I’ve been developing a skill over my life, one I never really labeled or quantified, but one I have nonetheless been aware of and have, in my way, hone.
I have been reviewing movies before I actually go to see them.
While this sounds very much like “judging a book by it’s cover”, there are some some very distinct differences. The primary among them the fact that people will discuss movies a lot more than they will books, both before and after they’ve seen them.
I’ve never set down to quantify the qualities I judge a movie by, so I thought I’d set down to do that now. So here, in no particular order, are the qualities by which I judge movies before I see them:
1) Release Date
This is shallow and knee jerk, but it is accurate more often than not. Hollywood has it’s seasons and, like the weather, you can predict quality by the general calendar date.
Late spring through Summer: Big summer releases trying to capitalize on summer frenzy just before summer actually hits. These will be the blockbusters for the school aged audience, the high action, high budget, low brain load films that Marvel and Sony like to put out. Super hero films, adventure films, splashy horrors and raunchy comedies. Flashy films that will get a big payoff on opening weekend and then will sit stoically in the far corner theater as the final option four out of five of your friends can finally agree on when there isn’t an obvious choice. Studios have no illusions about getting awards for these films. Their goal is a fat bottom line and enough lingering interest to sell toys when Christmas draws near.
I will look forward to these films and plan a specific date to see them. I won’t go on opening night anymore, because I can’t handle the crowds anymore, but I’ll go in the first couple of weeks to get the buzz before it’s ruined with internet spoilers.
Late Summer through Fall: minor splash films that could have been much better if they’d had a better budget/director/cast/story. Things we’ll want to see but nothing that’s going to break any records.
I look forward to these films as well, but I’m less likely to see them in theaters. I’ll be much more willing to watch these films at home where I can multitask with something else if the story doesn’t warrant my full attention.
Early Winter (ie. Christmas): Big budgets that the studios have place a lot of faith in. More family oriented films, stories that will appeal to more than one generation, and those high brown movies that studios are hoping to get awards for. Some of these will be worth seeing on a big screen and I’ll see them when the initial furor dies down. If it isn’t a big budget, particularly if it’s an intelligent film trying for some awards, I’ll probably wait until it’s available at home so I won’t have to fight the noisy crowd, the coughs, fidgets, and talking, that will completely ruin the movie experience for me. I swear one of these days I’m actually going to smash someone’s cell phone during a movie. Best if I watch these at home.
Late Winter to Early Spring: These are the C class films, or lower. If it’s release is in January, they’re trying for a late entry into the Oscars. Otherwise, the executives have decided that these films are good enough for release, and that’s it. They’re the “also ran” films that the studio has decided they’ve spent too much money on it to write it off so they might as well get it into circulation.
Sometimes these films are so bad they’re good. Sometimes these films are so bad you wish the studio had cut it’s losses before inflicting it on you. Unless you’re certain it’s the former, wait to download it when you’ve got nothing else to watch.
This isn’t a straight forward chart. There’s a feel to it. If I were to visualize the chart, the x-axis measuring the amount of hype while the y axis indicating quality of product, I imagine it would look kind of like two humps.
A the low end you have very little hype, not a good film. As you get more hype, the expected quality improves. Then, when you hit about the standard amount of hype they quality levels off, even drops a bit. Then, as the hype increases, the expected quality begins to climb again. But there comes a point where more hype just begins to show how desperate the studio is for you to buy into the film before it’s released so they can recoup their money on opening weekend. At the far end of the chart where you can’t ignore the hype if you try you have big budget crap fests.
Again, this isn’t straightforward. Obviously if everybody loves it, it’s probably good. If everybody hates it, there’s probably a good reason. It’s when the reviews get down to 50/50 that you have to look deeper. Look at the reviewers who hate the film and find out why. If you can see their point, you probably won’t like the film.
This is totally pre-judging before their even IS a cover, but there are some films you hear about that you just know are going to be horrible. Anything with Eddie Murphy in a latex suit, for instance, or any Adam Sandler or Hugh Ferrel comedy. Feel free to disagree, everybody’s tastes are different, but there are some names and concepts that fail my interest right out of the gate. Oddly enough, if you give me any of those three in a serious role and I will look on with interest.
5) Interest of Friends
This can bite me in the ass from time to time, but chances are if my friends are excited about it, I’m interested. If they aren’t, then there’s going to have to be some other bits to interest me.
This is a subset of Hype but it also fits on it’s own. If they trailer shows a handful of scenes with two or three lines of dialog, then it’s likely to be able to hold it’s own. If it’s a comedy and the trailer shows more than four punch lines, chances are those are the only funny moments in the film. If it’s an action/adventure film and the cuts are all less than a second long, it’s a pretty bit that won’t have any real story to it.
And then you mix:
February release, bit of hype, massive friend interest: possibly a so-bad-it’s-good laugh fest with friends. At the very least, if it’s just plain bad, it will give us plenty to talk about.
July release with just a bit too much hype: Big budget blockbuster that the studio doesn’t think it’ll make it’s money back on unless they shove more money under it. Hold off, wait until the reviews come in.
Story I can’t envision being a movie, march release: Someone tried and got far enough along that the studio wants to try and make it’s money back. If it’s a story a care about, pass, unless I hear good reviews from people I trust.
Summer release, expected amount of hype, trailer looks interesting enough, no major casting or directorial warning flags… probably a good film to watch.