What do I like? Mainly, I like action-adventure and science fiction. Here’s what I look for when writing a good review:
- Internal consistency
- Character behavior—Is it consistent with the story environment?
- “Watchability”—Is the show watchable?—Everything can be technically accurate, and the whole of the show can simply be a waste of time.
Taking these one at a time:
Plot: I like either original plots, slice-of-life type plots, where the story simply follows events or characters around, or no plot. Examples: The movies based on H. G. Wells’ Time Machine and War of the Worlds, 1950’s version, had original plots for their day. A World War II documentary about Patton, or the movie Patton, has a slice-of-life style plot. A documentary on trains, or a Man Versus Wild show doesn’t really have a plot.
Internal consistency: Do things work the same way throughout the show? Or do the weapons start working differently, or do the special effects change, for the same actions?
Realism: Does it look like whatever just happened really could? For example, does a werewolf transform from a human being either off-camera or realistically, as opposed to one moment, a man is standing there, and the next moment there’s a “dink” sound effect and a wolfman is standing there, with his body and limbs in different positions than the man’s had been.
Character behavior: Do the characters act like they are responding to the environment around them, or like they are just going along with scripted events? Do they act logically, given their circumstances, personalities, and experience? Or are they just wooden things that do what the writer and director told them, and they’re acting like, “I do this, then I get paid. There really isn’t any werewolf outside somewhere.”
Watchability: Can one watch the show? Is it physically and mentally possible to sit there and stare at it without wishing that one was anywhere else, doing anything else, including pounding oneself on the head with a hammer? Teletubbies isn’t watchable. Those daft things going around doing nothing in particular, while a baby’s face appears in the sky for some reason, just drives me crazy. Barney the dinosaur isn’t watchable. His “stupid” accent is intolerable, it’s obvious he’s carnivorous and is cultivating the friendship of those children in order to fulfill his nutritional requirements, and he isn’t doing anything worth watching. Sesame Street is watchable. Interesting stuff happens. I admit, the Count is insane, but he’s original and consistent. The characters do things that make sense. More importantly, does one want to watch the show, or is it a chore? Do you look forward to the next episode, or watch the movie again, or decide to go hunt bugs with a giant magnifying glass, instead?
What do I dislike?
Here is a list of my dislikes in stories:
- Re-use of the same plots. King Arthur. Robin Hood. Jesus getting killed every Easter. Romeo and Juliet. Dracula (watch the Jack Palance version).
- Remakes that are worse than the originals.
- Sequels of progressively lousier quality.
- Internal inconsistencies
- Repeat special effects
- Poor special effects
- Recycled monsters
- Bad camera angles in horror movies especially
- “Arty,” distracting camera work
- Constrained plots
- Gross-out scenes
- Shock value scenes
- “Posturing” during fights
- Poorly choreographed fights
- Anachronistic behavior
- Censored shots
- Lack of background research
Some of these points are self-explanatory, and others need a long discussion. I’ll skip the self-explanatory ones. (Some dislikes, like fakery and lies, apply to nonfiction type videos.)
In general, anything that makes the viewer say to him or herself, “That just shouldn’t have worked that way,” distracting the viewer from the story, is bad. Re-using the same plot just makes me say, “I saw this before,” even without watching that particular show. But:
Internal inconsistencies: There is a zombie movie, Zombie, that is quite excellent for its genre (carnivorous zombie movies) except for two points: Zombies attack from a 1600’s graveyard, on a tropical island. There wouldn’t be any bodies there any more, just partial skeletons. Also, the dead re-animate much faster near the end of the movie.
And once I saw a couple of vampire movies where it was possible to bring somebody back from being a vampire. I’ve never heard of that before.
Repeat special effects: The first Battlestar Galactica series had the same explosion each time a Cylon ship got blown up. One I noticed this, I’d keep looking for it, and it was very distracting.
