Most of us regularly view movies, and most of us have opinions about the movies we have seen.  Movie review writing, however, is quite another matter.  Casting a truly critical “eye,” in order to evaluate a film, and then putting that evaluation into written form requires a good deal of thought, exceptional and creative writing skill, and the ability to justify opinions without revealing  significant plot features.

Movie review writing may be required for a variety of purposes.  Instructors and professors may assign movie reviews.  Students in journalism, multimedia, broadcasting, and cinematography courses will often face such assignments; those who write for blogs and other social media websites related to movies must regularly write reviews; high school and university students may produce a regular movie review for a student newspaper; and, of course, those in the print journalism profession may find themselves charged with a writing a weekly movie review column.

The best movie reviewers become experts only through a passion for film and practice in movie review writing.  If you are charged with a movie review or have an abiding interest in such an activity as a profession, there are some basic tips that can guide your writing.

  1. View the film more than once.  Everyone has had the experience of reading a book or watching a movie and then, perhaps several years later reading or watching it again.  There are always facets of the plot, photography, characters and/or dialogue that were missed the first time around.  Good movie reviewers will watch a film once to establish an overall impression; they will watch it a second time with an eye toward one or more aspects of the film and take notes while doing so; many watch a third or fourth time, or as often as necessary until they are satisfied that they have a thorough understanding of plot development, characters, theme(s), special effects, and other facets unique to the piece.
  2. Provide a brief overview of the plot without revealing key elements that would “spoil” the movie for others.  Generally, you can present the conflicts and some of the rising action without revealing too much, but it is truly unprofessional to reveal significant plot details or, of course, the ending, unless the film itself is a classic or a re-make of one.
  3. Consider your audience.  You language will vary dependent upon your readership.  Writing a movie review for a journal dedicated to film will require a much more sophisticated writing style than for a blog or social media site.  As well, movie review writing for a more sophisticated audience will require that criticism be “couched” in unoffending terminology.  “Blasting” a bad film should be reserved for sites and publications that accept and expect such language.
  4. Your opinion of the film should be as objective as possible. A personal dislike for an actress or an actor is not license to “bash” their role portrayal in a film.  When you express an opinion, it must be supported by details from the film, or you may not express that opinion at all.  Facets on which you may wish to state an opinion include the following: The Plot.  Is it too thin or too complex for the average viewer?  Is it developed with an appropriate amount of suspense to maintain viewer interest?  Are the conflicts resolved, and, if not, is a sequel probably in the works? The Characters.  Are they believable?  Do they portray their roles well?  If not, is it due to their acting or to a poor script?  Are the motivations that drive the characters’ actions valid?  Sometimes this is a poor portrayal, but other times it is the fault of the plot development or the directing.  If you criticize characters, be prepared to justify such criticism and to offer suggestions related to a better portrayal.
  5. Consider the technical elements of the move.  Lighting, special effects, music, and other sound should all support and enhance the story that is told.  If they are disappointing, say so, but be prepared to offer what would have improved these aspects.  The Star Wars series would have been nothing more than a science fiction tale of good vs. evil without the special effects and music.  Technical aspects can truly mean the difference between a mediocre and a spectacular film.

Solid movie review writing allows the writer an opportunity to express opinions.  These opinions, however, must be supported, especially if s/he is disappointed by any aspect of the film.  Most film critics have certain genres of film that they love and others that they dislike.  These personal preferences should not become a part of a review – ever!  Remember as well that movie reviews should be enjoyable exercises in writing and creativity.  Other than the academic assignment of a movie review, no one should engage in this activity unless there is a passion for film and for writing.

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