The Blog

Everyone's a Critic, but Critics Aren't Everyone

I was clearly never cut out to be a critic, but I'm fascinated by the process even to this day. In particular, I'm interested in what makes their opinions 'different' from those public ones to which the internet has given a voice.

Last week, my Mum found a little book whilst clearing out her loft.

It was a collection of tiny film reviews I wrote when I was about 12. Carefully hand-written with each film's year of production and a mark out of five (plus a special 'Bulls Eye' option for movies that I thought were classics), it was, naturally, agonising to read.

Yes, apparently my 12 year-old self opted to give Starchaser: The Legend of Orin a higher rating than The Empire Strikes Back.

And Police Academy 2 a higher rating than either of them.

The back page of the file contained a little note written in the opening weeks of 1988, explaining my decision to stop writing the reviews because I kept changing my mind about which films were good and bad (hopefully I had The Empire Strikes Back very much in mind when I wrote this). I can remember worrying about how much influence I had felt that Halliwell's Film Guide was having on my ratings. In those pre-www days, I would turn to the book to identify a film's year of origin but would then often find it difficult to describe a film as fantastic if the book had said it was basically crap.

Considering that Halliwell himself seemed to enjoy very little from the 70s onwards, that described most of the movies I watched.

I was clearly never cut out to be a critic, but I'm fascinated by the process even to this day. In particular, I'm interested in what makes their opinions 'different' from those public ones to which the internet has given a voice.

Take, for example, a little movie called The Babadook. It's currently rocking 98% 'fresh' on Rotten Tomatoes (taken from the opinions of critics), as opposed to a 6.9 rating from the public on IMDB. There's clearly a big disconnect going on here. In this case, I'm firmly with the critics; I think The Babadook is almost certainly the finest horror movie of the decade, but clearly a lot of everyday punters disagree.

On the other hand, I took my kids to see a flick called Home the other week. I had absolutely no expectations, yet found it surprisingly appealing and money well spent. It's sporting 6.8 over on IMDB (almost exactly the same as The Babadook), yet has a very different story on Rotten Tomatoes. A meagre 47% fresh from the critics.

So, two movies that the general public considers to be virtually indistinguishable in terms of quality, yet the critics have very different opinions on. Of course, the numbers in this case could be extremely deceptive (my gut tells me that The Babadook has got a whole lot of 10/10 votes and a whole lot of 1/10 votes, whereas Home is likely to have a hell of a lot of 6/10 and 7/10 and not much at the two ends of the spectrum), but it's pretty clear that critics and regular customers have got some major differences of opinion going on.

I wonder if genre familiarity is the biggest factor here. I've seen a hell of a lot of horror movies. Really, really a hell of a lot of them. One of the main joys of The Babadook for me was that it didn't follow that tried, tested, dull-as-hell path that 90% of mainstream horrors feel duty-bound to follow. I liked it because it delivered the unexpected (and because it was true to its actual theme, rather than just ploughing through genre conventions). On the flipside, if I was a 17 year-old who'd only seen a few dozen horrors (or even a few hundred, rather than a few thousand), might that divergence from expectation have confounded my enjoyment? Might I have felt betrayed in some way? Felt that the movie wasn't what I signed up for?

Kids' movies, of course, I'm a lot less jaded about. Funnily enough, I've only returned to them as a form of entertainment since having kids of my own, and having taken a break of a couple of decades might just mean that I've gotten a whole lot less demanding. Perhaps if I'd sat through a few thousand Home-alikes beforehand, I'd have been a lot less entertained.

Professional critics, of course, have to watch pretty much everything that gets released. It's their blessing and their curse. The experience that shapes their perception and makes them different.

The experience that makes them right about The Babadook and wrong about Home.

Right, I'm off to watch Police Academy 2 again to give it another chance. Maybe my adult self is missing something.

Or maybe my 12 year-old self just really, really liked that bit where the slobby guy eats a chocolate bar covered in ants.