Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts


Review Scores

Posted on January 24, 2011 at 5:23 AM

Ask any reviewer and they'll tell you the same thing about scores: they are completely pointless yet entirely necessary.

To a person that reviews something, from food to movies or games to literature, putting a simple little number or a letter grade on their critique is something they likely loathe. Afterall, they just wrote a good page or two of a review and want you to read it to understand the context and the purpose behind their decision and ultimate judgment. Alas, reviewers do not write for other reviewers - they write for general mass consumption and the layman. The layman demands a quick decision and easy categorization. I support the latter, sometimes reviewers have a large volume of work and you can get a good idea of their principles by seeing where most of their thought processes reside. The former, though, is just laziness. Still, a reviewer has to do it because, at this stage, you have to appeal to that seeing as how film reviews have been that way for decades and now is purely a matter of convenience than a critique with depth.

I do not critique with depth, usually. That's why I labeled my reviews "quick reviews." However, I do try and choose my points and words wisely and closely to make up for lack of length in a few cases. I'm not there to analyze the film, only review it. There is a difference and if you want to see me analyze something, there's a Fight Club and 2001 A Space Odyssey article for your intellectual enjoyment. I simply make points, categorize into good/bad/ugly scenarios and then a final number.

For me, and I'm sure other reviewers, while I agree with the assessment one should read the review and not simply look at the number, at the same time a number or letter grade clarifies things. Some reviews, mine in particular, don't really make their final decision clear. I might only write a few sentences about something good, but go on for a paragraph or two about something bad...yet still give it a good grade.

It usually goes like this on a 5 point scale.


5: Pretty much a flawless piece of cinema. A classic.

4.5: A great, great movie that you must see. Required viewing.

4: A great movie. Highly recommended.

3.5: A solid/good movie.

3.0: A good movie but has its share of problems.

2.5: Average in every aspect, you can take or leave it.

2.0: Might have some good qualities, but overall a problematic film

1.5: A bad movie, not recommended.

Anything below is just bad/not worth your time. I could put a number on it, and sometimes do, but bad is bad no matter what a .5 says on it.


Some places take their point system to the extreme, though. This I utterly hate. For example, IGN is notorious for their point system doing a ten point scale but utilizing every decimal. Of course, they want you to READ the review to allow for context, but as I said most people will read a number. So when a person sees a 7.9 and not an 8.0, they get upset even though by a ten point scale a 7.9 is damn good. I suppose it's the school grade system to blame where a 79 is a C+ and an 80 is a B-. Then again, can anyone explain what the difference in a .1 is? Using every single number is pointless to begin with.

I'm also not a big fan of just a thumbs up or thumbs down. Yes, that phrase is a trademarked staple of the review world, but no film is simple good/bad or black/white. But think about it, what was the point of doing that? Because it was television and television is the pinnacle of mass-consumption/passive entertainment so they had to do it. A review you have to read, which is why Gene and Roger's written reviews were something I enjoyed (and still enjoy) reading because it allowed more perspective to everything.

Anyways, point being: if you are a reviewer, make your grading system clear and, most importantly, stay consistent. I am what one calls a "relative reviewer" as well, which basically means "not everything is trying to be Citizen Kane." I don't watch Commando or Point Break and complain there's not enough human drama in it and I wasn't moved. Although, it was pretty sad when that guy got his skull filleted by a table saw blade. Make intentions clear from the beginning, understand that scores are just the way things will be and work with the system rather than against it.


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Reply Mikal 5
10:12 PM on January 25, 2011 
Very interesting article. I do generally agree with your points, though I would give the "Thumbs Up/Down" system a bit more credit, considering that when you say it in the show, there was always a certain amount of context given. However I take your point about it; we don;t live in a world of black and white, but rather a rainbow of gray.
Reply frdrizzt (Anthony)
8:14 AM on January 26, 2011 
This was said perfectly. Generally, people like to have scores to say what is "better", usually for "my game is better than yours" rather than "what should I spend my time/money on [first]". You'd have to read quite a few reviews from a person to know what they like and be able to simply look at a score and judge if it's worth your time without reading the review. For example, I'd trust any 5/5 movie you give as being worth my time because I've read a ton of your reviews (I'd still want to read the review, I'm sure), but I can't do that for just anyone who writes a review.
Reply J. Conrady
12:10 PM on January 26, 2011 
Anthony is trying to flatter me so I'll come back to IGN. ^_^

And I do give Thumbs up/Down credit, and I think it fits in the context of the show through the debate, but only the "thumbs up/down" would appear on a poster which really says nothing about it. I should have been more clear on that.