Poor special effects: The Viper spacefighter hatches were visibly not airtight in the first Battlestar Galactica show—they were square and the corresponding surface on the fighter’s fuselage was rounded. At one point in the program, a “missile” effect was made by laying a fluorescent light tube over the scene, and repeating the scene. Many Hollywood series from the same general time frame feature explosions. The sound effect is a 155 mm howitzer, firing about 600 feet in front of a lightly wooded hill, recorded about (a guess) 2000 yards away. Real explosions “crack” close up, “krump” from a great distance, and “boom” from way far away. Listen to lightning. But the same howitzer discharge is used for every explosion in every show. Lasers don’t send visible, dodgeable blobs of energy toward targets. They flicker on and off like a flashlight (try a flashlight or a laser pointer and see). Explosions look like distant puffs, or instant closeup chaos, complete with flying debris, not like somebody put a stick or two of dynamite under a gasoline can. One can’t see an explosion and dodge it, or dive to cover and get away from it, because it explodes at 5000 feet per second, minimum. When a real big explosion happens, crap rattles down from the sky for five or ten seconds.
Recycled monsters: The Gorn from the first Star Trek series showed up later in a movie about a demon, instantly destroying the plot credibility. The dead creature from a Vincent Price movie showed up in the movie Alien.
Unrealities: Sound effects in outer space (no air, so no sound), people landing on burned out stars with spacecraft and walking around (intense gravity would destroy any such, instantly), people in outer space with no space suit, Battlestar Galactica, first series, had Cylons—robots that theoretically operated with mechanical precision—that couldn’t hit a human from 20-50 feet away, extremely high output, high voltage batteries that are removed from ray guns and light sabres without arcing over and blowing up, and other things done without adequate background research.
Errors: A “suction grapnel” used to attach a boarding line to an enemy spacecraft—no air means suction won’t work in space. Flames and fumes rising in zero-G—they occur in halos, because of no gravity, and either propagate that way, or fires go out. Characters in novels slipping the safeties off revolvers, when revolvers don’t have safeties. People knocked unconscious, then waking up with no headache, concussion, or “hangover”-like symptoms. Space fighters maneuvering like atmospheric fighters.
Bad or restricted camera angles: I like to have a distant view of the scenes where monsters attack, not a close-in shot where the thing can suddenly charge someone from off-camera. The Norliss Tapes did a great job with this; modern horror movies do not.
Distracting camera work: Somebody deciding that it will look “arty” to do a lot of zoom in and out shots.
Moralizing: I do not want to watch someone else’s opinion of how the world should work. More importantly, I do not want to pay money to watch it.
Constrained plots: My main objection to Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) ratings is, a rated picture has limitations placed on what can happen next. In real life, anything can happen next, based on normal curves. In other words, less probable stuff doesn’t happen as often, but it can happen. The other problem with MPAA rated movies is that anything rated for children can consist of improbable surreal bull—-, and this is perfectly acceptable. But a movie about a common problem, Bullies, specifically about something children get to deal with every day, gets a rating that implies children shouldn’t see it. Children already see it, every day. Let’s compare this to The Sound of Music. The family in the movie is fleeing the Nazis, and if the Nazis get them, things will happen to them that can’t be shown in a movie with that rating. (Actually, in that movie, if the Nazis get them, the Nazis will yell at them, and somebody might cry. That would be allowed in the rating.) The constrainment on the plot is, the Nazis can’t get them, because of the rating. There goes all the suspense. What you’re stuck watching, if you’re a kid and you’ve been dumped at the theater, is this crap where everybody basically talks and walks around, and, every now and then, someone gets a deranged look in their eyes, they start repeating a phrase over and over, then singing and dancing, and everybody in sight catches it, too. Then once the seizure or obsession or whatever passes, they all get on with their boring lives like nothing strange just happened. No wonder the Nazis want to get rid of them. By the end of the movie, you will, too. A movie like Tommy or Jesus Christ Superstar looks like an opera, only in English. The Sound of Music makes the musical pieces look like such alien behavior that they should be diagnosable disorders in the American Psychiatric Association handbook: Patient gets a weird stare, repeats the same phrase a few times like a broken record or a malfunctioning robot, then begins singing it and dancing to it. Anyone within eyesight stares at them for a few seconds, and then joins in. The goofy behavior completely distracts the viewer from the real plot: The father in the movie is an Austrian, and Austria has just been annexed by Nazi Germany. He has been ordered into the Navy, because he is an experienced military officer, but he does not agree with Nazi policies, so he flees with his family. The inserted, insane-looking musical numbers completely destroy the plot, to the point where it has to be explained to someone after the picture. This length of nonsensical behavior gets a rating that says it’s suitable for children, instead of properly warning the audience that they are wasting their money. Bullies happens to children every day, but some jerks somewhere want to protect children from seeing it on a movie screen. A movie showing behavior that is completely disconnected from reality, completely inappropriate for the circumstances, on the other hand, gets rated for children, because it conforms to MPAA guidelines. Being chased by Nazis wouldn’t put me in a singing and dancing mood. The plot of a rated movie has limitations placed on it such that, although you can’t tell what is going to happen next, after watching a few of them, you can tell which things that often happen in real life won’t happen next. The latter sentence expresses the whole problem with MPAA ratings, aside from the fact that the ratings don’t protect anybody from badly made, awful movies.
