Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Power of a Review

Last Friday, my husband wanted to take me out to a movie, but there was nothing in our po-dunk movie theater we wanted to see (there are four screens. Three of them were occupied with cartoon movies. I love some animation as much as the next girl, but sometimes you just want to see something blown up.).

Anyway, we ultimately went to the video rental place, and we came away with Eagle Eye. Not our top pick, but the top pick we both agreed on. I wasn't that excited about the movie--the trailer looked good to me, but the reviews I'd heard (both online and from friends) were terrible. But, like I said, I really just wanted to see things blown up.

Boy was I in for a surprise.

This movie ROCKED! I expected a weak plot surrounded by cool graphics--instead, I got a great plot with great graphics--and great characterization, tone, and emotion! I was totally blown away--and on the edge of my seat, gasping for what would happen. I was crying by the end...then I was cheering.

This all got me thinking: how much power does a review have? From the right person, one review can kill a movie or book from me. If my best friend, my mother, the husband, or even some colleagues whose opinion I respect say they hated the movie--I probably won't look at it again. (This killed the Marley and Me movie for me.) If I am borderline on whether to buy a book or see a movie, I will actively check out reviews--and if the review is too low, then I'm out. So in these cases, a review will absolutely and definitively drive me from the book/movie.

On the other hand, if I happen to hear a lot of review from random sources (i.e. blogs, TV, etc.) and these are not sources that I rely on heavily, but only look at for casual reading, then the reviews--positive or negative--tend to help me select a book/movie. Hear enough reviews enough times, and I'm actively seeking out the book/movie, even if the reviews weren't glowing.

So: if the source is right, one negative review is death for the book/movie....but if those few trusted sources have no opinion, then more reviews (positive or negative) can only help!

That all said, here's my review on what we, as writers, can learn from this book movie. And since we're breaking the rules by reviewing a movie instead of a book, I'm going to review in a different way. I'm going to use Kurt Vonnegut's 8 Simple Rules of Writing (which I blogged about before here)

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. Check and check. If I am entertained and I think, then my time is well spent.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for. There are at least two characters here I root for--the main female and male roles. They are both sympathetic--the girl is a single mom trying to protect and save her son; the boy is something of a loser trying to make himself less of a loser in the wake of his twin brother's death.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water. They want more than water. They both are fighting for their lives--and the girl is also fighting for her son's life.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action. Absolutely. Even the little scenes--hiding in a crate, driving--reveal something new and deeper about each of the lead protags.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible. Highlight text for this one; spoilers ahead. The twin brother's death plays an important role in the plot of the movie--so the first inciting incident after a little initial character set-up is the funeral. Now, the story could have gone further back in the past--shown the brother before his death, shown more of the female protag's life before the story--but it didn't. It started us right at the latest possible moment to start the movie and still be comprehensive.
  6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of. Ohmygosh! It couldn't have possibly have done this more! Every time they try to turn the corner, something happens. Highlight for more: The mother's son is constantly threatened, the boy is faced with the truth about his twin brother and that begins to torture him. Add to that how several of the good guys die--and the end scene, where the boy must sacrifice himself to SAVE ALL OF AMERICA--AND when he does save all America he will look like a despicable traitor--!!!!!! How much more can you take?!
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia. Despite the teenage-boy-focused-trailers, this movie isn't really designed to appeal to the entire world. People who don't like soft Sci-Fi (along the line of I, Robot or Minority Report) will not like this. People who don't want to think AT ALL when watching a movie won't like this. People who are crazy scientific and know everything there is to know and hate it when movies bend the rules will hate this. But who cares? I liked it!
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages. This one is on the fence. Look, at the end, when Shia LeBouf's character shot into air, knowing that it would bring down every Secret Service man on his head in like two second, knowing that it would kill him but save everyone else--well, when that happened, the husband said about a minute before it happened that it would happen. But even with his (accurate) prophecy of what would happen, I STILL jumped out of my seat when it happened. I KNEW what would happen--but it still shocked me and thrilled me and kept me enraptured.
So, yeah, I liked the movie. And I totally recommend it! And you know what...I think Kurt Vonnegut would have liked it, too :)
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