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Friday, June 15, 2007


Posted By on Fri, Jun 15, 2007 at 9:11 AM

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette has changed its movie ratings system.  They've gone to a numerical system, grading the films as if they were a term paper.  Philip Martin notes in his "On Film" column, "I'm aware it's imperfect and that numerical ratings of this sort imply a degree of precision that isn't possible when discussing how a movie works or doesn't."  Martin references the popular Web site Metacritic, which compiles reviews from all over the country and assigns a numerical value to them. 

I don't like ratings, numerical or otherwise.  "The New York Times," "Slate.com," "The New Yorker," "The Village Voice," "Daily Variety," and "New York Magazine" have all survived without a ratings system.  What do they know that others don't? 

Even Rottentomatoes.com cheats, although not nearly as egregiously as Metacritic.  There, films are assigned either a tomato (if it's good) or an asterisk (if it's bad).  The people at RT who compile and evaluate the reviews then average the ratings on a Critics Tomatometer.  The fresher (i.e. more tomatoes) the better, supposedly.

One of the pleasures of a good review is the writing itself.  For example, when A.O. Scott is on (see his review of "Little Children"), he's on and every word is fun.  The same for Anthony Lane, whose scathing review of "Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," still makes me laugh out loud. 

The point remains that a ratings system simply cannot factor in the complex nature of a film.  Take, for example, a film like "Mr. Brooks."  I saw it a few weeks ago.  It was interesting and scary and just OK.  Based on those characteristics, I'd probably put it in the 70-80 range.  But it contains a down right brilliant performance from William Hurt.  And a mighty fine one from Kevin Costner.  Hell, Dane Cook and Demi Moore are in it and they don't suck!  My point is, how in the world can a number, much less 500 words, adequately convey these impressions? 

I think you'd say that it can't, which is why you have to read to the review.  And I would reply, EXACTLY!, which is why the rating is meaningless.  But I digress . . .

It's an imperfect system, I know that.  And I'm not blaming publications for using them.  After all, most people don't give a damn about being curteous and taking the time to read what someone else feels is important and relevant.  It does bother me, however, that publications make it easier on these folks.  But like I said, no one probably gives a damn.

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