Discussion: Ratings?

Can a rating truly capture the magic of Ed?

Can a rating truly capture the magic of Ed?

Over the course of writing reviews for Silver Emulsion, my philosophy about rating films has evolved and changed along with my writing. When I first opened the site, it was with the intention of reviewing any film under the sun and rating them under one set of guidelines. I would rate genre films on the same scale as more mainstream fare, and give them thorough reviews that other sites focusing on mainstream movies would never (or rarely) do. And because I enjoyed both sides of cinema (trash and art), I could have a positive review of a bad movie that also acknowledges its lack of quality in its star rating.

But this honestly didn’t make a lot of sense, and I ran into many instances where it nagged at me that the ratings on certain films reflected some arbitrary barometer of “filmmaking quality” instead of accurately representing my feelings about the movies. The first three Puppet Master films are a great example of this, as they all have somewhat mediocre ratings when I actually love all three of them (2 & 3 especially). They definitely have their flaws, but in giving them a rating more reflective of those flaws than their strengths, I felt like I was simply becoming the critic that I created the site to rebel against.

When I realized this, I instituted a new policy. I started giving B-Movies — and any mainstream film I felt worked under similar principles — two separate star ratings. One to gauge the actual quality of the filmmaking as I saw it, and the other to give a fair idea of the entertainment the film provided (or: my rating of the film without any pretense). I was very happy with the results of this, even if it went against my original idea to not single out B-Movies as being any different. I came to this decision after reviewing Laserblast and others, where the filmmaking was horrid, but the overall film was incredibly enjoyable. I couldn’t fathom only giving Laserblast one star, but along the same lines I couldn’t possibly give it four stars either. So I gave it both, and thus this rating style was born.

But now, roughly a year after instituting that rating policy, I’ve come to another mental quandary. My slogan mentions that every film is given equal footing here. I’m thinking now that by providing some movies with different rating criteria I am sort of missing the whole point of reviewing both types of movies. Am I truly giving every film equal ground? So I’m thinking of changing it up yet again. Regular movies would stay the same, but B-Movies would receive only one set of stars: the set reflecting their sheer entertainment value. Or not. I don’t know.

Thoughts?

And to be even more general:

What are your thoughts on star ratings?
Do they matter to you when reading reviews?

13 comments to Discussion: Ratings?

  • There are so many ways to rate movies. I personally do it based on (mostly) my enjoyment. Meaning B movies can also get high scores.

  • The rating system I use on my own site is a combination of technical excellence and personal enjoyment, and although this is hardly objective it’s probably the most accurate way of determining how “good” a film might be. Mind you, I normally only review bigger budget fare, which more often than not means things like “production value” rarely come into the equation. If a film is crappy, but I still loved it, then I usually state this within my review anyway, and side with personal enjoyment.

    In saying that, I think the ratings you have are quite honest, considering that b-movies are usually pretty rubbish technically, but still enjoyable from a creative or appreciative perspective – I’m inclined to argue that a good b-movie doesn’t exist, by its very nature, but this site has proven me wrong on more than one occasion. Bottom line: I say keep the ratings as they are.

    • For B-Movies, production values rarely influence my decision, and in some cases poor production values can even add a charm or increase my enjoyment of the movie. This disparity is something that I like about having two ratings, so I can give it a more realistic score, and another based purely on my entertainment of it. Good B-Movies definitely exist, and it makes me happy to hear that I’ve shown you that a few times. That was one of my goals when I opened the site. I am definitely leaning towards keeping the ratings as is, but in certain cases where a B-Movie is so overwhelmingly well-produced and perfect (like Bad Taste or Story of Ricky), I will forgo the double ratings and just give it a traditional score as deserved.

  • Uncle Jasper

    Will,

    Personally I don’t think there is any way to truly determine what makes a “great” movie. There are just way too many factors at play. Every filmgoer brings their own criteria, past experiences, and personality to the theater with them, and once a film gets filtered through all of that shit there’s no way to determine just what resonated with that particular viewer. Ratings are great at generating discussion and gauging your own personal enjoyment of a film, and I always look forward to your ratings of films that I have seen or have an interest in, but in the end there really is no way to determine the ultimate value of a film by placing a star rating stamp on it and filing it away. One man’s 1-star film is another man’s 4-star masterpiece. And man, I love the fucking Leonard Maltin guide, but if I took his ratings for face value I would have missed out on some of the best movie viewing experiences of my life.

