This may sound like a strange proposal, but how can you watch a movie poorly except nodding off midway through? But consider how we approach movies vs how we approach books. You learn how to read more effectively in your literary studies by learning how to analyze texts critically and more deeply than just whether or not you liked them. Most people agree that reading and practicing literary criticism is a talent; the same is true for critically analyzing a film.
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It’s a valuable ability to have as it’s one of the primary methods to discover what, in your opinion, makes a good movie. Why are the later Pirates of the Caribbean movies a painstakingly planned disaster whereas the earlier ones are swashbuckling fun? Why does On Stranger Tides put viewers to sleep but The Curse of the Black Pearl succeeds, even though both films have excellent soundtracks and a large number of the same cast members? Once you have the solution, you may start using those strengths and weaknesses to your own learning. This essay looks at how you may start thinking like a filmmaker and not like an audience member when you view movies more critically.
1. At least once, give the movie your whole attention.
Especially when it’s a movie that may last more than two hours, we’re terrible at giving anything our complete focus. Over the course of that two-hour movie, you might find yourself surfing through Facebook and Instagram, responding to a few Whatsapp messages, using Shazam to determine which song is playing, hopping on to IMDB to quickly find out where you recognize a certain actor from, using the restroom, and maybe paying attention to what’s happening onscreen for a tiny amount of that time.
Filmmakers understand, of course, that they will not always have the whole focus of their viewers. The names of characters may be repeated aloud a few times to ensure you hear them; incidental music will be used to draw your attention to particularly important story elements. However, a director will generally hope that you will be paying attention to the movie and not just keeping one eye on your friend’s party pictures. Once, try to see the movie the way they intended.
Regarding the one potential exception to this rule—taking notes—film students are divided. While some argue that anything that diverts your attention from the screen is a distraction, others maintain that taking notes while watching the movie really helps them focus more intently. The answer can depend on how well you can remember things and how much free time you have to view the movie again.
2. See movies more than once, even silently
If you do have time, watch the movie again, but don’t watch it in the same manner while lounging on your couch. Once you’ve watched a movie and given it your whole attention, there are a number of ways to quickly grasp its main ideas.
For example, think about playing the movie silently. Put the plot—which you already know—out of your mind and use the time it takes to look at the things you may otherwise leave by. Examine the camera angles: do they focus tight on an actor’s response or do they go wide? In light of this, observe how the characters who aren’t the scene’s main focus act. When the protagonist speaks, what is happening with them? You have the option to fast-forward and replay a scenario, concentrating on a new character each time.
Grab a copy of the script if you can, and read it as you go. Before each scene change in the movie, you may stop it, read ahead, make assumptions about the meaning of the words on the paper, and see whether the acting or direction catches you off guard. In certain circumstances, you might even be able to locate an earlier draft of the screenplay. In such scenario, you might try to identify any modifications and determine why they were done. You may also examine production aspects. For example, when you first read the character’s description, how did you image their wardrobe? Does it correspond with what’s on screen?
After doing this, you ought to have a decent idea of how the movie was put together, having gained knowledge of the choices made by the director, the production crew, the performers, the screenplay, and more.
3. Examine the topics the movie looked at.
There are some themes that you should be able to recognize and delve into in any movie, from the most sophisticated art house picture to the most inexpensive straight-to-video sequel. That may be becoming a mother or taking revenge, or both. A key component of film criticism is identifying a movie’s themes and evaluating the way it handles them.
But it doesn’t mean it’s the main focus of the process of creating a movie. To be honest, one of the mistakes made by beginner filmmakers is to decide to produce a movie with a grandiose topic, such as the futility of war, and then poorly construct a story that fits the concept somehow. Keep an eye out for movies that have a solid storyline that abruptly gets off course because the filmmaker feels the story must make a significant statement about the value of family.
A movie’s topic might be something completely different; for example, it’s been suggested that the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie could be an awkward metaphor for the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Its follow-up investigates the ways in which males are socially pressured to suppress their feelings. They are not the themes you would anticipate from a science fiction movie that focuses a lot on explosives.
