A good movie review is so much more than the number of stars after the movie title. I know that’s what most people want to see, but think about it. A movie producer has just invested $60M and the director has given two years of his life. do you really think they want to see that reduced to a casual two second glance at the number of stars following the title. I know the internet has turned us all into ADD consumers that have lost the ability to process through written information thoughtfully, but really the many art forms that blend together to birth a film should be considered before passing a two star judgment. in this article I will attempt to describe four artistic lenses that craft a movie so that when you see your next blockbuster epic or quiet romantic comedy, you will have a greater appreciation for what the film makers have attempted to do.
This is the start button for every movie. the pitch to the studio money people begins, It’s a __________ about . the blank is the genre. Romantic comedy, drama, horror, action/adventure, buddy movie, coming of age movie, etc. Genre is the first lens we look through in unpacking a movie. it defines how the story will unfold, the pace of the editing, the musical theme as well as the incidental music, even the costumes and lighting will be determined by the genre. each genre has its own set of rules, but genres also are reinvented and redefined successfully by Hollywood’s more creative movie makers. Barry Levinson’s Rain Man broke several genre rules but successfully told a very dramatic and engaging story about two brothers setting out on a cross country journey of discovery. being able to identify the elements of genre in the movie will clarify why the movie is what it is.
The next lens is story. When story is combined with genre the filmmaker’s intent and purpose in making the film becomes clear. Look carefully at each character as they are introduced and trace their arc. When and where do the arcs cross? When do they run parallel? the length of the arc indicates the character’s importance. Is the character introduced to set something up later. At the end of the movie think back on how many characters were introduced and how was each story arc resolved or left open.
Every movie has a moral message. it is impossible to tell a story and not have a moral. through the moral lens we see the message the film maker wants us to leave with when we exit the theater. Moral messages include: Good always wins over evil. Nice guys finish last. the bad things you do in secret will be publicly exposed. the morality of the movie can be positive or negative. Horror movies usually end with everyone getting killed except for that final one who either defeats evil or escapes to fight evil another day.
The artistic lens will reveal a movie’s longevity. If care was taken to creatively tell a story by expanding its genre, and revealing well formed characters with developed arcs, the film will become a classic. every year the movie Somewhere in Time is celebrated on Mackinac Island, Michigan at the Grand Hotel. When the movie was first released in 1980, the box office was disappointing. but, when it began showing on cable TV, the artistic beauty of the well told romantic story captivated thousands of viewers. in 1990 the International Network of Somewhere in Time Enthusiasts was formed to plan the Mackinac Island event that became an annual celebration. in 2010 they will celebrate their 20th anniversary when the movie turns 30 years old. the movie is still celebrated for its moral theme of timeless love.
All that to say.
.while we often are fans of particular movie stars, when you decide to go to a movie, look to see who’s directing the film. the film is their vision and the actors are only playing out the parts.after their third movie, they’ve usually established a moral history that holds true in future movies.
Revisit your movie experience through these lenses. Don’t be quick to pass judgment based on your personal opinion. As the credits roll filled with the people who worked on the movie you’ve just seen, begin thinking about the genre, story, morality, and art of the film. do you think the director was able to accomplish what he and the producers set out to do? Read through the films reviews. do you agree or disagree? Your experience at the movies will become far richer when you see the move through these lenses.