On Reviewing

We live in a world where entertainment media saturates our lives. Music, movies and videogames make billions of dollars every year and the vast majority of us are contributors to this in some way. As frequent consumers of this media living in financially troubled times, we often turn to the opinions of others to help us make a decision on what to part with our money for. They can make us feel more at ease about our purchasing decisions and, if things go sour, they give us someone to blame.

Stack it up

CDs and DVDs and Blu-Rays oh my!

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Whether the opinions we seek are those of our close friends, professional critics or random people on the street, the end result is some kind of review. From essay-length dissections to that old chestnut of eloquent wisdom, “It’s pretty good”, they can all be useful in their own way.

But because people are all so different from one another, opinions tend to vary quite wildly from person to person. Different experiences and personalities influence the way we react to the things we consume. Yet you might find that the severity with which opinions vary can depend on what type of media you’re dealing with.

Here are some thoughts on the way opinion consensus seem to differ for different kinds of media.

MUSIC
Listening to a brand new album is usually a personal experience. You may be doing something else while you listen or you may be the type to just chill and take in the sounds through a pair of quality headphones, but either way you are going to be the most important factor in whether you like it or not.

Whether or not you appreciate the genre of music you’re listening to, the kind of expectations you placed on how good it would be, the mood you’re in when you listen; these things and more are hugely important to your final “verdict” on the music. Your ears are the only receptors in the experience and that means your mind is more free to take a direction unique to you alone while you listen. Anyone else’s opinion is formed by their own version of these factors and so some reviews may seem completely alien to you when you read them.

Sure, there’s stuff like lyrical quality, creativity and recording integrity to analyse, but seriously, when was the last time you let the scathing opinion of a metalhead or dubstep junkie on the new Coldplay album stop you from enjoying it?

MOVIES
With movies there is a lot more to consider. You still have sound of course, but the addition of a picture makes a great deal of difference. There is more to take in, discuss and argue over when you consider things like cinematography, set design, makeup, costumes, special effects and of course acting. It is generally much easier to critique these things in an objective manner that gets some sort of agreement from other people. Perhaps this is why film critics generally seem to be more plentiful than music ones.

Of course, if you despise horror movies or really slow-burning political dramas, you aren’t likely to change your mind just because you read or hear a review that speaks incredibly highly of one. If you are forced to see a chick flick when they really aren’t your thing, chances are you won’t enjoy it all that much. But you might be able to see how certain parts of it are/aren’t well made. A film with really terrible performances throughout is likely to be torn apart for said terrible performances in most of the reviews written/spoken around the world.

GAMES
When it comes to videogames, you’ve got sound + picture + interactivity all running together. Nowadays more than ever, games are capable of delivering expensive cinematic experiences not unlike Hollywood’s. Yet a game is designed to be a playable experience and therefore it must be functional. A product that is marred by awful controls or filled with bugs and glitches, crashing as often as it works, cannot truly be considered worthy of a glowing review. Conversely, a game that is not fun or lacks atmosphere or has other such design flaws should not be given a one or two out of ten if it works as a game. This is probably the most important thing to remember about game reviews.

Once again, opinion is still a factor in a reviewer’s verdict on a game, but in a perfect world it would arguably mean less than in the case of movies or music. We don’t actually live in a perfect world and so opinion sometimes seems to mean more than elsewhere, but that’s due to something else entirely. That’s the fanboy effect. More on that some other time.

So you might say, with these three forms of media at least, that the more critiqueable elements you take away, the larger the role of opinion becomes in whether something is considered worthy of your time or not. Reviewers cannot account for the opinions of their audience and so they usually strive to focus on the most objective elements of whatever they are reviewing first. But since they are human beings, their own feelings and opinions inevitably come into the equation as well and these are also important, because without them their words would be pretty dull.

THE OTHERS
I am not really qualified to talk about the likes of novels or TV series, because I’don’t read much fiction at all (The Hunger Games is essentially the only recent exception) and the only way I watch non-sporting TV is through series box sets. Some sites review shows episode-by-episode, others by whole seasons. Either way is surely tricky to do. I would imagine movies would be the closest point of comparison there.

At the end of the day, sifting through reviews on pretty much anything can get quite messy. Aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic can help us make sense of all the opinions flying around the internet, but they shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all. ‘Cause if we always listened to them, we would miss out on such absolute gems as Tongan Ninja, which would be a disgrace.

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With all this in mind, I’ll be doing my best to provide the most balanced reviews I can on Vagrant Rant. Stay tuned.

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