Six years ago I unleashed the Nightman Scoring System (c) upon the world and since then it has been a huge success; a grand total of zero people have used it for reviewing albums. Rather than quit while I’m ahead, I’ve decided to present a movie edition of the system. It’s like a movie edition of Trivial Pursuit, but with less arguments and headbutting your Grandmother. Go read the original post first for some lengthy reasoning. If not, here’s a short recap; I don’t like giving scores in reviews, but if I absolutely had to I would cut up the most important components of the Product into equal parts and score each part individually thereby giving a more credible, less partisan overall rating. I split the Product into 20 parts, each part has a total possible 5 points, giving a total possible score of 100 – nice for percentages. While personal preference will still come into play, it will be further balanced by other components – you may love something which was a commercial flop so you can’t possibly give it a high rating in a Sales category. Furthermore, you may hate something which sold millions, but you are forced to give it a high score in a Sales category. This loose rigidity should further keep things fair in preventing the most staunch, anti-genre critics from giving high or low ratings in certain categories.
So, what makes a movie and how do we break it down into components? A lot of people are involved in movie making, and handily they are essentially already split into different parts – wardrobe, editing, directing, music, acting etc. You can look to existing Award ceremonies or other reviewers and critics to see which pieces of movies are most discussed. The below 20 categories are my choices – most of them you can’t argue with, but I’m sure I’ve missed a few which you think are important or which could replace some which I have given. You can switch those out, remove some, or add some, but you must remember that each category must have equal rating – you cannot change that. Sales are NOT more important that critical consensus. Music is NOT more important than wardrobe. You will have your preferences – I sure as hell do – but to give a fair score everything must be weighted equally. I do think there is room here for 25 components, giving each a weighting of four points, but I’ll stick with 20 for now. Lets check out my components and some description and ‘rules’ around each.
Sales: We begin with the easy components. You can’t get away from sales. Money is what makes the Business work. Your indie/arthouse/foreign/not commercial movie might be awesome, but if it doesn’t sell, then it isn’t successful. With all these categories there are variants – a movie with a budget of $10,000 which goes on to make $10 million would be seen as a huge success. A movie with a $50 million budget which makes $55 million would not be a success – but it still hit $55 million. A film might get strong sales in its home country, but weak sales worldwide – what were its targets before release? Do you factor in DVD/home sales? Basically there is a little wriggle room in here for what you think gets a high score – something like Paranormal Activity or Avatar gets a 5, while something like Heaven’s Gate would be a flop. A good way of thinking about it is if it loses money on its budget, it can’t get higher than a score of 3, if it exceeds its budget, it can’t get less than 3.
Chart: Chart and Sales are different. A film may reach number 1 in Charts in various countries, but drop out of the top 10 the following week. On the flip side, a film may not reach the top 5 in the US but not fall out of the top 10 for a number of weeks.
Critical Consensus: This is where Rotten Tomatoes etc come in. You should not only look at critical reviews, but fan reviews too. If a film gets rave critical reviews, but muted fan response it can’t get a 5. Likewise, a film could be a strong fan favourite but get a ‘meh’ from critics – can’t get a 5. A 5 is reserved for movies which are loved by fans and critics, a 1 is where most in both groups give the movie a bad review.
Director: Self explanatory – how good is the Direction? This is subjective, but try to be objective. If the director wins or is nominated for awards for the movie, chances are it deserves a high score. If the director is merely competent, takes chances, if it’s a first movie versus a veteran director, all of these things should be considered.
Performances: Self explanatory – how good are the performances? Possibly you could divide this category in two – lead performances and everything else. Again it is subjective – I’m not a huge Kevin Spacey fan in that I find his performances limited and samey, but I’m in the vast minority there. Again you look to award wins and nominations, but for the most part if you know and watch enough movies, you’ll know if a performance is good, terrific, average, bad, or awful.
Music: How good is the score? Did you buy or download the soundtrack or does a particular piece infiltrate your sub-conscious? When you hear the soundtrack do you automatically think of the movie or if someone talks about the movie can you hear the music in your head? Does the music compliment the mood, tone, theme? This is more than just ‘I hate jazz, the soundtrack is jazz, so it gets a score of 1’ and it is more than ‘it has a single important song so automatically gets a score of 5’.
Cinematography: How good does the movie look? Look for unique shots, beautiful camera work and framing. Is it distinct? A bad movie can look breathtaking. A great or entertaining movie can have bland or by the numbers cinematography.
Writing: It doesn’t matter if the screenplay is adapted or original as long as it’s good. Is it over-burdened with description and exposition? Does the plot makes sense, or does it takes leaps of logic? Is it consistent or overly simplistic? Is the dialogue authentic, quotable, interesting? Do you believe the characters would do and say what they do and say? Everything from quips to speeches to plot to background text (posters, advertisements and other written text you see on screen – think of Simpsons gags like store names) should be considered under writing.
