Thursday, April 14, 2011

"A Rattling Ratings System"

We have eighty movie channels on our Premium Cable movie package. At any given moment, maybe two of those movies are worth watching.

And by “worth watching”, I don’t mean actually worth going out and paying money to see them in the theater. We didn’t do that. We had an interest, but it wasn’t quite strong enough to get us out of the house.

So we catch up on cable. Here’s the “Final Tally”, over two years. One picture I caught up with on cable was the Sandra Bullock and the football player movie, which was – as I heard someone once say about a Nightline episode – “A well-executed cliché.

The other movie was Date Night, where it was fun watching two comedy pros navigate their way through waffer-thin material without entirely surrendering their reputations.­

And that’s it. Eighty movie stations, changing their programs every week, over two years, I don’t know what that is – eighty times fifty-two times two – but it’s a lot – I found exactly two movies I wanted to watch.

An astonishing number of the films included in the Premium Cable movie package feature Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn. Those guys must have the most amazing agents. Though “success”, to them, seems to be defined by how many movies you do, rather than how many good movies you do.

The vast majority of the movies in the Premium Cable movie package are not worth talking about at all. Most of them involve frat houses and gore. I don’t recall any of them playing in the theaters. But maybe I missed them, scanning the movie listings for the next Lawrence of Arabia.

Here’s what I find confusing. You switch on a movie on one of the Premium Cable movie channels, you click the “Info” button, and, subtitled beneath the picture, is a thumbnail commentary about the movie.

Also included is a “four-star” rating system, assessing the overall quality of the movie.

We know what that’s about, the “four star” rating system. The adjudged quality of the movie increases with the increasing number of stars the movie receives – one star, the movie is terrible, and it goes up from there.

What confuses me – and this is not an exception; I notice it every time – is that there appears to be a serious “disconnect” between the rating system and the accompanying written commentary.

A movie receives one star, which, to me, and anyone else familiar with this rating system, indicates that it’s not a very good movie. I check out the commentary, and it says,

“An endearing comedy.”

You see what I’m talking about here? An “endearing comedy” suggests that the movie might be pretty good. But it got one star, which informs us clearly that it isn’t.

So which is it?

Is it an “endearing comedy”, which you’ll enjoy if you’d enjoyed endearing comedies in the past? Or is a “one star” loser, unworthy of your valuable time?

We’re receiving offsetting messages here. It’s almost feels as if the “star assigner” and the “commentary writer” are different people. Either that or it’s one person, who’s frighteningly bipolar. Severely depressed when they’re deciding on the stars, and cheerfully upbeat when they’re writing the commentary.

As I said, this is no isolated situation. Whenever I notice that a movie’s been given one star, the commentary indicates it’s a lot better than that.

“A spine-chilling thriller.”

One star.

“A heartfelt and bittersweet romantic drama.” Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

One star.

“Eddie Murphy is at his funniest.” I’m hooked!

One star.

I’m telling ya, that “star” guy is a really tough marker. Or the “commentary” person’s a pushover.

I mean, where’s “a hodgepodge”? Where’s “seriously flawed”? Where’s “candidate for 'Worst Movie of the Year'"? If a movie’s getting one star, there’s got to be something wrong with it. But you could never tell that from the commentary:

“An explosive thriller.”

“A nail-biting thriller.”

There are a lot of thrillers on Premium Cable. But the commentary’s calling them “spine-chilling”, “nail-biting” and “explosive.” And the rating’s telling us they stink.

What exactly is going on?

Here’s the best way I can figure it.

Premium Cable is a subscription operation, which means the cable company is selling you the movie package. If they’re selling you the movie package, they can’t tell you that the movies in the movie package are no good. So the commentary makes them sound great.

On the other hand,

There's a "mole" in the system, a subversive with integrity. And that person – at least until they catch them and kick them out – is sending the viewer a subversive, coded message:

One star.


“Forget the commentary. This movie is a dog!”

Since they both can’t be right, I’m putting my money on the “star” guy.

I’m not an idiot. I’m going to continue subscribing the Premium Cable movie package. But I’m not watching anything.


Followup: I was recently asked if I was an American citizen. I've been a citizen since 1999. But it took me twenty-five years to become one. I wrote about that somewhere, but I can't remember where. "Ambivalence" pretty much explains my quarter-of-a-century delay.


James said...

Same exact problem. Movie channels that don't have movies I want to watch on them. Ever.

I've also ranted about the star rating system. I guess, you've missed the 3 star rated ones where the description absolutely eviscerates the premise. Cracks me up.

The other thing is star rating consistency -- Shawshank Redemption is a 3 star movie. And so is Scary Movie.

The other thing I find highly entertaining is the billing. They generally only show one name. And it's almost always someone you never heard of, or someone who you're like -- oh, they were in this movie? Didn't know that.

Top Gun... top billing goes to... Meg Ryan.

Rich said...

I tend to assume the blurb tells you what the filmmakers intended the movie to be, and the star count tells you whether they succeeded. Also, why does it look like I spelled succeeded wrong?

Anonymous said...

That cliche of a movie, "The Blind Spot," showed Sandra and her family so completely colorblind and worshipful of this stranger in their lives, it came close to reverse discrimination. However noble these characters were in real life, I'm guessing they were humans. Not saints.

Alexander said...

I give the post 4 stars on account of the following alone:

There's a "mole" in the system, a subversive with integrity. And that person ... is sending the viewer a subversive, coded message

Very, very amusing. You are quite good, my friend.