Thursday, April 8, 2010

Getting What You Expected.


While I don't like to consider myself an elitist, I acknowledge there's a lot of films I watch, that just don't work for me. These tend to be anything from high brow self-grandeur to low-brow horridly designed action. And there's countless films in the middle. So, when I post my reviews about them, they tend to get low scores, or high complaints from me. But, I've found myself puzzled by something more and more recently. It's one of the remarks I get as a defense for the movie.

It's exactly what you would expect it to be!

Now, I get that argument as a self standing one. It's always annoying when expectations are off, and if you know you're not going to enjoy something, why indulge in it? Well, sometimes you do because: 1) you want to see if your expectations match or 2) you feel as if you have to give it a fair chance.

I do that with lots of movies. But, I don't see how me expecting something out of a movie, and liking it share in movie criticism.

If I expect to not like something, watch it, and then don't like it. Am I supposed to praise it? If I go into a mindless action film, expecting mindless action, and I don't like mindless action, I understand that on some level it's my fault for going there. But, that doesn't change the way I view the movie. It's still a movie I don't like regardless.

And I say that because the best movies, the praise-worthy movies, are the ones that exceed, or alter, our expectations for the better. Not the ones that merely meet them.

But then you also have to consider we all have different expectations. Despite what a movie might appear to be, we all go into them with different thoughts and opinions. This is true even in the most clear cut cases, so just because it's exactly what you expected, doesn't mean it's exactly what I expected. It's an unclear area, and I don't think it holds much merit as a stand-alone defense of a movie.

There's just too much gray area between expectation and enjoyment. Not enough to put an equals sign, that's for sure. Nor would I say it's entirely without relevance. But in and of itself, the meeting of expectations, for good or bad, doesn't make a movie any better or worse. Compounded with other thoughts, on personal expectations and enjoyment. Well, then you might have something worth discussing.

11 better thoughts:

TheAnswerMVP2001 said...

This post is exactly what I would expect it to be... whatever that means.

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

It's an interesting connundrum. I think expectations of a film greatly impact our enjoyment of the film, as does the situation we see a film.

If you see a slew of bad films, then seeing something that meets expectations somehow nudges it to feel like a better film that it would be under other circumstances.

"And I say that because the best movies, the praise-worthy movies, are the ones that exceed, or alter, our expectations for the better. Not the ones that merely meet them."

That's an interesting primer for what makes a praise-worthy film, but everyone has their own standards. I think a praise-worthy film can still be a film that meets rather than exceeds expectations, because sometimes expectations can still be really high and the film be really good. Put, it's always a good thing when a film gives you more than you expect.

I think we often are looking for that hidden gem, or might even want to recreate the experience of seeing films where we had little to no expectations and then they hit it out of the park. Very interesting.

Simon said...

Why do you have a picture of Ninja Assassin? That had no expectations.

Great article, yeah.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

It's a comment that I understand, but as you said in no way validates a film. In the same way, a film you expect to be good (that turns out to be good) doesn't become even better.

Mike Lippert said...

I think the expectations argument only works when you expect a film to be bad. For example, I was excited for the first Transporter movie because I love car chases, action, explosions, the whole bit, but I also need a story and characters to care about so when I watched it I hated it. Then the sequel came and I expected it to be horrible too but I ended up enjoying it. You see my original expectations ruined the first film for me but made the second one enjoyable because they didn't exist. This poses the question, do we only really see films for their true value when we experience them without expectations, but then, on that note, do low expectations equal the same thing as no expectations?

I think that's why, in a way, the best way to see a movie is by knowing as little about it as possible. I know I've asked my girlfriend if she wanted to watch different movies on several ocassions. She's ask what they were about. My respose: I donno, stuff. That's how I try to watch as many movies as I can, but obviously that's sometimes just impossible to do.

Good debate this post seems to have started.

Univarn said...

@MVP Fail.

@Shanon By praise worthy I'm referring to the movies you go around boasting about all the time. Movies that meet, are still good regardless (some people's expectations are just ridiculous), or fall just short can still be liked, but I don't think we should go around claiming their superiority (depending).

@Simon It was the catalyst for this post. I took some backlash for not liking it, despite "getting exactly what I expected"

@Andrew *thumbs up* we agree

@Mike Yeah, I think expectations argument really has to come with additional information. But whenever you see it used (especially on forums), it's usually just left alone.

TheAnswerMVP2001 said...

Fail... watch out for the robot army at your front door!

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

Sorry you got backlash for Ninja Assassin (esp. if any was from me!) because I found it to be exactly what I expected ant I was thrilled with it. Almost over the moon happy about it. So I guess technically... it exceeded my expecations although it was exactly what I thought it would be, as contridictory as it sounds. Could have been crap, but was actually fun.

I think the key here might actually be what the expectations are.

If expectations are you think it will be bad, and it's bad.. well money & time lost and we know we should have known better.

If you think it will be good and it's good, then reactions are.. kinda meh, no?

If you think it will be excellent & it is excellent... it's still excellent I think.

I get your logic there, and also why I didn't get it at first.. I don't usually go boasting about a film so think in different terms. You are keeping me thinking Uni!

Film Intel said...

I'm treading carefully here, because I'm sure we all fall in to the trap now and again of writing things like this, but I do absolutely agree with you, especially on the front that expectations aren't a universal thing - they're different for everyone making the criticism a particulalry personal one.

This reminds me of a very similar argument Film School Rejects covered on a recent podcast about the 'it's good... as an animated comdey' criticism, their point being; 'as opposed to what, 'it's rubbish... as a black and white epic?'' Useful foods for thought!

Fletch said...

I certainly don't think that the "it's exactly what you expect it to be" argument flies as film criticism, but I agree with what Shannon was saying. Our opinions of movies are greatly shaped by our own expectations of how good/bad they will be. Sometimes I feel like they're the overwhelming force. Ironically, said expectations are usually driven by the words of others; if 100 friends see film X and all tell you how great it is, even if you temper yourself, you'll be expecting something great, and if the film fails to deliver on those promises, you're gonna walk away disappointed, whereas if you went in blind (therefore with little to no expectations), you'd likely walk away with a different opinion of the movie.

Univarn said...

@MVP I've been waiting all these years for my robot army, and you had it the whole time!!! Bastard!

@Shannon you mentioned it, but you backed it up. Most of the backlash I got for that was real life friends who whined about my expectation levels.

@Intel I'm often guilty of the 'animated comedy' thing with family films. I suppose it's just such a simple go to saying. I should look into that ;).

@Fletch the only downside with going in "blind" (or as close as possible) is that you take the risk of walking into a lot of walls (bad movies).

Perhaps my followup for this should be "keep your expectations in check." I've known some people whose expectations for film so exceed any possibility it's just ridiculous. Then, because they had such high expectations, when it fails to meet it, they either swallow it up and act as if it did, or wallow in despair (relatively speaking).

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