    This is a great topic for discussion and I know you alluded to many of the above points up in your post already, but I just thought I’d add my two cents. I appreciate your candidness and honesty in your reassessment of your rating policy. It’s part of what makes your blog so great.

    • Thanks, man! The Leonard Maltin book is a great example. I’m also a big fan of that book (and now the iPhone app, have you seen that?), but his ratings are a perfect example of how different people see different things in a movie based on everything they bring with them to it. When thinking about the ratings, I also thought about how you and Stephen never used ratings when reviewing anything and how no one ever seemed to mind that, including me. I like the idea of rating too much to get rid of it, but even if I don’t ultimately change it I think it’s a good idea to reassess and reaffirm the values that go into the ratings every once in a while.

  • There is yet another possibility: Instead of getting rid of one set of ratings, you could rate ALL films with two ratings. In other words, you could expand what you are currently doing for B Movies to all movies you see.

    After all, just as there are low-quality films that are quite entertaining, there are also high quality films that have a very low entertainment value. By ranking all films with both scores, you’d be giving your readers a great deal of information for picking the right movie for the mood they’re in at the moment.

    • Hahaha, that’s an interesting idea! I like it, but the only problem I foresee is that I don’t watch nearly enough “artful but not that entertaining” movies to really justify the two ratings on non B-Movies. From what I have reviewed Tree of Life would be the ultimate example of that type of movie, as it’s woefully far from being entertainment, but it’s quite ambitious and impressive from an art or experimental film standpoint. I do like your suggestion, though, and I think if I do encounter one of these movies I’ll keep it in mind to use it! Thanks!

  • I really like your B-movie rating system the way you have it now. I don’t think a change is necessary, though I do like NTEMP’s suggestion in the comment above. It could potentially be pretty interesting to rank ALL films using the two scales.

    • Thanks! It’s comforting to hear that you and others like the two ratings system for B-Movies. I also like it, and I think I’ll keep it around. As I said in the comment above, if I encounter an artful movie where two ratings would fit, or be helpful, I’ll definitely use it. I think doing that for every movie might be a little too much, though, and without the disparity between enjoyment and technical quality I don’t exactly know what I’d base the ratings on. I’ll have to think about that some more.

  • Stephen

    My biggest worry would be that too much change would render the site as a whole inconsistent. Past reviews would not be on the same scale as newer reviews, and that really would invalidate the rating system entirely.

    I was thinking of something along the lines of multiple ratings for all films, but NeverTooEarlyMP summed that up more succinctly than I would have. I think you did something vaguely similar in your Eraserhead review too, so you already have the groundwork laid.

    I think the second rating is good for pointing out something special that can’t be reflected in a standard score, and if that’s the case I wouldn’t call it unequal treatment, I would call it more accurate treatment. It does what any score does: it gives a quick breakdown of your opinion at a glance. As long as you don’t wind up with a dozen different ratings for cinematography, acting, script, and so forth it stays quick and simple.

    All that aside, a review is a statement of your opinions, so whatever format feels most natural to you is probably the best way to go.

    • Well the site is already somewhat inconsistent as the first year only has one star rating for everything. But if I did change I don’t think it’d matter too much, as it doesn’t seem like many people dig very deep into the archives. I will say that I often think about going back and adding B-Movie ratings for the Full Moon films, as some of those ratings are a little wonky cuz they were done when I first started.

      I did have two ratings on Eraserhead, and the idea behind that was definitely similar to what you and NTEMP talk about. It’s easily one of the best experimental/surreal films I’ve ever seen (not a genre I generally care for), and I wanted a rating to reflect that, even though my other rating more reflects my overall feelings about it. I respect that movie a lot, and it sticks with me even if the entertainment value is lower than I’d generally like. So yeah, if there’s another case like that I’ll totally make use of that. My review of Tree of Life would’ve benefited from that probably, but fuck that movie. Hahaha. No really. 🙂

      I definitely don’t want to have a shitload of different ratings for every aspect of the production. That would really get arbitrary. What’s the difference between two-star art direction and two-and-a-half-star art direction? Hahaha, geez. I’d quickly go insane if I did that. I find those kinds of ratings much too granular, so no worries that will never happen.

      Hahaha, I just had an idea where the whole review was like 35 star ratings. No text at all. That would be a fun joke review.

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