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August 3, 2017

Let’s (Not) Go to the Charts: Thoughts on Review Scores

Are there enough moments from How I Met Your Mother over the years to have clips for any given situation?  Maybe.  It’s probably not as versatile as, say, The Simpsons, but I’d like to think that it’ll do in a pinch.  Like this pinch.  Via this clip.

…I will do whatever I can to keep the memory of How I Met Your Mother alive.  I know it ended and all with a full-on finale -- which is a luxury not every TV show out there can afford -- but still.  I miss it so much.  Thank all the gods for reruns.

Anyway, let’s talk about charts.  And reviews.  And review scores.  And hastily made JPEGs.

But only after Slapbet.



So if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time -- or at the very least within the last week or two -- you may have noticed that I toss up this little thing I dubbed a “SmartChart” at the end of each movie post (or posts).  I started using it to try and unpack my feelings about Prometheus, i.e. a movie that tried to be about big things -- and ostensibly was about big things -- but couldn’t quite hit the mark.  And let’s just leave it at that for now, because the issues have long since been noted.

But it seemed like an okay feature to keep around, so I did.  Granted that was partly out of my need to cling to traditions and keep up needless streaks for completion’s sake, but there was a hidden benefit.  The idea behind it, on some level, was to create a system that wasn’t as binary or oversimplified as the review scores you’d see on gaming websites or YouTube videos.  Review scores in general kind of leave me wary, because even if they have merits -- like a straight summary on a product’s quality in less than a blink -- I feel like they leave a lot to be desired.  Unless it’s something you have no interest in or want to skim as you go about your business, you shouldn’t just look at a score, or letter, or grade and leave it at that (or hold it up as the lord’s gospel).  Reading, watching, or listening to a review is always, always, always going to be crucial.

For my purposes?  I saw the SmartChart as a good alternative because it didn’t pare things down to TENOUTTATEN or 8.8.  Consider this:


The plan was to judge movies (post-thousands and thousands of words) on a Cartesian scale instead of the standard stuff.  On the X-axis, a measure of quality by design; on the Y-axis, a measure of quality by execution.  The optimal zone is, obviously, the top right corner.  A movie that landed there would mean that it tried to do more and be more -- have depth and meaning and thematic heft and all of that good stuff.  Because of that, it would shift further over into the positive range -- as opposed to something like, say, Transformers, whose design (or creative ambition, if you prefer) was and continues to be so narrow that you could thread it through a needle.

But being in the negative zone -- on the left side of the Y-axis -- isn’t a death knell.  It just means that the movie goes for a low-risk, low-reward approach.  Well, in a sense; you could argue that by aiming low on a design aspect it has to aim high in terms of execution.  On that note, it’s best if a movie stays above the X-axis.  That’s the real measure of whether it’s good, bad, or anything people should take interest in.  Again, the sweet spot is the top right corner, because it means that a movie A) aimed high with its design, and B) scored just as high with its execution.  It’s a smart movie because it tried to be smart, but proved how smart it was by virtue of being well-crafted -- primed and fine-tuned to get the most out of every element.  Thus, smart smart, as opposed to stupid smart, smart stupid, or stupid stupid.


Now here’s where the problems come in.  I’ve gotten this sense for a while now, but that post on Spider-Man: Homecoming really drives the point home.  A good chunk of the reasoning behind the SmartChart was to prevent assigning an arbitrary score to a movie.  And I avoided that…buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut instead, the chart ended up assigning an arbitrary position to a movie.  It’s long since stopped mattering where I put it on some dumb JPEG, largely because they’ve all started to blend together.

Out of curiosity, I decided to see how Homecoming’s chart stacked up against Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.  After the credits for Spidey’s latest started to roll, I was asked whether I thought it was better than Guardians 2.  And said yes, it was -- however slightly.  But in turn, both movies lose out to Doctor Strange (in my opinion).  You never would have guessed, given their positions in the charts.  So basically, these movies -- the Marvel movies in particular -- keep orbiting this general, nebulous area that makes it pointless to try and rank them via my chart.  On top of that?  Trying to compare the movies via the chart means that I don’t have any ironclad basis to go by.  Because there’s no number, granulation, or unit of measurement, it makes sorting things out much worse.  The alternative, therefore, means introducing numbers to try and assign scores to the movies.

You see where the problem lies, don’t you?


So yeah.  I think it’s about time for me to retire the SmartChart.  It served its purpose, but at best it’s nothing more than a redundancy.  I tend to make my posts pretty comprehensive, so those that want a full picture of whether or not a movie works would do well to read the posts instead of scurrying to the bottom of the page to gawk at some JPEG I’ve been tweaking since 2012.  Even if this blog in general is the definition of arbitrary, I don’t see much of a reason to keep up with something that’s becoming increasingly superfluous as time goes boy.

With that in mind, I kind of wonder if there’s a better alternative.  I don’t like review scores (especially since nothing I write even qualifies as a review…though the line does blur from time to time).  I’d rather do without them if I can possibly help it, because it’s hard to quantify how good or how bad individual elements of a product are.  But I know that there are those that do like review scores.  So is there a happy medium?  No doubt.  Can I find that medium for the purposes of this blog?  That’s not so obvious.

I guess if I was going to adopt any sort of scoring system, it’d be akin to Eurogamer’s.  A little graphic and a line or two of text to sum it all up; it’s a simple solution, but sometimes simplicity is what you need.  There are a couple of alternate systems I toyed around with, but those seem more complicated than necessary and might make the problem worse instead of better.  So for the time being?  If you want to know if a movie’s good or bad, read the post(s).  Maybe at some point I’ll implement a new system.  Maybe I won’t.  Time will tell.  But we’ll get there when we get there.


And that’s about all I’ve got for now.  Tune in next week (probably), because I get to do something I haven’t done in a while: rail on a terrible video game (that’s not named Final Fantasy).  It’s an essential endeavor, because it’ll lead directly into the next important topic.  That is, I’ll use it as a springboard to rail on a terrible anime.  And/or manga.  And/or light novel.  And/or franchise.  They’re all kind of blurring into one another here, and I can’t be bothered to do any more research than absolutely necessary.  Google be damned.

So there you go.  And now I go back to my natural state: fawning over HIMYM-era (and beyond) Alyson Hannigan.


UNRIVALED.  UNBEATABLEUNSTOPPABLE.

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