Subjective Vs. Objective, can film be "bad"?


I'm having this debate on another forum and I wondered what the people in here would think.

Is there such a thing as bad movies? There's a person who I'm debating with that says that films/TV can't be considered "bad" because it's completely subjective. He says that because there's always someone who thinks things are good, you can't look at film objectively and give it a set rating. Whatever rating films get in reviews/etc. is pure opinion and there is no set benchmark for acting/directing/effects/etc.

I believe that there is such a thing as "good" and "bad" film. I believe people can watch films objectively and tell that certain aspects of the film are just bad. That said, I think people's responses to films are subjective. You can look at a horrible film and still love it. For example, I love the old Friday the 13th films despite the fact that they are bad films. The person I'm debating on this topic thinks that because I like those films then they must not be "bad" films.

Also, I brought up the points that if film were completely subjective then there would be no reason for critics or awards to exist. He thinks that it doesn't matter.

I hope people understand what I'm trying to say here. If you do get what I'm saying, what is your opinion? Can films be looked at objectively? Is there a quantifiable definition of a bad film/bad acting/etc.? Or is it 100% opinion? Or is it a mix of the two (most likely the answer...)?

I think the closest thing we can get to objectivity in aesthetics is recognition of some social consensus of "good" and "bad" and other even more obviously socially-constructed concepts like "so bad it's good". I don't think it really has that much to do with objectivity but when people brag how objective they are in their reviews, I usually don't take issue because I just assume they're talking about a social consensus or something in that realm -- rather than some platonic ideal that actually exists outside of argument.

Again I reiterate that using a perceived consensus of "good" and "bad" to judge movies isn't so much about a difference between objective vs. subjective, except in the sense of getting away from being (or at least sounding) totally solipsistic. It's not exactly the same as objectivity though, because in cinema (and other realms of aesthetics) there are more than one social/cultural group, often in competition with each other, and a social consensus is always somewhat malleable anyway.

Suffice to say I'm on my own side from two years ago.

My argument is actually two-fold. I'll start with a simple concession: in a very technical sense, your friend is sort of right. Not in a useful way, but just in a "you can't prove with science that Glitter is terrible." But he's right in the same way that O.J. is innocent.

The argument for the "objective" is that, even though it's hardly a fact, there are undeniable patterns. People who watch and think about a lot of film almost universally despise Glitter. The people who like it are almost always people who don't take film all that seriously. That's probably not a coincidence.

We see this very clearly when we look at older versus younger viewers. Who, as a grown up, still wants to watch all the same shows they watched as a kid? Very few people. Some stay with you and are fun to watch for the nostalgia, but most of the shows seem far more entertaining and complicated when you're younger than they do when you're older. But these shows don't change at all; it's the viewer that changes. They become more sophisticated. That's what people generally mean when they say that someone has "taste." It's not "they like the same things I like" (although a lot of people think that way), it's "they're sophisticated viewers who like things for explainable, understandable reasons, and because they understand the medium."

I don't have any issue with someone believing that true, objective opinions about film are non-existent. I just don't think that's a great thing to point to if someone asks you why you like All About Steve. Saying someone can't prove a movie you like is bad is like saying "I have the freedom of speech!" when someone asks you what on earth you're talking about. Yeah, sure, it's true, but it's not really much of a defense.

A more accurate argument, I think, rather than to say there'd be no point to awards (which might be kind of true anyway), is to say that there'd be no point to talking about films, because every statement would be about the speaker, not about the film they're supposed to be discussing. And that, of course, is how this fact is normally utilized: as some sort of defense for an unpopular opinion. And for that purpose I think it doesn't really work at all.

Of course films can be bad. I would hope as a critically thinking group progresses, opinions become less of a fallback. Opinions exist naturally but they're no excuse for horrible art.

I am having a nervous breakdance
There is no such thing as a definitely and entirely "bad film" just as complete objectivety does not exist.

However, agreements on what makes a film good or bad do exist. On the other hand, these agreements vary depending on who you ask.

Some films are considered bad by so many that it's safe to label them "bad". Although, personally, I'd perhaps be more interested in a film with a 2.0 rating on imdb than one with 5.0. What makes the 2.0 film SO bad??

In that sense, isn't the 2.0 film "better" than the 5.0 film?
The novelist does not long to see the lion eat grass. He realizes that one and the same God created the wolf and the lamb, then smiled, "seeing that his work was good".


They had temporarily escaped the factories, the warehouses, the slaughterhouses, the car washes - they'd be back in captivity the next day but
now they were out - they were wild with freedom. They weren't thinking about the slavery of poverty. Or the slavery of welfare and food stamps. The rest of us would be all right until the poor learned how to make atom bombs in their basements.

Well, there's better at being a film, and then there's better at just sort of being a curiosity. Car attacks aren't "better" than driving normally, but we're way more interested in them when we go by. I'd say that bad films are still bad, but have an appeal outside of their value as movies. Its value is on a different scale.

