How Should We Write Reviews?
On the Internet there are reviews for almost anything, written in a variety of different ways. Some of these are very effective while others are utterly pointless. So how should an author write and present written reviews in a manner that both expresses their opinion and is useful to the reader? What reviewing standards should publications, including Eden Reviews, adhere to?
This editorial contains spoilers for the films Enemy (2013) and Frozen (2013).
In this editorial I have used film reviews as a basis for discussion, with some works that you may recognise, to hopefully help make the writing more accessible. The ideas should still be translatable to any other forms of artistic expression though.
Upon viewing a piece of film a reviewer may either keep in mind what the artists have said about their work (for example, a director’s thoughts in the form of a commentary), or can disregard any information that is not within the film itself. Personally, I believe the latter is a much better method. That isn’t to say an author’s intent cannot be interesting. Enemy (2013) received lots of discussion when it was released on the specifics of the plot. Slate released an article where the author argued that it was ‘a parable about what it’s like to live under a totalitarian state without knowing it’ and that the two characters, Adam and Anthony, were twins (WICKMAN, 2014). The director, Denis Villenueve, has mentioned the idea that there is a very precise meaning to all of the events (VILLENUEVE, 2014) and hinted at Adam and Anthony being the same person. The director’s intent here may be rather interesting, but the ideas that appear in the Slate article are not wrong. As long as an opinion does not contradict the original piece of art it is based upon then it is entirely valid. You could argue that an opinion formed without influence from authorial intent is much more profound too as it is more personal. I believe art can be much more fulfilling if we allow ourselves to have our own response to it as opposed to just repeating the author’s views.
Most reviews try not to give any information about a film that could ruin a first-time viewer’s experience. This is understandable for those who read reviews as a way of filtering what they should, or should not, watch. However, as the author cannot express themselves to the fullest extent, these should perhaps be more accurately labelled as buyer’s guides. A review should be allowed to go into as much depth as possible to give the work the fairest possible assessment. If I were to review Frozen (2013), I would want to mention the main character developments, including the reveal of Hans being a villain. In a buyer’s guide style ‘review’ I would not be able to discuss this particular point due to it being a spoiler. I wouldn’t be able to write about a point in the film I wished to comment upon and less discussion would be able to occur, making this form of ‘review’ much less important and impactful than one which can. If a writer is to write a spoiler review then they should mention the inclusion of the spoilers at the beginning as a courtesy as it is rather easy to stumble across texts on the Internet.
Including a score at the end of review is often done in traditional and online publications. Using a scoring system allows for the publication to be included in ranking websites such as Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes, which can help increase their popularity. It also allows a reader to quickly view what a reviewer thinks of the film. The main problem with allowing readers to do this is that they may only look at the score and not the full review. A reader will think of the score given to the film as opposed to the thoughts given by the reviewer, which can be problematic. The Breakfast Club (1985) is one of my favourite films and if I were to give it a score it would definitely rank very highly. The corresponding review would go into detail about my thoughts on exactly why I like the film, while a reader who does not like it as much may simply go to my score and brush off my opinions without reading them, reducing the amount of discussion that can be had.
The main income source for many websites is advertisements. There are several ways in which adverts can detract from the quality of a website, but the biggest downfall related to this discussion is the way in which they can influence the contents of a review. If Eden Reviews was getting revenue from adverts for The Avengers (2012), then this may make me write with a more optimistic view for the film and possibly any other films that Marvel, Disney or any related companies were involved in. This could be done consciously; as if I write a more favourable review then more people are likely to click the ad, but also subconsciously too, making their inclusion an impossibility.
After writing this editorial I have created a short list of standards that I personally believe online review publications should adhere to in order to best serve both the writer and the audience:
- Allow art to give you your own thoughts and response.
- Allow spoilers to give depth to a review, making sure to warn readers at the beginning of each article.
- Allow the article to stand on its own, without any scoring systems.
- Allow the content to be the focus, not the advertisements.
Eden Reviews will be sticking to these standards for every review. If you have any points you think should be added, or if you want to discuss the ones mentioned in this article then please leave a comment. Also don’t forget to subscribe to be informed of the latest reviews, editorials and more. The first review will go live on the site on the 9th of February.
WICKMAN, F (2014) What Should We Make of Enemy’s Shocking Ending?. [Online] Slate. Available from: slate.com [Accessed 13/01/15].
VILLENUEVE, D. (2014) Interview. In: Hollywood Reporter. [Online] 13th March. [Accessed 13/01/15].