So you’re young, and you like movies. Well, most everyone likes movies. But let’s say you like movies more than the average person. You’re a fan. This series is for you. In the previous entry, I wrote about how sites like Rotten Tomatoes reinforce the misguided idea that films are either good or bad. In this week’s entry, I’m going to write about how you, as a young fan of cinema, can manage your expectations for upcoming films.
Let’s talk about hype. I often hear about movies being “over-hyped”, but I won’t harp on that too much. I’ve already written about how I don’t think movies can be over-hyped, and using that descriptor is just a weak expression of that feeling we get when a movie doesn’t meet our expectations. Hype isn’t something a company makes when they market a film. Hype is something we make for ourselves.
Hype can so affect people’s expectations that a new culture of spoiler phobia has risen. I have friends who avoided nearly all the promotional material for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, only because they didn’t want their expectations raised. They didn’t want to think about when they’d see their favorite trailer shots in the finished film. They didn’t want to have to think about who dies, or why Rey is crying. They just wanted to maximize their chances of liking the film by letting it surprise them.
I can appreciate this level of spoiler phobia on some level, but I usually think it’s a good idea to go into a film educated. By knowing a bit more, your expectations are likely to be more accurate. And even if you know the plot of a movie, the movie can still surprise and delight you. But regardless of whether you agree with that or not, there are still times when you’re excited to see a movie, and it leaves you disappointed (or even angry). And when critics are praising a film you want to be good, that excitement can reach dizzying heights. But when a film disappoints you, that fall from on high can feel like an iron spike in your gut.
Which leads me to say that although you should trust your favorite critics, perhaps you shouldn’t be as concerned with whether they think a movie is good or bad. Pay attention to how your favorite critics describe the film’s tone, characters, music, standout moments, and direction. Be wary of film criticism that uses too many adjectives — most of them are just synonyms for good and bad. Beware of criticism where most of the review just describes the film’s story beats. (That’s not to avoid spoilers, that’s just to avoid hearing some bad critic focus too much on the story and not how the film is telling it.)
Not only is good film criticism entertaining and educating, but we use it as a form of consumer advocacy. When moviegoers read reviews, they can feel a bit more secure that they’re spending their hard-earned cash on an experience they’ll enjoy. That’s why we go to the movies in the first place, right? In a way, movies are products that consumers can buy. That’s why some folks feel entitled to a refund if they don’t like a movie. But all films are art, too, and that complicates things. When you buy a movie ticket, you are paying for access to art. It’s not all that unlike paying admission to a museum (a museum with a crapload of junk food).
Use proper film criticism to find out which films feel similar to the one you want to see. Use it to find out what kind of movie it is, and compare that to how the trailer made you feel. Don’t trust trailers. They’re used to sell the film the studio thinks you’ll buy tickets to see. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the film you’ll get. Remember when many of us thought that Bryan Cranston was the lead in Gareth Edwards‘ Godzilla? Remember how disappointed many of us were when we discovered the truth?
My point is this: if you wanna get hyped, get hyped. Hype is fun. It can fuel us and keep us optimistic. But by placing less importance on the critical binary and using good film criticism to find out more about the movies you want to see, maybe you’ll get more out of your time at the movies.