Short Reviews and Other Ramblings

April 23, 2006
A thought by James Berardinelli

Those who are familiar with my reviews know that the average length of one is about 700 words. There are times, however, when I display a tendency to ramble. Often, especially for films in the ** to **1/2 range, I don't have a lot to say. Mediocrity often doesn't lend itself to lengthy discourses. So I wonder if I'm engaging in padding to bring the length of the review to a level I find "acceptable." After all, I'm not in the business of generating capsules.

Recently, I looked back at my review of Run Lola Run and was surprised to discover that, despite its brevity (three paragraphs, 420 words), it says all that needs to be said. That caused me to rethink my position regarding review length. So, beginning in the next few weeks, I will debut a few shorter length reviews. Instead of the usual 700 words, these will fall in the 300-400 word range.

The shorter reviews will be designated primarily for limited release movies - things that won't be showing up at local multiplexes. For more mainstream fare, there won't be a change. Mission: Impossible III will still get the usual treatment. But Lady Vengeance will have something a little shorter.

The goal is not to make the reviews easier to write. In fact, shorter reviews are harder because they require more planning and structure. In order to convey nearly the same amount of information in half the space, every sentence has to be carefully constructed. The reviews won't "breathe" as much, but they should be no less informative or intelligent. That at least is the goal. The question of whether it will work as well in practice as in theory is yet to be answered.

Additionally, if the price of gas continues rising, there may soon be a shift toward reviews being posted on opening day. I will never abandon advance reviews, but there are limits to the amount of financial pain I'm willing to endure. At $4 a gallon (which is where gas prices are headed, at least near-term), I suffer a $16 surcharge (not counting parking and/or bridge tolls) on every advance screening I attend. That allows me only one or two press screenings per week (instead of the current three). The nearest multiplex to my house is only six miles away (which would mean a reasonable $2 surcharge), so one of the mid-week reviews may shift to Friday. I'll do my best to position things so that the most desirable/interesting reviews go up ahead of time, but I can't make guarantees.

The upside of this is more time to work on older reviews. I have received questions about when the revamped Video Views will debut. The target date is June 1. Once it starts, it will be updated weekly, with links to archived reviews of new DVD releases and approximately one new review of an older movie per week. More on this in about a month's time as I prepare for the "unveiling."

And, on an unrelated note, I have seen my first four-star film of 2006. I won't reveal the title here, but it will become apparent shortly.