In the Dark: No Comparison
Eric D. Snider
I was once denied admittance into a society of online film critics because the man in charge of the organization said my reviews lacked "insight." He defined this lack of insight as "failure to compare the movies I was reviewing to other movies." One specific example he gave is that when I reviewed "U-571," I didn't say anything about how it measured up next to "Das Boot."
This is true. If you read my review of "U-571," you will see no mention whatsoever of "Das Boot." There are two good reasons for this. The first one is that I haven't seen "Das Boot." And furthermore, neither have you. What point is there in comparing a film to another film that most people haven't seen? Usually, when critics compare two movies with similar plots or themes, they're doing it just to show off the fact that they've seen a lot of movies. Do not allow this to impress you: They're film critics; I'd be suspicious if they hadn't seen a lot of movies.
The second reason is that I don't see how it's relevant. Apparently, someone thinks that a man is going to say to his wife one Friday evening, "Well, honey, what should we do tonight? Should we go out and see this 'U-571' film, which looks fairly exciting, or should we stay in and rent a 3½-hour German film that also happens to be about submarines?" And my review needs to offer some guidance as to what their choice should be.
How far shall we take this? Do I compare Disney's "Dinosaur" to Spielberg's "Jurassic Park," simply because both feature computer-animated dinosaurs? Do readers want to know how "Schindler's List" rates against "The Wizard of Oz," since both are in black-and-white and color and take place around 1939? How about "Seven" up against "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," or "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," or "The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires"? Which seven-related movie is the best for your viewing dollar?
Granted, movies sometimes bring comparisons upon themselves. Mel Gibson's "The Patriot," for example, is obviously nothing more than "Braveheart," only without the depth. It's Mel's own new genre: Epic-Length, Loosely Fact-Based Movies About Long-Haired Sweaty Guys with Great Personal Charisma and Natural Leadership Abilities Who Don't Want to Go to War Until Personal Tragedies Force Them to Fight Bloody Battles Against England.
But usually, movies exist on their own terms, and comparing them to anything else is unreasonable. Exceptions would be sequels, of course, which warrant comparison to their predecessors, and Freddie Prinze Jr. movies, which warrant comparison to flaming paper bags full of dog crap. ("'Boys and Girls' was bad, but it was no worse than a flaming paper bag full of dog crap" would be a fair comment to make in a review.)
So in my reviews, I will continue to make comparisons only where it seems appropriate and useful. If a film is not even one-tenth as entertaining as "Tommy Boy," I will not say so. Because after all, what film could be even one-tenth as entertaining as the greatest film ever made?