If everyone's opinion counts the same, why listen to reviewers?

Does being a professional movie reviewer make your opinion on movies more worthwhile than someone who watches movies as a hobby?

And yes, I would accept a heart surgeon’s opinion on heart surgery over my own, but that is different. Isn’t it?

Everyone’s opinion does not “count the same.” Sure, there may be handful of movie fans whose knowledge is on par with most critics, but most people really don’t know anything; lots of people seem to be satisfied to just watch moving images on screen. Some yahoo saying “Valentine ROCKED!” does not count for as much as any one of the many reviews that ripped it a new one. That being said, there are plenty of professionals who I don’t trust at all, and plenty of non-professionals whose opinions do count for something with me. But if all I know is that one person is a critic and another is some anonymous person on the internet, I’ll go with the critic.

If expert opinions weren’t more valid than those of the great unwashed, advisors wouldn’t be in demand.

Not everyone’s opinion carries the same weight. One aspect of a reviewer is that he’s most likely seen many more films than the average moviegoer and can identify what’s chiched and derivative.

There are people who say Battlefield Earth was a great movie, for instance. Are you going to believe them? You need to evaluate the reviewer, usually by reading a bunch of their reviews to get a feel for their likes and dislikes.

I thought a lot about this very question before I set up my own movie-review site (see signature).

Most reviews are not very good, whether online or in some print publication. They fall into what I call the third-grade book-report model: They have an introductory paragraph that gives you a sense of whether the review will be positive or negative, they have three or four paragraphs of plot summary, and then they close with another paragraph that wraps up the good-or-bad thing, and gives the critic an opportunity to demonstrate a clever bit of writing.

These reviews do not serve much of a function. They say whether or not the critic liked the movie, but they don’t tell you, the reader, whether or not you would like the movie. In these cases, I would say, no, the opinion of this reviewer isn’t worth any more or less than the opinion of a general moviegoer.

However, some reviewers make an effort to talk about the kind of movie it is, the aspects that work, the aspects that don’t, and otherwise provide a guideline for your own decision as to whether or not to see the movie. They may or may not share their opinion of the film, but they give specific information as to why they came to that conclusion. If the reviewer is cinematically well-informed, and the review is written well, you can determine from the writeup whether or not you are likely to enjoy the film. The reviewer’s opinion, then, isn’t important in and of itself; it’s the well-written review that provides comparison and perspective that is valuable.

This, for what it’s worth, is the kind of critic I try to be. Read, for example, the review of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas on my site. The first line and closing sentences of the review are as follows:

See how much more useful this is than a review that simply says “I loved it” or “I hated it”?

I did a lot of music reviews for my college paper. It was a lot of fun, but I never could completely shake the feeling that, deep down, I was full of shit.

What makes reviews useful is that you can peruse the archives, find a couple of reviewers who liked all the movies you liked (and vice versa) and then rely on those particular reviewers for future movies.

The reverse also works. If you discover a particular reviewer who absolutely (and consistently) hates every movie you’ve ever liked, you can always count on a negative review to mean “He hated it – I’m gonna love it.” Reviewers do have a place in the movie-watcher’s food chain, but you have to learn how to use them. One man’s “insipid and uninspired” will be another’s “OBOY! More of the exact stuff I liked the first time around!”