Movie Reviews, My Way

I enjoy reviewing movies I have seen. Sometimes I think I have a unique perspective on a movie, and sometimes I just enjoy hearing myself talk, I suppose. But at any rate, I do enjoy reviewing movies. There was a time many years ago when I would write movie reviews that I would just share by e-mail with a few friends. Since then, I more often share movie reviews verbally with friends during normal conversation.

Over my years as a completely informal movie reviewer, I have come up with a movie rating system that I think is a far superior to the normal “star” rating, or even the thumbs up/down system. And while my system may be superior (at least in my own mind), it’s not necessarily simpler, or even obvious. This is why I chose to write about it today.

The biggest problem I have with the typical movie rating scales is that they are, as best I can tell, designed to help me decide which movies I should watch. I may make the decision that a movie must have at least 3 stars before I choose to watch it. That’s fine, for what it does. However, what if I’m looking at the movie listings for tonight’s show at the local theater, and I see a 4-star movie. What those 4-stars do not tell me is, should I spend $9 to watch that movie in the theater, or should I wait until I can watch it for $3 from Block Buster?

So that’s the core of my movie rating system. I won’t often tell you if you should watch a movie, but rather I’ll tell you when you should watch a movie. And there may be rare cases where the appropriate answer is “never.” This rating system doesn’t necessarily have a pre-defined list of possible “whens”, but here I’ll outline what I think are the most common times “when” you should see a movie.

  • First-run theater This is either the must-see movie of the summer, and there’s no excuse not to wait to see it, or more likely, this movie is best enjoyed in the movie theater, and has appropriate special effects that it would not be properly enjoyed on a smaller screen or a lower quality sound system.  You should see this film in a full-sized theater, with THX sound if at all possible.
  • Second-run theater This movie may have some good special effects, but the plot is weak enough, or has some other major defect, that it’s not worth paying full-price to see at a first-run theater.
  • Rent it This movie may be lacking in special effects, so there’s no special reason to spend the extra cash to watch it on the big screen, but it has a good story line, and is worth watching.
  • Wait for HBO This is a fairly poor rating.  It means that in my mind, the movie isn’t worth paying to see. Even if it has no special effects at all, if it’s got a good story line, I’ll tell you to rent it.  Consider a “Wait for HBO” rating to mean “Only watch this movie if you just happen to notice it’s on TV, and need to chill for 2 hours in front of the TV.”
  • Wait for standard cable This movie sucks.  It’s not even worth watching on HBO.  It’ll land on standard cable channels (you know, the ones with commercials) several years after it was in theaters, and probably then only in the middle of the night at first.  Only watch this movie when you can’t sleep at 3am because of the bad tacos you ate the night before, and this happens to be the only thing on.
  • Wait for broadcast TV This is probably the same as saying “never” for the vast majority of movies–especially in this day and age when broadcast TV rarely shows movies any more!  And the ones they do show are usually holiday specials we’ve all seen 18 times.

Now, having read my “when” list you might be thinking to yourself, “How is this different than a star-rating system where Wait for Broadcast TV is zero stars and First-run Theater is 5 stars?”  Let me offer an example.

Although I have not (at least not yet) written a review of Avatar 3D, I would give it a special rating of “First-run Theater in 3D.”  What I mean by this is, it’s a movie with excellent special effects–especially the 3D version.  It is worth watching for the 3D special effect experience.  I have seen this movie 3 times now in 3D, in a THX theater.  Once it’s no longer available to watch in a 3D theater, I will likely never watch this film again, or if I do, it will be by accident (you know those cases when your buddy is watching a movie and you just happen to be in the room, right?)  The Avatar 3D story line was so-so in my mind.  The 3D effects were spectacular.  So once you take away the 3D effects, what’s left is probably a “Wait for HBO” movie.  So this is an example where I believe it makes sense to tell a person when to watch a movie, and not if to watch it.

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