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le_messor

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Post on Critical Arguments that don't work [Jun. 15th, 2014|11:18 am]
le_messor
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We all want people to be like us. That isn't a deep psychological study, just an observation. It probably comes down to simple herd mentality, I dunno.
Only a slob or a sociopath truly doesn’t care what other people think.

Which is why, I think, we're always trying to persuade others to share our opinions. We've all seen flame wars on the 'net because somebody likes something somebody else doesn't.

In those flame wars, several arguments will come up every time, ones that never, ever work; I'd like to take a moment to debunk a few of them so we can move on to the ones that stand a chance.
I'm talking specifically about movies, and then mostly about adaptations, but most of these can be applied to any work - movies, books, comics, songs, computer games, whatevers.

It's not lost on me that most of these arguments I'm attacking work best in defense of something; which makes me sad. It implies I'm either overly critical of everything, or everything is awful. OTOH, when I say 'Avengers is an awesome movie!', I don't usually hear counter-arguments; so maybe it's all cool.

Anyway, the arguments:

12. You can't expect them to cram 50 years of continuity into one hour-and-a-half movie!

Obvs, this one is specific to comic book movies. The problem? It's a strawman. I've heard it used to defend many movies, even ones I love (ie: X-Men 1 & 2 ... but also 3). I've never heard anyone asking for all 50 years of any comic to be put into a movie. Just a good version of their characters that's true to what's in the comics. Anyone who does want an entire run of an ongoing series crammed into a 1.5-3hr movie deserves to be ignored. But I've never heard of such a person; maybe because they've been ignored.
(And, using it when people who loved the first two movies complain about the third? Really?)

Richard Donner did a great job with a comic book movie; so did Bryan Singer (but, uh, not with the same character). It can be done.

11. Just plain telling me how I feel. ‘This is just as good.’ ‘This is worse because it has –’

Yeah, people do that. People tell you this is a "good" movie, therefore you like it; this is a "bad" movie, therefore you don't.
Tastes are subjective, people. Get over it.

10. "But if they did it your way, it wouldn’t be taken seriously."

So? Being taken seriously doesn’t make it good. In fact, from a certain point of view, being too serious makes it dull.
Also, who’s doing the taking? The people who argue this one never answer that.

9. If you read / watch the sequel or the book or the comic or the supplemental material…

Sorry. If it doesn’t work in the movie or book, that work has failed. Especially if that sequel isn’t out yet. That stuff can be cool, and easter-eggy (I love me some easter eggs in comic movies!), but if I come out of a movie questioning it, it's a problem. It should be self-contained.
Obviously here I don't mean sequel-hooks (the end of Back To The Future) or things that make you question the nature of the movie itself (the end of Inception), but things that come across as plot holes (where was Nero for 25 years in Star Trek '09? - Held prisoner by Klingons, but you have no way of knowing that by watching the movie.)

8. "You can’t compare it to the earlier version of the same thing."

You can't compare the remake of Robocop to Robocop.
Sure I can. I can compare every movie ever made to Citizen Kane or Casablanca if I want to. Or Star Wars. The other movies prove that, while *I* can’t do better, better can be done. And if there’s an earlier version – whether it’s an earlier movie or whatever it’s adapted from, you bet I’ll be comparing.

8b. The original was a book, this is a movie. They’re completely different things.

The media are different, but it’s supposed to be the same. They didn’t acquire the rights to Fellowship of the Ring with the intent of making a generic fantasy movie; they wanted to make a movie of Fellowship. I didn’t buy a ticket to a generic fantasy; I bought a ticket to Fellowship. I wanted to see them adapt Fellowship.
(And a mighty fine job they did, too.)

7. "The Director wanted it that way"

I don’t even know what you’re trying to achieve with this one. If I don't like something, telling me it was deliberate will not help in the slightest, and I don't know why you think it would.

6. But it's realistic.
That's the defending side. The attacking side is:
Your way / the older version you like is cheesy

If I'm saying I don't 'believe' something on screen, by all means, tell me it's realistic and make an argument. You could sway me.

But if I'm saying I don't like it? And you tell me it's "realistic"?
You will only anger me.
My favourite genre is fantasy. My favourite comic book genre is superhero.
I didn't choose stories about gigantic flying reptiles that breathe fire, or aliens with super powers walking the earth because my A#1 priority in fiction is realism. I like a bit of believability, a bit of verisimilitude, but if 'realistic' is your driving force, if trying to write kitchen sink dramas about nasty people doing nasty things and throwing the fantasy label on them is what turns you on, you can count me out. And don't ever try to sway me with that argument. You'll get me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry...
... I get all whiny and obsessive, and go on and on about things long after the moment has stopped. Nobody likes that.