Propagandizing: When I pay money to see a movie, I don’t want somebody advertising their political cause at me. Propagandizing leads to stupid, unreal plot elements. When seat belt use is being advocated, Superman, or his secret identity, gets into a car and fastens the seat belt. The last thing Superman is going to do is fasten a seat belt, because of what will happen if he forgets to open it before he gets out of the car. I’m not interested in smoking/nonsmoking issues. In the 1950’s, the characters in the movies all smoked, because the tobacco industry was paying for this advertisement. Presumably, the opposite behavior is being displayed now, but I haven’t specifically checked for it. Most of the characters in the type of movies I like are too busy to screw around smoking. Where propagandizing gets very annoying is when it starts preaching some cause. Some Hollywood movies were made with an antireligious bias, and portrayed religious people as superstitious nut cases. Earlier, before the Civil Rights movement, Hollywood portrayed black people as ridiculous stereotypes (Amos n Andy, etc.) and the Westerns portrayed Native Americans, commonly known as Indians, as vicious savages who were completely incapable of winning gunfights, largely because they used bows and arrows and spears a lot. They would attack, and “bite the dust,” in swarms, and the only good one was a dead one. The propaganda implications were that knowledgeable white people had a responsibility to help those poor dumb black people, and that it had been perfectly all right, and, in fact, glorious, to liberate this wonderful nation of ours from those savage tribesmen. I bet black and Native American movie viewers had different opinions, and got mighty annoyed by this. Current causes being propagandized are the effectiveness of firearms for self-defense (Hollywood liberals are opposed to this, in general), anti-drug abuse (a reversal of a previous trend to show weed and cocaine use as “in,” and LSD as a lot of fun, but dangerous), and specific movies waste the viewers’ money with other, conflicting messages.
Gross-out scenes: Self-explanatory; distracts the viewer from the story. This does not mean that scenes showing exactly why the villain is bad should be cut out, because then you have a movie that doesn’t make any sense: The bad guys are evil because they wear black hats and don’t like the good guys, as opposed to the bad guys (or creatures) are evil because they will do this to you, if they get you.
Shock value scenes: Same objection, especially when these are, upon reflection, extremely unrealistic and improbable.
Slime: Sometime around when the movie Alien was made, special effects people began pouring slime all over everything. Specifically commenting on the movie Alien, it is extremely unrealistic to expect that a creature adapted to an existence in waterless, airless space would ooze bodily fluids everywhere like that, especially when chasing prey. But nobody associated with the movie ever really thought about that very much. A lot of Hollywood movies show that nobody who made them really thought about them very much, and slime is one indicator of this.
“Posturing” during fights: I don’t want to see the action stop while some total fool gives the advantage to the opponent by stopping to explain his position, or beliefs, or to insult the opponent. It’s even worse when the opponent doesn’t take advantage of this to clobber this idiot, but replies. Stopping during a fight (as in “professional” wrestling) to beat your chest and brag about how macho you are, is a good way to lose, and it wastes plot time.
Poorly choreographed fights: Sword fights in old movies consist of the opponents beating their swords against the other person’s sword, demonstrating that neither of them know anything about sword fighting: You knock the opponent’s weapon out of the way, then stick them. Military actions consist of advancing while taking advantage of available cover, with soldiers rushing forward into cover while those already in position are ready to fire at and neutralize enemy opposition. Guess what happens if you strut down the middle of the street holding a big weapon, showing off how tough you look, like in a bad movie. That will happen a lot faster if you draw attention to yourself by shooting the weapon.
