Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #14

Re: Up (2009)

I have mostly stopped reading movie reviews prior to viewing the movies, except for the reviews you write. Perhaps I just read the wrong reviewers, but I’ve noticed that more and more of them pretty much just give away the entire story and leave no room for surprise. It’s almost as though movie reviewers these days want to make sure that the movie consumer knows exactly what their $9.00 (or whatever it costs in your market) is getting them. It sure doesn’t leave a lot of room for surprise and wonder.

This was brought to mind rather strongly in comparing your review of Up with the review published by another Christian venue for the same movie. I read yours before seeing the movie (I skipped the spoiler section on first reading, though your spoilers tend to be more coy than most), and the other review post-viewing. While I appreciated the other critic’s insights into some of the themes, I found the six or seven paragraphs summarizing almost the entire movie to be way to revealing. The review gave away too much. I say this not to pick on the other critic, but to illustrate what I see to be a general trend in movie reviews.

I’m not a particularly observant movie watcher. I know little about movie-making technique, and I rarely sit around after viewing to analyze what it was that made the story work. I find reviews helpful to tip me off to things to keep an eye out for that I might otherwise miss, insights that amplify the viewing experience, and of course, whether the movie is one I might want to see. For me, a good review is one that I can read both before and after seeing the film and get something out of each time, while also getting to enjoy the movie itself.

So thank you. Your reviews are consistently excellent (even when I have to disagree with your conclusions), and have been instrumental in pushing me to see movies I might not otherwise have seen (e.g. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days). You don’t give away the story or spoil the movie for me, either. For all these things, I am grateful. Thank you!

Spoiler territory is a minefield, partly because one person’s spoiler is another person’s basic plot point, and also because it can be just plain hard to write about a film without revealing what happens. Reveal too much, and you spoil the movie; reveal too little, and you wind up not giving the reader useful information.

At the same time, good art thrives under constraint, and the constraint not to reveal spoilers is no different from any other. Some of my favorite bits of my own film writing happened precisely where I felt least free to discuss what actually happens. In such cases, I would rather write about the feeling or the effect of the events than spell out plot points.

Your description of a good review very much coincides with my own. That’s the kind of writing I try to do; thanks for confirming that I’m on the right track.

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