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Preparing for a movie, book, or play review

You can make life a lot easier for yourself if you do some preparation before you read or watch the thing that you’re supposed to be reviewing. Rather than entering the movie cinema or opening the book with nothing on your mind, try thinking about some aspects of the review in advance.

Preparing for a movie, book, or play review

The above diagram shows the major areas you should be thinking about when you open that first page or enter the movie theatre. Each of these major areas has several aspects that may or may not be useful for you in your review.

Preparing for a movie, book, or play review

As you’re reading the book or watching the movie or play, think about what it’s about. For instance, the plot of the movie Jurassic Park is fairly simple and obvious - scientists recreate prehistoric dinosaurs on an island as a theme park, but it all gets out of control. It is pretty easy to pick up this plot. In a blockbuster action movie such as this one, the plot is not particularly important - people come to watch the action and breathtaking special effects. These are all things that you should be thinking about before and during the movie. But don’t think too hard and ruin your experience!

Preparing for a movie, book, or play review

As you pick up a book or walk into a movie, there is a reasonable chance that you’ve heard of the author or director. Many people nowadays know, for instance, that JK Rowling is the author of the Harry Potter series of books. Picking up another book by an author you know or watching a movie by a known director allows you to make all sorts of extra observations. For instance, director Steven Spielberg is known for his big-budget blockbuster movies. If you walked into another serving of this blockbuster fare, you could mentally compare what you were seeing with his previous movies. If he’d done something different and gone for a small, arty, culture film - even better. As you sit there watching the movie, you’ve got all sorts of ways to contrast what you’re seeing with his standard productions.

Some authors or directors also have known beliefs or themes that crop up in most of their work. They may have certain political beliefs or support certain minority groups, and these themes may crop up directly or indirectly in their writing. If you have done a bit of prior research, you’ll be a lot more alert and likely to recognise these beliefs in the writing or direction.

Preparing for a movie, book, or play review

Characters, like plot, are very important parts of most stories. Many books and movies have very stereotypical characters. Here are some of them:

  • Western-movie characters. The good guy is all in white; the bad guy is all in black. Can’t get more stereotypical than that!

  • The cackling witch wearing black who rides a broom and has a long pointy nose, like in the Wizard of Oz.

  • The rich Englishman with an aristocratic accent who is usually a snob.

  • The very French Frenchman, with a strong accent, also usually somewhat of a snob.

  • The American hick, usually with a Southern accent, who is badly educated and a redneck.

  • The terrorist of Middle Eastern background, with a long beard and a turban on their head.

  • The rough and tough Australian outback type, usually with a knife like Crocodile Dundee.

  • The German Nazi type, usually quite Aryan in appearance (a non-Jewish person, usually of Nordic descent, originally from Scandinavia, which is the most northerly part of Europe containing Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and sometimes Iceland, Finland, and other small areas).

  • The gumshoe detective who wears a trench coat, smokes, and drinks whisky in some dingy little office in an old office building.

  • The man-hating feminist who jumps on just about anything any male does as being sexist.

  • The incompetent, fat cop, often seen eating a doughnut, who is hopeless at everything.

  • The mad scientist with wild hair wearing a white lab coat and often holding a test tube and having a crazy look in their eyes.

  • The gay guy working in a job that is traditionally a female one, such as hairdresser, beautician, or clothing salesperson.

  • The superhero, often with a cape and some sort of special powers.

  • The nerd, physically small or thin, wearing glasses, and often having bad acne.

  • The Italian mafia crime boss, such as in the Godfather movies.

  • The learned old professor, often with spectacles and a grey beard, who sits in his university office until required to perform some sort of heroic action.

  • The attractive but dumb blonde girl, often a cheerleader or head of the social scene at a school and often quite well endowed.

  • The pirate, often seen with a combination of cutlass, eye patch, parrot on the shoulder, ship with cannons and pirate flag, treasure chests, peg leg, and a hook instead of one of their lower arms.

  • The evil dude. Can be found in many different forms - dark and menacing, crazy, depressed, hyperactive, etc.

The first thing to notice is that a large percentage of stereotypical character types are based on discriminatory views. The more extreme characters - such as the pirate - are usually found more in pieces that are either comedic or aimed at children. Look out for more complex characters that don’t easily fit a stereotype, or characters that change throughout a book or movie. These are usually more interesting, but are harder for the writer, director, and actor to pull off convincingly.

Movies or plays may have famous actors performing some of the parts. How do they perform compared to their other work? It might be hard for really well known actors to pull off a role that is different to the characters they normally play. For instance, imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger trying to act as an effeminate hairdresser with low self-esteem. It just wouldn’t work, unless it was a comedy and it was meant to look ridiculous.

If it’s a book you’re reviewing, it may be that there are characters that are ongoing characters through a series. In this case, knowing the background of what the characters have done in previous books will help you analyse them in the book you’re reading.

Preparing for a movie, book, or play review

There are two types of settings - time and place. However, there are also three different things you need to think about when you’re talking about time and place.