I have a problem.
But I hate rating systems.
I enjoy media that you can engage with once it’s all over; a film that I can walk out of and have a two hour long discussion about the ins and outs of the universe over a pint is an absolute dream. And comparing it to other like media is great, and makes perfect sense. But I also love mindless entertainment.
And it’s these art forms that we feel the need to rate.
The thing is, if you have a scale on which you’re rating things, whether it be stars, numbers or novelty headdresses you have to be objective and include all entrants. The very purpose of these rankings is undermined if you’re not consistent with your scoring and show a broad range.
And the issue we, as reviewers and consumers, have to deal with when we’re tackling these forms of media is the very fact that they can’t all be appreciated on the same scale. We’re dealing with art, and art by its very nature is subjective.
Total film rated Roman Polanski’s Carnage, a real time documentation of two couples disputing their children’s feud, 3 out of 5 stars. Which is fine, I mean really enjoyed the subtle pacing and the commentary of how quickly we as people change allegiances and turn against one another, but perhaps it’s not quite as good as Pacific Rim; a film pitting giant robots against giant inter-dimensional monsters, which Total Film awarded 4 out of 5 stars.
I have a review of Pacific Rim I’ve written for this very website right next to me. But it won’t see the light of day, because I don’t know where I stand with it.
I enjoyed it, it was a lot of fun. But was it a good film? Did it leave me questioning my own limits, like when I walked out of 127 Hours? Did it imbue me with an unparalleled sense of hope at overcoming tyranny and injustice like I get every time I watch the Shawshank Redemption?
Of course it didn’t.
But did I leave the cinema talking about the world and wowing over the effects, action scenes and the score? Yes, because I had a damn good time watching it. Do I think it’s better than Carnage?
Well yes, and at the very same time, no.
I know which one I would recommend to an intellectual film screening, and I know which one I’d recommend watching on a lazy night in with friends.
Films, TV, Music, Games, they’re all have a purpose, it’s just that within the same group some have a different purpose to others.
Ratings annoy me, because I know that I like what I like, and subjectively that makes them good, right? But when something you really enjoyed only gets 2 out 10 bobble heads, it’s kind of disheartening.
On the video game side of things, if a game controls terribly, it loses appeal. If it’s not fun to play, then it can’t be doing a great job. But let’s say two different games are on par, they control well, the voice acting is great and it ticks all your other boxes.
Only one consists of you blowing up everything that moves because of… reasons, and by the end of the other you find yourself questioning the choices you’ve made throughout as the realisation dawns that you’ve become something you’re not.
As an active consumer, you’ll enjoy both to the same degree, but on separate scales. You may give the first one 8 out 10 Chihuahuas, and, on reflection you feel the second one effected you more, so give it 9 out of 10 Chihuahuas because you think, intellectually, that it was better. Even if you never had more fun than that time you latched the fellow to a fighter jet and saw it crash into a mountain.
It’s really a case of entertainment versus effectiveness. Some things are great fun; robots, dinosaurs explosions, exploding robot dinosaurs. But some things are more ‘effective’ like character development, moral ambiguity and existential questions.
I don’t feel it’s fair on anyone, to be rating both these things on the same scale, it’s misleading, and can be undermining. Instead of a direct comparison, we should be giving something well made but mindlessly fun 8 out of 10 apples and giving something well made but hard hitting 8 out of 10 oranges.
And that’s exactly what Flickering Myth have done recently; they’ve introduced two rankings of 5 stars; one for the ‘movie-ness’ of a cinema piece, and the other for the ‘film-ness’ of the same piece, focussing more on the cinematography, score and approach to the art form. It is entertainment against effect, for instance they’d give Pacific Rim 4 stars as a movie, but only 2 as a film, while The Tree of Life would score 4 stars on film, but only 1 on movie.
And the best of both worlds like Rocky, Only God Forgives, or my unnamed existential, morally ambiguous exploding robot dinosaur feature would score highly on both.
So that’s my thoughts on ratings, if I had my way, we’d just say what we want about media, but since we seem to have to numerically rank everything, we might as well do it in a comprehensive and fair way a-la Flickering myth.
So what do you think of rating systems? Do you restrain from going to see a film based solely on rankings? Or will you take part in anything, just in case it’s a hidden gem? Leave a comment even if you disagree with me entirely!