January 05, 2009

My rating system explained

In Review of Pocahontas Revealed, correspondent DMarks wrote:I'm not grokking your review system, Rob. "Lonesome Dove" is rather problematic, and gets 7.5 out of 10 from you. This documentary gets all-around glowing praise, and is only ranked one point higher, at 8.5 out of 10.My response:

My ratings are for the overall quality of the production, you know. I.e., the writing, acting, directing, and so forth.

The Indian aspects usually comprise only a small part of the production. Even if they're horrible, they may not have much of an effect on the overall quality.

How I rated Lonesome Dove

Here, I'll give you a rough idea of where my Lonesome Dove rating came from.

First, we divide the production into three main areas of quality:

1) Writing/storytelling.
2) Casting/acting.
3) Directing/cinematography.

The first category is usually the most important, but let's say they're each a third of the total.

We further divide the writing/storytelling into two parts:

1a) Non-Native aspects of the writing/storytelling.
1b) Native aspects of the writing/storytelling.

My reviews tend to focus solely on this last category (1b). The reason is because you can find reviews of the other aspects of a movie elsewhere. And because I don't have the time or energy to write comprehensive reviews.

Let's say the Indian aspects of Lonesome Dove took up about a quarter of the screen time. And that every aspect of Lonesome Dove earned an 8.0 rating except the Indian aspects, which earned a 2.0.

Summing it up (literally)

Mathematically speaking, here's what we have (in reverse order):


1/3 of the total x 8.0 = 8/3


1/3 of the total x 8.0 = 8/3

Non-Native aspects of the writing/storytelling

3/4 of this category x 1/3 of the total x 8.0 = 2

Native aspects of the writing/storytelling

1/4 of this category x 1/3 of the total x 2.0 = 1/6

Total rating

8/3 + 8/3 + 2 + 1/6 = 45/6 = 7.5

My review focused primarily on the Indian aspects of the writing/storytelling, which may have misled people. These parts deserved a lowly 2.0 because of the omissions and stereotypes. But the rest of Lonesome Dove, the parts I didn't cover, were pretty good. They deserved an 8.0.

So the omissions and stereotypes cost Lonesome Dove half a point, but that's all. The same applies to other shows where the Indian aspects suck but I give the production a decent rating overall.

Feature films vs. documentaries

Obviously, the factors change if we're talking about a documentary rather than a fictional movie or TV series. And the proportions change if the production is primarily rather than tangentially about Indians. For a film like Smoke Signals or Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, the Indian aspects would be indistinguishable from the writing/storytelling as a whole.

In the case of Pocahontas Revealed, the film was strong across the board. The only thing limiting it was the nature of documentaries. Since they tend to engage viewers intellectually rather than emotionally, it's almost impossible for them to earn a top score. A stunning IMAX-style documentary might get a 9.0 or 9.5, but everything else is going to rate lower.

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