Here are a few words that are not synonymous with realistic: gritty, dark, depressing, colourless, joyless, humourless. Good. Entertaining.
For me, that last one is an antonym if anything.

5. Parroting the press release.

I've recognised this mostly with Man of Steel.
The director has said he wanted a relatable Superman; so all the defenders say 'At least their Superman is relatable'.
Really? A mopey, depressed emo who smiles, what, twice in a two-hour movie that covers his entire lifespan from birth to 33 is 'relatable'?
That's depressing.

'He had to kill, that's how he learned not to kill'.
Again, straight from the press release. And deeply stupid. You don't learn how to do something by doing the exact opposite, you learn by practicing it.
And it wasn't explored in the slightest in that movie ('But it will be in the sequel!'). See above.

And am I the only one who's worried about a generation that needs an explanation for why somebody won't kill?

4. It’s the modern way. Suck it up.

Do you ever wonder why I keep complaining about the modern way?

3. Ignoring my reasons.

(See also ‘#1, below’; they’re often tied together).
I've seen a lot of people list a bunch of reasons why they do / do not like a movie. 'It was cynical, nasty, mean-spirited'. 'It was entertaining, I enjoyed it, I found the characters charming'.
Then the defender / attacker comes back with 'You just don't like it because you don't like intellectual movies'. 'If you'd read the source material, you'd...' 'The director slept with your girlfriend.'

This makes you look stupid; you clearly haven't read my points, and you don't make me want to read yours.

2. You couldn’t do any better.

True. Completely irrelevant. It's not my job to make movies; but it is the director's. And they're asking for my money to go see it. So they'd better to do well.
And, as mentioned above, directors can do good jobs of movies (and writers / actors / cast & crew... I'm not ignoring people, just using a shorthand.)
It's not my work on trial. And telling me I couldn't do better won't make me enjoy something I don't enjoy.

1. You’re stupid.
The 'Emperor's New Clothes' argument; I see this used a lot, with varying degrees of subtlety, ranging from 'You’re stupid' to 'You just don’t get the subtlety and themes of this movie' to 'Why don’t you watch The Barbie Movie instead?' to 'You just don’t like intellectualism'.
Personally, I'm not insecure enough about my intelligence for any of these to work on me.

I'm not going to break down the first of those, because it's stupid (NB: every time I've called an argument stupid in this post, it's the argument I'm attacking, not the person who made it. Debate 101, people!)

‘You just don’t get the subtlety and themes of this movie.’
I once watched a movie with a couple of people, and heard them dissing it afterwards because it wasn't funny, though it was sold as a comedy, and they started questioning some of the artistic decisions. I thought, 'well, that symbolised the Greek myth or Shakespearean play they were obviously referencing throughout, and that decision was based on the character's earlier comments about his growing up...
I thought about making those counter-arguments, but didn't. Because I hated the movie, too, because it was supposed to be a comedy, but was depressing instead.
The point is, you can get the subtlety and themes of a movie, and still hate it.
You can also completely miss them and love it.

‘Why don’t you watch The Barbie Movie instead?’.
(Not an actual suggestion I've heard, but I've heard ones along those lines.)
This is binary thinking: 'either x, or -x; nothing in between'. It's reductionist, and is an attempt to insult a person's tastes if they don't like what you like.
It's childish, basically.

‘You just don’t like intellectualism’.
I like entertaining movies. If a movie fails that, I won't like it. Period.

These 'you're stupid' arguments are more likely to turn me against the work than for it. They make me suspect you only 'like' it because somebody's told you you're stupid if you don't. It’s an Emperor's New Clothes thing.

So, can we now move on to good arguments?
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: fishlivejournal
2014-06-15 02:08 am (UTC)
[nods] Quite true.

One exception though: granted a single like/dislike isn't a proof of whether the movie is any good, "I enjoyed it" is a fair statement, and useful. If a number of friends with shared tastes enjoyed it, then I'm more likely to go see it; if they didn't, then I'm less likely to go see it. Critiquing movies is hard; sometimes the subjective view of others is the best way to decide whether or not it's worth spending the time and money to go see it.
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[User Picture]From: le_messor
2014-06-15 02:25 am (UTC)
These arguments are for movies you've already seen and made your mind up about.

For ones I haven't yet decided to see - yes, absolutely I'll listen to friends of similar tastes who say "I enjoyed it".
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