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How to Write a Critical Movie Review
A guide for beginners
Chances are, you like to watch movies. It's only natural that you would want to write about them. With the internet, it's easy for moviegoers to espouse their thoughts about movies at their blogs, journals, and forums. But if you want to write a good movie review, one thing you can do is make sure that it's critical. That doesn't mean that you should review the movie negatively; rather, being critical is the act of "exercising or involving careful judgment or judicious evaluation" (Merriam-Webster).
The idea of writing a review that is not solely based on one's subjective feelings may be new to you, but I think that a strong review shouldn't simply state whether you like or dislike a movie. A strong review weighs different aspects of the movie, and draws a fair conclusion about its merits and flaws.
To write a critical review, do the following:
- Be specific.
- Be objective.
- Do your research.
Keep these points in mind if you want to write a fair and thoughtful review.
Being specific and giving examples makes it more meaningful for the reader. It doesn't mean that you should rehash the entire movie; it means that you should speak of precise, not general, things. Instead of saying "The dialogue is poor," say, "Real teenagers don't really talk this way." Rather than "the stunts are awesome," say, "The action sequences are stylish, but realistic." Instead of noting how "the movie has plot holes big enough for a space ship to go through," say, "The movie doesn't explain how the crew made it back to the solar system in time."
Being specific engages your readers in a few ways. It gives those who have not seen the movie a better understanding of what it's like (and might help them determine whether or not to spend ten dollars to see it). It also engages those who have already seen the movie, because they can relate to what you're talking about--though of course they are free to disagree.
It's not always easy, but strive to be as objective as possible. Don't let your feelings--positive or negative--about an actor, director, or genre dictate the content of your review. Don't let the fact that sci-fi movies are your favourite genre sway your review of a sci-fi movie that you didn't enjoy that much. It's okay to go against your usual opinion.
A more important distinction to make, when speaking of objectivity, is to not confuse one aspect of a film with its overall quality. Is a relentlessly depressing movie a bad one because it made you sad? Is a movie with completely miserable characters necessarily a bad movie? On the other hand, if a movie is inoffensive and has a 'happy' ending, is it automatically a good one? Beyond the movie's surface, look at its meaning: what is it trying to say? Look at the big picture (pun not intended), and remember, the best movies are often those that move or disturb you.
One last thing about objectivity: being objective doesn't mean that you can't say how you feel about a movie. You can still say that a movie is well done, but too dark for your liking.
Do your research
You might not think it, but research--which might amount to just a quick Google search--is important for a balanced and accurate movie review. For example, I once edited a movie review that cited a movie's cinematography. The review then gave examples of things that had nothing to do with cinematography (which is camerawork and things related to the technical aspects of the camera). If you're going to use film terminology, make sure you use it correctly. The same goes for things such as citing dates, names, and other factual information--why not spend the few extra minutes to confirm what you've written?
You can also do research for comparisons. Reviewers often draw comparisons between films of the same genre, original films and their remakes, movies and their sequels, and so on. Reviewers may also compare the works of directors and actors' performances. Doing this shows that you have a basis for some of your observations and judgments about the film. It lends your review some credibility.
Putting it all together
Once you've formulated a review that is specific, objective, and well-researched, make sure that you've said what you really wanted to say about the movie. Like most good reviews, address some of the key points of the movie, and then evaluate it overall.
Finally, here are some extra tips to ensure that your critical review is the best that you can make it:
- Use correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Writing a review for the internet doesn't mean that you should resort to IM speak. Use the spelling and grammar checker in your word processing software, if necessary.
- Talk about what interests you. If you're interested in costumes, address them. If you're interested in how women are portrayed in movies, discuss how it affects the movie you're reviewing. Topics in which you are interested will bring out more perceptive observations, and thus make your review better.
- Don't be afraid to go against the grain. If everyone's raving about a movie, and you thought it terrible, review it honestly. An honest, well-explained review is a good one, no matter what the rest of the world thinks about the movie.