You may also think about if the movie has taken any cues from other works of literature. For example, The Lion King may have borrowed from Hamlet’s storyline, while Clueless may have taken cues from Jane Austen’s Emma. Does it provide the narrative fresh energy and lead it in a compelling way? Or does it seem like a dull copy of someone else’s superior idea?
4. Consider the reasons you found it enjoyable or not.
Uncritical viewers can tell whether they liked a movie or not by drawing the conclusion that they loved it because it was excellent or disliked it because it was awful. Maybe they’ll admit that it was enjoyable mediocre or that they like the first part but found the conclusion to be unbelievable and tedious.
This kind of flimsy analysis is nothing compared to what you can accomplish. At this point, you’ve examined every facet of the movie, from director to acting. You might be able to see, for example, that while the screenplay had potential, poor performance caused several lines that had great potential to fall flat. Alternatively, you may see the plot flaw that prevented stunning cinematography from saving the finale, which made it look improbable.
Still, it’s simpler to pinpoint the flaws in a terrible movie than to pinpoint the element that contributed to the brilliance of a great movie. You could want to think about if the performance was strong, whether the subjects struck a chord with you, or just whether the location and photography were visually stunning. Try to determine what about it, if it’s so horrible that it’s excellent, that you liked, whereas other movies were just so awful that they stayed awful.
5. Examine the production, lighting, and sound.
You hardly ever notice some parts of a movie until something goes wrong. If the conversation is muffled by background music or the theme rises at the inappropriate times, you can be the only one who notices sound. In the same way, you could only notice the lighting if it’s so bright that it appears like the action is taking place in a dentist’s office or so dark that you wind up squinting at the screen. Additionally, the production values—from the outfit to the setting—are only likely to be noticed if they appear really cheesy or cheap. It’s simpler to identify good or terrible CGI use in movies from 10 years ago than in movies from now. However, unless you actively search for it, you’re not likely to detect the quality of special effects in two high-budget movies from today.
Instead of watching movies in this manner, try to teach yourself to notice these elements of a movie every time, regardless of how effectively it is done. You may think about how a character’s outfit choice sheds light on them or how well-chosen lighting choices provide just the perfect amount of spookiness to a scene. Try to distinguish between what is just adequate and what is actually outstanding. You may wish to look at movies that have won Oscars in various categories and try to figure out what precisely makes such movies exceptional.
6. Examine other movies directed by the same person.
A book has an author, but a film does not have a single guiding vision, as all the various aspects of a film discussed in this article show. The director’s function, which is akin to a general organizing the troops, is the closest it gets; they can only influence events to a limited degree.
Nevertheless, the director’s tastes are one “theme” that you can identify in practically any movie. Quentin Tarantino like intense, implausible violence; Wes Anderson enjoys vivid colors and oddball characters; and nearly every JJ Abrams picture has a red ball in it. Although each of these directors has a very unique style, after watching a few of their films, you should be able to recognize some characteristics in the work of most directors. This may then be used to your critical examination of their movies: do they all exhibit the same flaws? Are they unduly dependent on the same ideas that, while effective in their debut picture, soon became stale? In the same vein, you need to think about if the filmmaker excels at any particular aspects of filmmaking, such as creating characters who are exceptionally well-rounded or paying extraordinary attention to detail.
7. Remind yourself that everything is subjective.
When criticizing anything, whether it be a work of art, music, literature, or cinema, it is simple to go into the trap of believing that some things are objectively excellent and poor. Indeed, there are certain movies that almost everyone thinks are excellent, and the same is true of some bad movies. However, it doesn’t always mean that your taste is off if you find yourself enjoying a movie that other people appear to detest, or vice versa.
Determining the reasons for your potential differences in opinion from those of others is a useful practice. It’s possible that a movie has a sense of humor that you find endearing, or that a movie represents your experiences in real life and therefore speaks to you in a way that a movie reviewer twice your age may not. Using a critical eye, you might try to identify your own weak points based on the movies you’ve seen. For example, you can discover that coming-of-age themes in movies resonate extremely strongly with you or that vengeance tales, no matter how skillfully written, are boring. When you experiment with these likes and preferences, they will then inform your own work and help you become a more skilled filmmaker.