Movie Critique Form
Copyright © 2002 by Dorian Scott Cole
Movie Characteristics for Critiques
If you want to critique a movie, there are a number of factors to consider. A critiques is not the "coverage" that a studio does with the objective of finding a movie to make. Critiquing a movie has very different objectives than reviewing. A review gives clues as to whether or not others will find the movie worth seeing. A critique names specific things that make a movie (or screenplay) work, or not work, so that the creator can improve.
Story Synopsis: ________________(Six lines)
The premise of a movie is the supposition(s) implied in the story. It supposes that if this happens, that will happen. "If this happens (that is, the motivation of characters combined with the events), then that will happen (that is, the resulting trail of events and culmination)." Faulty suppositions violate the integrity of the movie (validity of the dramatic action), so the movie comes off as phony and unbelievable. (There are rarely problems resulting from story premise, and premise can usually be safely disregarded.)
Characterization depends somewhat on genre. Action movies typically have less character depth, while drama has more, and comedy is anywhere in-between.
In all genres, individual characters are usually consistent in their beliefs, voice, and reactions.
The more depth there is to characters, the more character-driven the story. Character motivation is very important, and when it is lacking the audience can't identify with the character and can't understand why he does things. Lack of character motivation is the biggest problem, and it usually makes the first act and the plot weak.
Structure and Plot
Sometimes audiences like the plot to travel a well trodden path - it is reassuring. Usually though a plot needs to be unpredictable, but is the result of character choices and events (never changing just for the sake of change), and should have some surprises. Plot is the primary thing that attracts an audience, even though the story is typically developed from character motivation.
Structure also encompasses the idea of 3 acts, and things like introducing the main characters early (first act), and mounting tension through the story, and each scene is part of the steady and determined march toward the end - all of which may be cited as problems when there are problems, but shouldn't be imposed on a story that works.
Plots usually suffer because action doesn't follow from character motivation; or when things appear magically when needed instead of being an integral part of the setting (coincidence); or the characters don't find their own way to resolve their problems; or once in a while somebody resolves difficulties by an act of God (Aunt Hattie dies and leaves them money, or a minister stops by and tells them what to do).
Dialogue works best when it is short (3 lines, except where more is warranted), works best when it is focused, and when it reacts to the other characters.
Dialogue makes a more visual contribution if it contains word choices that are graphic, action oriented, and relate to experiences (experiential), as opposed to abstract, passive, and non-descriptive words. See "Visual Presentation" for more on the visual aspects of dialogue.
Realism helps very little. In real life people beat around the bush, stumble over words, fail to express their thoughts accurately, use words that can't possibly express what they mean, and run on endlessly. Realistic speech makes horrible dialogue - if anything dialogue needs only a touch of realism to give it flavor.
Originality is one of the characteristics commonly used to set apart an excellently written story from one that is both excellent and captivating to an audience. Something "original" might be a character, a plot, a twist, an engaging idea, a setting, or something else that the audience has not seen before.
The most important problem with scenes is the failure to stay focused. Suddenly a scene appears that has nothing to do with the action in the previous or next scenes, it wanders all over everywhere, makes some kind of point, and moves on. There is no impact on the character during the scene. It's like when your wife interrupts your project of the moment to go shopping. Everything is derailed.
Scenes develop more smoothly as part of a longer dramatic unit (a sequence of several scenes that develop something), however, scenes should at least be part of the chain that makes up the story (part of the steady and determined march toward the end), they should typically contain conflict, and the character typically reacts to the conflict with a change in mood or direction.
Surprise, like originality, is another highly sought after quality in a movie. It is the antithesis of predictability. It's when the audience says, "I should have seen that coming, but it took me completely by surprise." The element of surprise sets an excellently written story apart from one that is both excellent and captivating to an audience.
A visual presentation occurs when characters act and react to each other and the set to communicate drama, and this interaction typically involves a lot of dialogue.
Dialogue is part of the visual presentation, but it ceases to make a visual contribution when it takes off on its own and blocks the integration of the various communication forms. For example, if the character is telling about events, he is narrating the story, "telling" it instead of creating it. If a scene moves from topic to topic to topic, the communication loses the focus required to develop the drama in the scene.
The set is an important visual component, it should communicate a setting, sometimes a motif, and the characters should interact with it, and with other objects that can symbolize their motivation. The particular type of story will determine how much interaction there can be.
All of these things mentioned above relate to writing skill. The task of the writer is not just the technical skill of enabling a visual presentation, not just the skill to put words on paper that excellently tell a story, but to literally captivate and entertain the audience. Stories of this caliber are superior to other stories or movies.
Good luck! - Scott