The Flaws of Fault Finding Film Criticism

Commenting on the Critics with Simon Columb:

Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine in Star Trek Into Darkness

David Chen, for /Film, adds to articles about “what bothered” him about The Dark Knight Rises and Iron Man 3, as he writes the 5 Things that Bothered [Him] About Star Trek Into Darkness:

About those head-scratchers: yeah, this movie definitely made pretty bizarre decisions, several of which continued to nag at me days after I’d seen it, even though my overall memories of the film were ones of fondness…

Read the full article, with many spoilers for the film, here.

This article arrived, coincidentally enough, on a day when I was directed to an “Everything Wrong with Jurassic Park in 3 minutes or less” YouTube video, by a friend who knows how much I adore the Spielberg Dino-romp. This is [obviously] not a recent trend and it has happened for years, with many more videos arguing the multiple inconsistencies and minor-flaws that “destroy” a box-office blockbuster. A particularly popular company, that commits itself to regularly criticising popular films, is Red Letter Media, headed by filmmakers Mike Stoklasa and Jay Bauman. RLM hit the big-time in 2009 when they released a 7-part, 70-minute video ripping-apart Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, and they have continued to make videos of a similar nature ever since.

Rather than becoming a short-term fad or attracting a niche audience, this process of criticising is becoming more popular – as this type of nit-picking culture feeds into podcasts and is regarded as a legitimate form of criticism in the online world. Suffice to say, critiquing a film on its merits or flaws is an art-form that has changed dramatically in the last five years – specifically film criticism as anyone can access a DVD copy of the same work of art. This is not the same with theatre, live music or gallery exhibitions – whereby your attendance at the particular event is crucial to the experience.

Successful criticism is well-versed professionals experiencing an art-form and, based on their instinct post viewing, they support their opinion with well-researched, informative arguments that support that refined and experienced instinct. And the repetition of the word “instinct” is purposeful. If I watch Fast & Furious 6 or Trance, I will leave the cinema with an initial response: did I like it? Whatever the answer, it is the reviewer’s job to deconstruct why he/she feels that way.

David Chen acknowledges that his instinct is positive – that his “memories of the film were ones of fondness”. This begs the question as to why Chen wrote an article about the factors which “bothered” him, despite his enjoyment of the film. Damon Lindelof, on the Empire podcast (though he did appear pre-release on the Film Aid /Film Podcast) explained his frustration with nit-pickers of time-travel films – arguing that, theoretically, as soon as Marty McFly pushes George McFly out of the way of the truck, Marty ceases to exist. End of. But that would also rob us all of Back to the Future itself – “one of the greatest films of all time”. In the same manner, this type of fault-finding criticism ignores the beauty of art and the fundamental question as to whether it resonates.

Ultimately, this topic of writing is popular – and creates argument and discussion. In that regard, you can see why, in a social-networking world, whereby an article can be “re-tweeted” and then further discussed on Facebook, it will always outweigh that of an article that is deconstructing the thematic values of a film. It also requires little research outside of the film itself – every bothersome note is within the context of the singular film (or franchise) so readers can join in the conversation after a single viewing. Rather than feel inspired by an article citing the influence of Doctor Zhivago in The Dark Knight Rises, setting yourself aside for 3-hours to watch a David Lean masterpiece – it is easier to spend hours arguing why Bruce Wayne couldn’t have escaped ‘The Bat’ in those final moments in Gotham. As online reviews become more popular and print press reviewers lose their jobs, such a clear-cut, attention-grabbing article represents the “state” of film criticism today – and, you could argue, that this devalues film criticism itself.

Simon Columb

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