I find it hard to believe one can draw a comparison between bad and interesting in art. I never want to watch The Room again, wish I never did. I don't see bad things as interesting. Car accidents are not art, they're humans that can't drive. Bad humans are interesting.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
I believe in the concept of objective film criticism, but the Japanese Me or the Nigerian Me would undoubtedly have a different concept of objectivity than I would. This would be based on different personal experiences, so in that way, it's difficult to champion the concept of objectivity in any artistic appraisal. However, I'm also sure there are very bad films, many of them agreed upon by most viewers. The funny thing is that I believe that some of these bad films are also the most-critically praised, so I don't believe a consensus opinion is an objective one either. I will say though that there has always been a critical standard (or multiple ones) in which critics would discuss the quality of certain films. It's just that as time goes by, it's amazing how what was considered weak in the past is now considered a good thing. I'm talking about incomprehensible storytelling, lousy acting, crap photography, boring dialogue, ridiculous endings (or even worse, non-endings), etc. It seems that nowadays, you just turn on a camera and all of a sudden you're an auteur who deserves respect because you can figure out the On/Off button.

The bottom line is that when I read someone's opinion on why something is good or bad, I take everything they say as a way to form my own opinion of theirs. I don't just look at whether I agree with their specific comments about the movie, but I consider their vocabulary, their seeming knowledge of the subject matter and its history, what they know about the cast, writer, director, etc. I also try to determine if they have a sense of humor or are just way too solemn. Film criticism is certainly "more serious" than just "chatting" about your opinions, but it should be light enough to be able to adjust the discussion in various ways. Hopefully that discussion won't turn into something juvenile, self-serving or off-putting. Then again, I'm starting to sound like a serious old fart right about now, and I've backed away from many discussions about this exact subject here recently.
It's what you learn after you know it all that counts. - John Wooden
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>implying a discussion can even happen when someone says "hey, just my opinion" at the end of every proposition, which is precisely the kind of stuff we're talking about
"Loves them? They need them, like they need the air."

The only criteria that I believe a movie should be judged on is all of the technical and creative aspects that were brought to the film, as well as how the actors performed their parts. The technical are things like how the film was photographed, what sort of things went into the film to make it visually impressive, how the sound is, etc. The creative deals with the entertainment side -- the formation of the story, the plot, how interesting it is throughout, etc. The creative side can be difficult to judge and is more open to subjective opinions. The acting is, of course, making sure that you don't have Anna Nicole Smith-like performances throughout, because why shoot a movie and let bad acting slide?

I feel that the most subjective matter concerning a movie is the content -- what does the movie deal with, what are its issues, what sort of things does it show us, what are its messages, its philosophy, its reality and so on. This, to me, is the realm that invites only those watching that want to be invited, that accept whatever kind of invitation the movie has. This is an area where people's preferences, prejudices and personal psychologies will come into play and roads will open up where the viewer will either travel to a dead end street (meaning, they don't like or care for the film) or they travel to a vast, spacious, harmonious substitute reality that reflects a room inside their own inner world. They have become in sync with the message or the values or just the overall chemistry of what the movie is and they are a match with it. If the movie they love was a bag of blood, you could give it to them, because they and the movie would be the same blood type.

I believe that one of the greatest errors of any movie critic is to judge a movie based on its actual values and message and content and not the more technical and creative aspects. It's like with horror movies (speaking of blood again) -- I've noticed that Roger Ebert used to be quite vocal about hating slasher movies and such just because it's nothing but vile, disgusting, dark and depressing messages to the youth about how you can't plan for the future or anything because Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger are gonna get you before you turn 18. I don't feel that his opinion is something that is wrong, but if you're going to give the movie a half a star out of four just because of these opinions, you're doing it out of your own prejudice. Meanwhile, some nauseating happy-fest film will get four stars. To me, this is bad film criticism. It is just so apparent to me that movies are judged, first and foremost, on a technical aspect, but secondly, with a strong personal agenda. This is what, to me, erodes a good swimming pool of cinematic discussion and even life discussion -- dismissals of things you don't agree with leads to stagnation and rust and puts film and philosophy evolution into a coma. I know I am guilty of this a lot myself (well, probably) in my own reviews of movies, but I am just saying this because it is what I believe to be true and I know that I should be more open and adaptable to different film experiences as well.

But... with all that said, I think that movie criticism is also in its own way a form of entertainment and that it's not fun to have all movie critics be robots that spout the same kind of opinions from their lips or fingertips. Want to read a movie reviewer who speaks mostly about the amount of sexy male celebrity screentime in the film? Go to me. But I do think that, with very serious film discussion, what I was just talking about applies.

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You are so wrong, it's not even funny.

But that's just my opinion, so it's just as good as yours lol

You are so wrong, it's not even funny.

But that's just my opinion, so it's just as good as yours lol
What's wrong about it, then?

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Respect my opinion dammit!

Well, I really wanted to know what you think I'm saying is wrong. Correct me.

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Last time I checked a person was allowed to speak her mind in this country without being backed into the corner like a criminal. Jesus.

Huh?? Are you trying to say I'm some sort of nasty interrogator who's backing a crossdressing version of yourself into a corner? What a wild imagination you have!

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That's exactly what I'm saying, and I'm telling you now: come any closer and you're going to regret it. It would be very unwise to underestimate me, pal.

My opinion is just as good as yours. Period. End of story.

By the way, you're still wrong.

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I sure showed you!