Whether you're an aspiring movie critic who wants to break into print or you're assigned to write an essay for your film appreciation class, understanding some of the elements inherent in this medium is as important as being able to articulate what you liked and did not like about a specific movie's content. In addition to examining the merits of the work itself, a movie evaluation essay often compares and contrasts the film to others with similar themes and to prior works by the same director and/or actors.
Identify the genre of the film and its central theme. Comedy, drama, horror, western, fantasy, science fiction, and coming of age are a few of the many types of film genres. Although movies often borrow elements from multiple genres, there is always a main genre that prevails. Genre is what dictates how the movie will be categorized at the video store. Movie themes can generally be distilled to a single sentence or proverb. For example, "Love conquers all," "Blood is thicker than water," "All that glitters isn't gold".
Describe the inciting incident that establishes the story's major conflict. An inciting incident is an event that upsets the status quo and forces the characters to take a series of actions and risks predicated on reward, revenge or escape in order to resolve the conflict. For example, inciting incidents may be a murder, an alien invasion, a misunderstanding, a tsunami. Identify the film's protagonist and antagonist and discuss the respective strengths and weaknesses that make them compelling characters.
Analyze the actors and the characters they portray. Evaluate the depth and credibility of their performances. For example, discuss whether the role is a radical departure from characters the actor typically portrays or whether the role is virtually interchangeable with past characters he has performed. Cite specific scenes and lines of dialogue that shocked you or moved you to laughter or tears.
Examine the director's role in the production. Also include your impressions of the cinematography, lighting, costumes, makeup, sets and music. If the movie utilized special effects and computer-generated imagery, explain whether you felt these elements enhanced your enjoyment of the film or were a distraction to mask an otherwise weak plot. Take into account the visual nature of the film and whether the storyline and character relationships could still have been followed if you watched it with the sound turned off.
Analyze how the movie compares to previous films on the same topic. For example, multiple films have been made about the tragedy of the Titanic. While advances in cinematography have improved the realism of the ocean liner's sinking, the film may have suffered if less attention was given to character development and the crafting of memorable dialogue. If the film you evaluate is an adaptation of a novel or stage play, discuss how the plot was modified to accommodate the film's compressed time frame or budget requirements.
Provide specific examples of the movie's merits and flaws. Saying the film got off to a sluggish start, was replete with historical inaccuracies, or the chemistry between the romantic leads wasn't convincing is a more insightful critique than just stating it was the worst film you've ever seen.
- "The Message Behind the Movie: How to Engage With a Movie Without Disengaging Your Faith"; Douglas Beaumont; 2009
- "Five Stars! How to Become a Film Critic, The World's Greatest Job"; Christopher Null; 2005
- "Screen Plays: How 25 Screenplays Made It to a Theater Near You--for Better or Worse"; David S. Cohen; 2009
Ghostwriter and film consultant Christina Hamlett has written professionally since 1970. Her credits include many books, plays, optioned features, articles and interviews. Publishers include HarperCollins, Michael Wiese Productions, "PLAYS," "Writer's Digest" and "The Writer." She holds a B.A. in communications (emphasis on audience analysis and message design) from California State University, Sacramento. She also travels extensively and is a gourmet chef.