ratingsLast week i wrote an article questioning why movies with low average review ratings, like New Moon, break box office records regardless. It got me thinking about the whole concept of rating a movie, and whether ‘marks out of ten’ was really still a useful film criticism tool.

Here at HUG, like many modern movie blogs, we tend not to give numerical ratings. The reason, on my part at least, is because criticizing a work of art that has taken hundreds of people many many months to create is pretentious enough. To then go on to attribute it an arbitrary numerical value seems crass. Now, i appreciate the reasons why a grading is given. Some people don’t want to trawl through lines and lines of text to decipher whether a film is worth watching. A large percentage of casual movie goers just look at the number of stars at the bottom, and go by that. This isn’t necessarily wrong, it offers a tidy summary of the quality of the movie.

The problem, of course, is that a review is an opinion. By merely going by a number on a page, you’re putting your faith in the opinion of someone you don’t know, with no idea if they have similar tastes. New Moon is a good example. Many reviews have marked it down saying it sticks too closely to the source novel, instead of adapting the story more to the needs of a well structured movie. The Twilight fans however have pointed to that as one of the reasons they DO like it. They love the book, and they want a faithful copy of that source.

Watchmen suffered similarly in reviews, with critics suggesting it shouldn’t have been a direct translation. Yes, it would have been more accessible to non-fans if this had been the case, but the people that love the graphic novel would have been outraged. With these two properties, the fans went to see the films anyway, so maybe 2012 is a better example.

I look at a review, it gives 2012 two out of five stars. I decide not to see it. If i’d read the full review, it would have been bemoaning the lack of intelligent storyline and nuanced acting, decrying it’s over the top action and CGI effects. I might like over the top action and effects, but i’ve missed out now.

How about five out of ten rated films? Surrogates is about as average a movie you can get, nothing particularly good but nothing spectacularly bad either. 9 has some great elements, the animation is spectacular and the action beautifully choreographed, but the plot development and storyline are seriously flawed. Both five out ten, but for wildly different reasons. Avatar hits in two weeks. There are two elements to be considered, the usual storyline considerations, and whether the new 3D effects are a huge leap forward. The story could be good, but the tech disappointing. Are we going to give two separate ratings?

I know what you’re thinking. ‘People should read the text as well as the score if they really want a review of the film’. And yes, they should. But too often they don’t, or won’t. You present an easy option, and people get lazy. A bigger problem is that sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Meta Critic collate ratings and provide an overall average. This results in news stories like ‘New Moon Averages Just 38%’. This colours people’s perceptions of a movie before they even get near a review, so quite often they won’t bother reading one. I accept that yes, if people are happy to go solely by a number that’s their prerogative, and if they really care they should check out the full write up.

My biggest problem with a rating system is that you can never give a movie full marks. The reasons are two-fold. Firstly, full marks suggest perfection. Who has the stones to call any film perfect? Ask yourself, which movies would you give ten out of ten? The Godfather? The Shawshank Redemption? Dark Knight? There are some amazing films, but could we honestly call any of them perfect?

The other reason why you can never give a film top marks is that no matter how brilliant it is, there’s the possibility a superior movie could be released the following week. How can you give a far superior piece the same rating? In a hypothetical situation, imagine The Godfather is released, and you give it ten out of ten. Then, like Che, Part II is released the next month. How do you rate it?

It makes a mockery of the numerical grading system. As journalists, we have a responsibility to tell the full story, not stamp a piece with a potentially misleading one digit summary. At the same time, the reader has their own responsibility to use all available data to make an informed decision. If they don’t, they could be missing out on a movie they’d love.

Bazmann ““ You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/baz_mann