If you looked it up in the dictionary, you would probably find something like “Evaluating the positives and negatives of a film”.
In it’s most basic form, this is exactly what film criticism is. Watching a film, having a think about it, and discussing it. Careers have been built and destroyed all on the words of a single critic. So, as famously announced in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Yes, criticism is simple to define, but to properly critique a film, it is important to look past the surface and properly look at many different elements that make films, for better or worse, unique. A critic should be impartial, forgetting their own desires and feelings, and truly assess a film for the quality of final product.
Firstly, a critic must be aware of the two different types of conventions that modern cinema has been built upon. In case you were not aware: in film land, conventions define the rules and standards of a particular task or quality. The two major conventions are film production and genre conventions. As production teams are aware of these elements, and give them much consideration from the initial drafts of a film, through to final cut, so too should a critic be giving much thought to these guidelines during the film’s viewing.
The first consideration when considering cinematic conventions is the production elements of a film. This essentially considers the different elements of a film’s production, including the script, acting, sets, visual effects and editing. It is a critic’s goal to assess all of these different elements and see how they contribute to a film’s narrative, and whether they convey the different idea’s and feelings that the film is trying to project onto the viewer. For example, a critic should examine the narrative. This should include the pacing of the script, the transition and fluency of the action, and dialogue that is conveyed by the film’s actors. Also, a critic should examine whether the acting appropriately conveys the narrative in a believable and considerate way.
Another consideration that should be given is to a film’s production. Elements such as cinematography, editing, scoring and set design are crucial to the final product depicted on screen, and a lapse of quality in one of these elements can significantly effect a film’s credibility. For example, consideration should be given to the visuals that you see on screen. The style and execution of the camera work, as well as the cinematography, can directly influence an audience’s thoughts and feelings. Editing and the music score are also crucial elements in a film’s production. Editing helps drive the plot along whilst simultaneously sustaining emotions in the audience. Music is used to compliment the visuals of a scene and convey different ideas and emotions. Filmmakers are aware of all these different production tools whilst creating a film, so critics should be too.. This can be as simple as dissecting whether the music in a scene is appropriately conveying emotion and complimenting a scene as well as the editing.
Finally, the last major consideration a critic should be giving a film comes down to genre conventions. In cinema, film’s are classified into different groups depending on it’s style and subject. With each different classification comes a set of guidelines that filmmakers take into consideration when developing a project. These conventions can directly affect the different elements of a production, such as the cinematography, acting, editing and music. For example, a particular acting performance may be seen as of a high quality in a comedy, but when transitioned to a drama film, the same performance could be seen as inappropriate and degrading.
Film criticism requires a lot of attention to a variety of details. It is the job of a director to find an appropriate balance between cinematic and genre conventions, and create a film that is appropriately grabs and maintains the attention and pleasure of the audience. A good critic shouldn’t just be able to tell you why a film was good, or bad, but should be able to break a film down and tell you why.