Wardrobe: Clothes. I don’t know much about them. I wear them to cover my nuts and that’s about it. But costumes and wardrobe are important for movies – they make the characters leap off the screen and heighten performances – what would Vader look like without his mask and cape? Well, Jedi spoiled that for us. Are the costumes authentic when they need to be? Is the care and dedication into costume clear or do they seem like an afterthought?
Editing: A film with bad editing can be a mess. It can destroy consistency, ruin plot, and cause the timing off the film to be off. Editing is part of the overall style and when done right can be immediately noticeable or not noticeable at all.
Make up and Hair: Another piece I don’t pay much attention too and I was almost going to merge it with Costume. Make-up however is where it’s at for me – I couldn’t care less about hair. Make-up though – The Elephant Man, Nightmare On Elm Street… need I say more? I think only something truly iconic or groundbreaking should ever get a 5 here, while on the flipper only something with zero effort or disastrously awful should get a 1.
Effects: Special effects, visual effects, practical effects, digital effects, into the pot you go. Again, look at how groundbreaking they are and look at the time they were made – something groundbreaking in 1980 will look like muck today so consider time’s whorish saunter too. Also consider if the effects add anything to the film or take anything away – does an effect suddenly pull you out of the narrative, does it look fake, or are the effects so conjoined to plot that the film would fail without them?
Art and Set: The opposing side of cinematography, how impressive are the sets? Care, love, dedication, skill, realism, imagination and all the rest of it should be thought of before giving a score.
Sound: I was almost going to get rid of this one entirely and replace it with something like plot, separated from writing. As much as I don’t care about Sound, or really notice it, it is nevertheless an important part of a movie. Editing, mixing, volume, coherence, consistency, realism, ingenuity, all go towards creating the soundscape of a movie.
Cultural Significance: How much impact does a film have on the general public? Not every film can have the impact of a Casablanca or a Star Wars. Also, it is difficult to gauge that level of significance upon release – partly why I wait a while after release before reviewing a film. You could look at hype up to and at the time of a release, and that is important, but you can also look at the number of sequels a film generates, the amount of fan-fiction or buzz or blogging that goes on afterwards. Does the dialogue seep into everyday conversations? Is the movie referenced in other works? Does a particular moment or style or character or device crafted in the movie get used again in later movies? How much are people still talking about it in 1 or 10 or 50 years time?
Accomplishment: To score this you need to understand the movie’s goals. If it’s a horror movie did it scare you? Did it scare others? If a comedy, how much laughter did it generate? Did you cry when you were supposed to? How successful was the movie in doing what it set out to do?
Stunts: Some people might replace this component with something else. Almost every film, if not every film has some sort of stunt. Even the most bland drama will have some element of stunt work or stunt performance. If it doesn’t, then feel free to exclude this category and put something else in its place. More importantly – what are you doing watching a film with no stunts, you big weirdo? With stunts we generally think of the biggest and best. That is definitely something to think about, especially in movies where action is heavy. You may think this category then is biased towards a certain type of movie – that’s kind of fair enough but it’s probably likely that stunt heavy movies will fall down in other categories that stunt-lite movies will not.
Originality: When we think about originality, we’re not only talking about being the first movie in a particular genre. Movies can show originality in most of the above categories and more. A new camera technique, a new type of squib, a new brand of performance, an original script, hell even something new like an original viral advertising is all part and parcel of things. If the film does nothing new, copies other better or more successful movies, or just seems like a cash-in, then it’s probably going to get a low score here.
Miscellaneous: Like my Nightman Music System, this is for anything else you think I have missed, or that you may have missed. Any smaller components which still make up the final package – a nifty poster, a trailer, animal performers (which along with voice work should be considered in the performance category), I don’t know. Again, replace this one with another category entirely if you feel something major has been missed.
Personal: This is your own personal score, just for your bias – even if a film does reasonably well in most of the above categories but you still hate it, go ahead and pop a 1 in here. If your favourite movie of all time happens to be Police Academy 7, feel free to slap a fat 5 here.
There you have it. Try to review a few films using this system. Even better, get a group of your friends, fellow bloggers, or film geeks to choose a film at random – a new release, or an old movie you haven’t watched yet, and each review it to see how you compare in each category and how close or far apart your overall scores are. Like any good review it should act as a discussion point – friends gathering around a few pints (not coffee…. never coffee) and argue over each component and try to find common ground to use when reviewing in the future. Let me know in the comments what you think of this flawless system and if there is anything you would change. Happy watching and talking!