Movie Evaluating Criteria and Standards – Humanities Informal Essay
The evolution and widespread use of the genre in feature films, along with the tremendous amount of releases now offered to the movie-going public has now instilled in me a sense of standards for evaluating each film I view. With the many genres, however, I find myself using a different set of sub-standards that evaluate a particular genre. The particular genres that I enjoy viewing, and, hence evaluating, are science fiction / fantasy, action, comedy, horror, and drama.
I am currently writing a script for a science fiction story that could easily be used as a movie, book, or even video game. Thus, I find myself being the most scrutinizing with this genre. When I see a science fiction or fantasy movie, I usually look for projected realism. This is a term I have created for myself to evaluate the ideas and actions presented within the framework of the universe created. Obviously, science fiction or fantasy movies with magic, space warp, etc, are not going to be “realistic” in the classic sense. Projected realism means, in a direct definition, “Ok, we have this galaxy (or this magical world or whatever). Given the physical laws (magic, light sabers, etc.) that are given to us with the film, would this particular scene really happen?” For example, the Force is supposed to be this mystical controlling power that can move objects with the mind. Would Darth Vader really want to toss large metal objects at Luke if he could rationally do something else? It is unfair to discard a science fiction story by the merits of its physical laws (i.e. Bavmorda couldn’t really turn people into pigs—magic doesn’t exist!) because, by virtue of its genre, that is what the writer has created for us. What I, as a viewer, have to do is put myself into that created world and become involved with its fictional physical laws to truly evaluate it.
For a comedy, it is obvious what specific constraints I put on that genre—it has to make me laugh. Although there are a few areas of gray matter, for the most part, comedies fall into two major categories: dumb comedies and smart comedies. Dumb comedies are those that are centrally slapstick, normally require breakage of the laws of physics and of chance, and do not require any sophistication to laugh at. Dumb and Dumber, the Airplane series, The Naked Gun sequels, and most spoofs are considered to be in this category. It must be understood that I enjoy most of these very much. The criterion for these, however, is unique. They must make me laugh, and must not be so poorly written that I look at it and mutter, “what the heck was that in there for?” The majority of movies that cause me to say that are those with numerous sexual jokes. Although I do admit that some sexual jokes make me laugh, for the most part, they contain very little humor and rely more on the sexuality of the situation than the humor to cause the laughter. For the perverse, the goal is accomplished, but for myself, it does need to contain some actual humor.
The sophisticated, or “smart comedies” include those that are funny, but realistic fiction—given those circumstances and those characters, the laws of nature and physics would allow that story to actually happen. Most romantic comedies, e.g. My Best Friend’s Wedding, While You Were Sleeping, are smart comedies. Unless the humorous situations are poorly written (which is essentially my central criterion), I find that the romantic comedies I dislike are few and far between. Other comedies, such as Greedy, Clue, Trapped in Paradise, and the Father of the Bride movies are also “smart” movies. They have a realistic base, and are intelligently planned out. In truth, these are the most difficult comedies to make, which is why I have such great admiration and respect for them.
Horror movies must scare me; suspense movies must put me in suspense. These criteria are obvious and apply to essentially all the movies in those genres. However, I do have a set of criteria that I apply to basically all of the films I see. The first aspect of a screenplay that I notice is its meaning. If a film has no meaning, then it is merely entertainment. I do not frown on entertainment for its own sake, and, as such, enjoy many a motion picture devoid of any purpose. However, the movies that I do not mind seeing and evaluating numerous times are those that the writer intended to display a greater meaning or purpose than normally granted to the public. Additionally, when I look at a film that has a message or a purported meaning, I try to dissect the symbolism. Several years ago, I used to over-evaluate movies and try to find symbols in almost every single aspect of the screenplay, but now, with my increased maturity, I have narrowed my view to those aspects of a film that truly attempt to express a point of human truth.
It is not often that I see a meaningful movie that aims to express an eternal principle and does it very well. However, this July, a film was released that exemplified that criterion and did it so well that have I gladly paid to see it three times. This was the movie, Contact, with Jodie Foster. This film expressed the eternal principle of God with such skill that I left the theater with an altered personal philosophy.
“Is there a God?” The movie poses the question very directly and never attempts to definitively answer the question but displays the many complications and truths inherent in maintaining either a theistic or an atheistic point of view towards this matter. This is why I liked the movie. It denounces the classic scientific principle of “if there is no evidence, then it is not true” without denouncing science as a holistic concept. It shows that things can be true without physical evidence. The movie showed that some things just cannot be proven with our limited methods of expression and explanation.
Contact definitely had a meaning. It vindicated belief without true knowledge (i.e. human impression) and vindicated a liberal view of science as the study of wholeness of the universe, including God and the scientific laws inherent in such a higher power. I sincerely doubt there was anyone who walked out of the theater without being touched in some aspect. It is a film with direct elements and symbolism to be praised and emulated.