentially critiquing the critics. While I agree with his big picture point, I think there is more that can be said here…

Possibly in defense of the critics.

The post that I am responding to, “The Problem With Film Critics..” can be found here.

The core of Will’s argument is this:

“When viewing critics consensus for any film, the audience needs to consider both the critic and the audience points of view, and the two do not always agree. Audiences need to remember that the agenda of the critic differs from that of the average movie-goer, the former looking through the lens of screen theory, and the latter through the lens of entertainment.”

 

First, there will always be tension when discussing the arts. And this is why I am not so quick to dislike film critics, though my honest inclination is to just assume they are all “high art” film snobs that only enjoy films in French or German.

In any art form, my belief is that there is an objective/subjective tension. I believe in real objective beauty. I also believe that subjective preference comes into play when you are watching a movie, viewing a piece of art, or listening to music. I think in all those cases, objective categories exist that can demonstrate if something is beautiful. Are they always easy to understand? Not necessarily. But when you are looking at a sunset or listening to Moonlight Sonata, I believe you are experiencing objective beauty.

But there are also elements of subjectivity. I prefer hearing the piano-only version of Moonlight Sonata, while others might not. I like it when sunsets have a lot of purple and orange in them. That’s my preference in viewing this objectively beautiful thing.

So what about movies? How can we say there are some that have an objective standard? This is how critics are even able to make the assessment of whether a movie is good or not. I want to argue that there is an inherent structure in storytelling that makes the story either satisfying or not.

Why I think there is a structure that is inherently satisfactory is because, like any biblically-driven person, I believe the truth in the Bible corresponds to reality. I believe the compelling nature of the gospel story is what inspires the general rule for a complete story. So what are these structural necessities?

I’m not breaking new ground or saying anything shocking with these principals:

  1. Introduction of character and setting (Gen. 1-2)
  2. Identify your protagonist and antagonist (God and Satan, followed by man in Gen. 3)
  3. Conflict and drama (the majority of the bible, but Romans 3:23 basically)
  4. Resolution (1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 2:2)

I believe that those are the inherent components of a good and satisfying story. The subjective element comes in the execution of these principals. That is why there will always be disagreement among critics and viewers.

Now back to Will’s post. What I want to suggest is that sometimes critics are valid in their harsh critiques of films, whether it’s an “Oscar-bait” drama or a comic book movie. In the post, Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen was mentioned. This movie was HATED by critics but went on to gross record amounts of money. Might I suggest that many average movie-goers simply enjoy things that are not good? Things that are of poor quality.

Now how am I escaping that statement without becoming an arrogant jerk? Let’s ask the director of Transformers 2, Michael Bay. In an interview with Empire, Bay said:

“The real fault with [Transformers 2] is that it ran into a mystical world. When I look back at it, that was crap. The writers’ strike was coming hard and fast. It was just terrible to do a movie where you’ve got to have a story in three weeks.”

“I was prepping a movie for months where I only had 14 pages of some idea of what the movie was”

That movie ended up making over $836 million in 2009. Even though, according to the man that made it, it was crap. It had no story while it was being made! Critics were right to judge that movie harshly, just as its creator and stars did. But people ate it up.

I am not saying you should never watch or enjoy a movie that isn’t made well. I am suggesting that there is a criteria to judge art. Critics have to make their reviews based on the objective nature of story-telling. That doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy a film.

On the other end, I don’t want to give a complete pass to critics. They are normal people with bias and agendas and sometimes bring more into a review than they should.

Also, the very nature of being a film critic puts a person outside the mainstream. They can’t relate to the average movie-goer because their job asks them to see far more movies than you and I ever will. Much like a chef whose pallet is more refined than the average person, seeing 150 movies in a year tends to make you picky!

My suggestion is that for film, literature, or whatever medium you are interested in, find a critic who shares your thoughts on your chosen art form. Someone you tend to agree with. If all we are going to critics for is to find out if we should experience something, it makes sense to ask someone who likes the same things you do. Seek out a reviewer you agree with and you’ll know if you should be spending that $20 at the theater or not.

I also want to challenge you to find a reviewer or critic you disagree with and see what they have to say as well. You may be exposed to a new way of thinking and gain perspective. We should never become so insulated that we only hear the echo of our own voice.

If movies are your passion, I want to suggest a movie review podcast called Now Playing Podcast. They have been instrumental in shaping how I view movies and process them. Typically they interact with comic book films, sci-fi, horror, and all the movies that the average viewer would be interested in.

If you have any questions about this post, leave a comment or email me at worldviewreviews@gmail.com.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @World_Re_Views, where we do mini-reviews and talk about worldview trends in movies and literature.

You can also follow William Birch on Twitter @WilliamWBirch or go to his website The Anglican-Arminian Blog

Review by Ryan.

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