There Are No Bad Movies – A Different Perspective

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I recently finished reading “There Are No Bad Movies (Only Bad Audiences)“, by W.E.B. Sarcofiguy (aka John Dimes). I met the author at a panel at Awesome Con 2015, where he had an interesting opinion about movies. Learning about his work, I was quick to order the book and look deeper into this concept of “no bad movies”.

The core idea is all about perspective; a movie is only as “bad” as you let it be. “Bad” is subjective, and what is horrible to some may be enjoyable to others. This is a legitimate concept, found in everything from culinary tastes to artistic criticism. The reason it’s important to apply this to cinema is because of the vehemence with which many movie-goers approach movies. There is such passion, particularly among the “nerds”, that a movie is often disregarded or attacked for trivial and subjective reasons. The advent of the Internet, allowing people to post to global audiences (not to mention anonymously), doesn’t help with this attitude.

Sarcofiguy goes further than saying, “it’s all in your mind”, by pointing out common fallacious criticisms by the ever-annoying armchair critics. I’m not going to discuss them fully here (I want you to buy the book), but several key ones felt important.

  • 1) Comparisons between books or original films is one of the biggest, wherein people judge a movie on equivalence rather than as it’s own film.
  • 2) Judgments based on visuals, from deriding the special effects to finding less focus on story.
  • 3) Armchair expertise, where the critic knows more about who should have been cast or what should have been cut.

All of these ignore the movie itself, and instead try to qualify the piece based on other artwork, personal tastes, and arrogance.

On top of this, Sarcofiguy mentions one more very important fallacy: “the movie was made for me, the fan.” Movies are artwork, and while some may certainly want to cater to audiences to make money, many more are beholden to no one but their own vision. If directors have been known to leave projects because the producers were trying to change their piece too much, why would they stick around and cater to audiences? The only person to blame if you feel slighted or offended by a film is yourself.

Now, one area I slightly disagree with the author is the open-ended statement “no bad movies”. Oh, there certainly are “bad” movies based on certain criteria: bad acting, bad editing, bad scoring, bad effects, etc. There are movies that will certainly go down in the annals of cinematic history as among the “worst” ever made.

However, like Sarcofiguy remarks, the final result is completely subjective and these movies may be “good” to certain audiences. From movies that simply cater to specific audiences (“Battlefield Earth”) to those that attract the opposite audience (“Reefer Madness”) to those that are so-bad-they’re-good (“Plan 9 from Outer Space”)… these movies can still be enjoyable. It’s all about the perspective you¬†are bringing to the theater or couch when you sit down.

Now, one warning should you pick up this book (which I highly recommend you do). The writing style in it is rather… unique? Beyond merely train-of-thought, it’s also rather unconventional (and unprofessional). Written more like the ramblings of a blog or social media post, it’s full of misspelling, poor grammar, slang, and “in character” remarks. The sad part is, the very people the concepts should reach will likely focus on this writing style rather than the content. Kind of like the movies they’re always criticizing…

In the end, John Dimes diatribes about movie critics (especially in this age of Internet rants) holds no small ring of truth. Whether a movie is enjoyable is totally up to the viewer, not the movie itself. If you change your perspective and avoid some fallacious thinking, you may find much more wonder out there in the strangest places. Now, if you excuse me I need to figure out what today’s afternoon movie will be: Ultraviolet or Battleship.

Movies and Standards: Too Damn High?

jimmy mcmillan

There are a lot of movies out there, of many different qualities. Some are great, some are bad, and some simply have their ups and downs. Yet every time I log on to check out a review, comments on a site like IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes, or simply listen to friends it seems there is one common thread: the standards of vocal reviewers is too damn high.

I’m not saying we aren’t entitled to our opinions or that they can’t be shared. The problem is that, all too often, we share those opinions as if they are facts. “This movie is one of the worst films of all time!” or “Only a moron would enjoy this garbage!” are common fallacious claims that litter Facebook posts or website reviews. Sometimes these are from rabid fans upset at a movie’s interpretation of “their” fandom; other times they’re simply people who watch a lot of movies and seem to think their opinion is the absolute bar for perfection. In the end, the majority of these reviews seem to be based more on personal likes rather than cinematic analysis.

For example, Star Trek: Into Darkness received some very nasty reviews, deriding the movie as a rip-off. An entire Star Trek convention voted it the worst Star Trek movie of all time, even in the face of films like the Shatner-directed “Final Frontier”. One would think this movie must have atrocious acting, a horrible plot, and no redeeming qualities… except every other factor about the movie disagrees.

“Into Darkness” not only has a 7.9/10 (IMDB), 72/100 (Metacritic), and A grade (Cinemascore), but also is ranked 87% fresh by Critics and 90% fresh by Audiences (Rotten Tomatoes). This reboot sequel ranks 2nd for opening weekends, 4th for domestic box office, and 1st for worldwide box office among all Star Trek films (with amounts adjusted for inflation). In addition, “Into Darkness” was nominated for 26 different awards from 15 different organizations, taking home Best Film (Hollywood Film Awards), British Artist of the Year (Britannia Awards), and Best Overall Blu-Ray (Satellite Awards).

How could this movie rank so highly from reviews to box office to awards, and yet be the “worst” Star Trek movie ever? Simply, the standards of some people is too damn high. Although a great movie, there was little new about “Into Darkness” beyond flashy effects, different actors, and some changes in plot. It was even written as an homage to the original sequel, which drew derision as a “rip-off” from some viewers. Yet, these people couldn’t look past the parts they disliked, instead resorting to immature and emotional reactions, labeling the movie as garbage without ever judging the movie on its cinematic value or in the larger scheme of things. Worse, in their arrogance, many of these reviewers lauded themselves as the true experts on “Star Trek”, and that the rankings by everyone else were invalid and inaccurate.

It’s this arrogance and limited viewpoint that keeps people from enjoying many hidden gems (or simply enjoyable knock-offs). Unless a new movie ranks as highly as Star Wars (IV or V), Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Jaws, it’s immediately labeled as “crap”. You can’t just tell someone to watch a movie for some great action or silly one-liners, without them attacking the plot, acting, or cinematography. Even movies that did well at the box office and have average ratings, like I, Robot, Underworld, or Ghost Rider, are immediately thrown away as “unworthy”. And let’s not even get into movies that are definitely bad but still provide entertainment if people just let them, like Battleship or Punisher: War Zone.

What is it with people’s standards? Can they not find the enjoyment in a clich√© horror, a ridiculous action film, or an over-the-top F/X sci-fi? Why must everything be looked at through tinted glasses and down one’s nose? People really need to relax and try to enjoy a movie for what it is, not what they want it to be. Standards are fine, as there are even a few movies I wanted my money back, but they’re not immovable and clear lines that can never be crossed.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go watch my copy of Ultraviolet or 2010’s The Wolfman.