Thursday, March 11, 2010

Movie quality is not subjective

Arguments about whether a film is good or not, are commonplace all over the world. It is an everyday conversational topic at work, at home, in bars and even between total strangers on buses. Very often these arguments end with one or both parties reluctantly stating that the quality of a film is all about personal preferences.

While one person will turn away in disgust at the sight of a particular gruesome murder on screen and then say that a movie was "bad" because of all the blood, that very same scene might be what makes someone else smile and yell out "YEAH!" before charging off to tell their friends all about what a cool film he just watched. Also a documentary about a specific subject might be utterly boring to one person, while the same film will be the most amazing thing someone else ever saw. Different people simply like different things. And so, a film can be interpreted many different ways, according to who is watching it.

Yet, at the same time, there are certain aspects of any film that are always the same. No matter who is watching it. The editing, colors, audio, dialogue, the way the set looks and the way the camera moves is exactly the same to all audiences. What many people are not aware of, is that all these things are not coincidences. Everything has been thoroughly planned by the filmmakers, and no matter what happens on screen there's always a reason for why they wanted it to happen.

Still, it is not expected that a person who has never made a film themselves will recognize what is good lighting, editing, writing, etc. This takes practice. And that's where making-ofs, interviews with filmmakers and books about the craft come in. Like the solution to an insolvable puzzle, these tools are pure gold. With this realization comes the ability to really appreciate the wonderful world of movies. The more of these you watch, read and generally devour, the more you will recognize the quality of what you are watching.

By following this idea, no longer will a film be simply good or bad. There will always be a thought out explanation backing your verdict. A movie might be masterfully lit, poorly edited, cleverly written, wonderfully choreographed, and so on.

The person who was previously disgusted at the sight of blood will no longer claim the film was "bad" for that reason alone. She will understand that the filmmakers put that scene in there to make her feel disgusted. If the filmmakers achieve what they set out to do, they are successful. And that actually turns it into a good movie. Neither will a documentary be judged merely by the subject it tries to tackle, but also by the way it was executed.

People will still appreciate different things, but their reasons will carry more weight. And the more people who think in this way, the more of these silly arguments will turn into interesting conversations.

That is why, much like a person who's just knows the basic rules of poker might think the game is all about luck; a person who still insists that movie quality is simply subjective, is actually saying that he or she does not know very much about movies at all. And these people are not worth discussing movies with.

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