Anachronistic behavior: This occurs because of the movie rating system, as well as stupid writers, directors, and bad acting. Examples: In Spartacus, a movie about a massive slave rebellion in pre-Christian Rome, there are a few references to there being hope, because of Christianity. In Star Wars and Star Trek, the behavior of most of the humanoid races is about the same as contemporary American behavior. Here’s what’s missing that would be present in other societies throughout this world, at various points in history: Recreational drugs other than alcohol, like opium dens or hookah parties; open-air slave markets; an annoying marriage broker towing around an eight-year old; groups of strangely dressed people chanting or beating tambourines or just walking together; shrines with idols; militaristic posters in support of the current leadership; graffiti; lots of down-and-outers dressed in rags; small bands of soldiers or guildspeople marching as a group; religious ceremonies featuring sex or animal sacrifice (human sacrifice was extremely rare except in certain societies); sidewalk vendors, and certain districts reserved for small vendors; pushcart food vendors; small restaurants; open air food markets; prostitutes; street performers; playgrounds; traffic control signals; street markings; street and traffic signs; public waste collectors; ambulances or firefighting or other emergency equipment or vehicles; minority districts; stray animals, and so on.
Censored shots: Almost self-explanatory; you can’t see what’s going on, which is the whole point of a visual medium. Here’s a spectacular example: CNN aired a heavily censored report of military atrocities occurring as the Sri Lankan army suppressed the Tamil Tigers rebellion. The bodies were blurred out so as to not be visible and the action froze before a prisoner was shot, with the shot never being fired. Then there was an interview with a Sri Lankan general, who (correctly) said that this was obviously just fake footage that never showed anything really happening. But since it was in the Internet, I dug up the pre-censored footage, which, before CNN ruined it, showed a couple of soldiers shoving bound, naked prisoners into a field and shooting them to death. The difference is obvious, since the real footage actually showed exactly what was claimed.
Fakery: Example: Footage from World War II fighters, engaging in dogfights, or bombers. The sound was added later. The cameras didn’t have sound pickups. Don’t think so? Don’t think the US government would deliberately enhance “news” footage? I’ll prove it. The bombings occurred from miles in the air, yet the sounds of the explosions take place at exactly the same time as you see the explosions, not after a delay. Example: Al-Fateh hijacked some planes, which ended up in the Libyan desert. After releasing the passengers, the hijackers blew up the planes, and the noise of the explosions, filmed from a great distance, occurred at the exact same time as the explosions. Example: Idiots of news staffs presenting (un)educated guesses as news, like the CNN reports of Sarin (nerve gas) use during the Vietnam war, or CBS Evening News reports of “suspicious” disappearances of German prisoners from US prisoner of war camps as World War II ended, making it sound like they were shot and used for landfill, when, in actuality, the US soldiers didn’t see any reason why these people needed to be imprisoned anymore, so they let them go. Example: Propaganda reporting of the Soviet “invasion” of Afghanistan, when they were there for the same reasons the US was, after the Al-Qaida attacks: The maniac terrorists were attacking the civilized areas around the cities, and perpetrating atrocities. For some reason, it wasn’t news when teachers sent into remote areas by the Afghani government were executed in bread ovens for the “crime” of teaching male and female students together, but it was just awful when Soviet troops began shooting some of the crazies.
Lies: See the last example under Fakery, and the CNN report about Sarin use in Vietnam. Also see below…
Lack of background research: Lazy jerks make things up as they go, like the disappearing German prisoners, or the reasons for Soviet involvement in Afghanistan.
…And the special award for general, life-threatening incompetence goes to the (fired) news editors who first aired the Zimmerman murder story from Florida. Some absolute fools edited the 911 conversation between Zimmerman and the 911 operator to sound like:
911 Operator: “What is he doing that’s suspicious?”
Zimmerman: “He’s black.”
Originally, it was more like:
911 Operator: “What is he doing that’s suspicious?”
Zimmerman: “Well, he’s kind of wandering around in the rain without really going anywhere.
911 Operator: “What race is he, white or Hispanic or black?”
Zimmerman: “He’s black.”
When honest people noticed the difference and brought this to the attention of the media monopolies who employed the fools who did this, they were fired. Meanwhile, the edited versions were broadcast all over the country, representing a serious attempt to provoke race riots, without even checking the story carefully. The last episode of race riots caused over 50 billion dollars worth of damage.