Review has to be the most abused word in blogdom, where anybody with a three-line opinion about a movie becomes a reviewer.
Don’t get me wrong. I totally buy the point that it helps the layman to make himself heard and trash movies he does not like. Truly wonderful, because, as a filmmaker, I want to know what people think about movies. It’s as honest a response as you can get. Almost virginal, straight from the heart of a man/woman who is reacting to something he/she just watched. I’m all for bloggers to pour their heart out about movies.
But academically speaking, there is a need to differentiate between an opinion and a review. It might seem the same to the layman, but there is a world of difference.
Reviews are an offshoot of analysis. Done purely by experienced journalists who understand the medium they are reviewing — Food, cinema, music, books, etc. And, a review is not just opinion. It is the juxtaposition of what a communicator (filmmaker/writer/chef/artiste) is trying to say, with what the audience perceives it as (you) and studying closely the devices which help the communicator connect or disconnect with his audience.
Simply speaking, when we are talking about films, it is about studying the filmmaker’s intent (based on interviews), the message (deconstructing form and content) itself and the message as perceived/likely to be understood by the common man (common cribs, usually reflected through word of mouth/blogs/audience feedback).
What does a reviewer study? He examines how far the filmmaker has succeeded in what he’s sought to do, how has he done it, what makes it smart communication and where does it fail and why, the cinematic techniques in form which enrich or curtail the narrative, the validity of the story itself (content) and its plausibility, the alienation devices used to differentiate fantasy from realism and the genre and a basic summary of what is good about the movie and why it is good and what is bad about the movie and why is it bad. Based on the pros and cons, sometimes, the reviewer tells you if its worth watch or not. Sometimes, he lets you decide if you must.
So how is this not mere opinion?
Because, review writing is a scientific process to a large extent. Which is why it is the job of a specialist. Which is why there are film schools teaching people film appreciation and criticism.
Which means that facts mentioned in the review cannot be contested because they are valid and true.
A review is not mere retelling of the story of the film. It is an objective, holistic, look at the sender, receiver, the message, the noise and the feedback.
Sender = filmmaker
Receiver = audience
Message = story (content) and how it is told: the narrative (form),
Noise = defect in the message (things within the message that cause miscommunication between the filmmaker and the audience)
Feedback = how the audience responds/is likely to it.
While studying sender, you read interview to find out filmmaker’s intent and what he’s tried to say and also, who is he trying to talk to?
While studying audience, you study the RELEVANT audience (as desired by the filmmaker… the people the filmmaker has made the film for) response. For example, Vijay’s films might be most politically incorrect, but is he trying to talk to those who believe in political correctness? You have to consider what the crowd in the hall has to say. What is the box office telling you?
While studying the message, you study the content (the story, the plot, the sub-plots, the characters, their world, their problems and the things that lead to resolution of the conflict) and then the form (the devices, the ploys, the ups and downs, the colours, the music, the editing, the art direction among other techniques and technicalities used to convey everything listed under content) and see if this form and content appeals to the intended target group.
While studying noise, you need the skills, the expertise and the knowledge gained through training and/ or experience in understanding cinematic form, the history, the trends, the hurdles, the collective conscious of the society, the context, the political correctness etc.
While studying feedback, you need to see the consequences of the movie on the common man. How responsible is it? Will it lead to civil unrest and make people of two communities kill each other? Will it glorify violence? Will it promote racism? Will it lead to more men on streets thinking sexual harassment is cool?
Collating all of this under 500 words needs quite a bit of skill and understanding of cinema, which only comes with time. Which is why film criticism is serious business. Which is why Raja Sen, Baradwaj and Lazy are such good critics.
Yes, there is a certain amount of judgement that is bound to creep in, which is why reviews differ from person to person. But the criticism part in a review is more or less just the same. This judgement is derived out of personal experience and the sum total of cinematic encounters you have had.
Half-information is dangerous. Which is why reviews by incompetent critics could be misleading. Which is why not every three-line opinion about cinema is a review.
But to a filmmaker, it’s not what the critic says that matters, it’s what that three-line opinion from his target audience that matters. So make yourself heard on movies, “review” it in your blog but it always helps to know the difference between an opinion and a review.