While film reviews in traditional media must have a limited length, bloggers have no such limits. This leads to an important question: how long should a review be?
I have read comments on various blogs that complain about reviews being too long, too short, too much background information and not enough. What is that Goldilocks zone? The juuuust right length?
It depends very much on what you’re writing, of course, but here is what has been working for me:
From the beginning, my goal for this site has been to write the kind of reviews I enjoy reading. I like long, detailed reviews with plenty of juicy detail and maybe a backwards and upside down way of looking at a classic. With few exceptions, my full-length silent movie reviews are a minimum of 1,000 words and most range between 1,200 and 2,500 words. Something that can be read in 5-15 minutes by an average reader.
However, if I find a juicy tangent, I will allow myself more space. (But it has to be juicy.) My review of Michael Strogoff (1926) is over 6,000 words and my epic Ben-Hur (1925) review is over 15,000 words. Both reviews include background information on the film’s source novel and comparisons with talkie remakes.
However, including every single background detail can lead to a tedious read. How do you select the best details? Mull them over and consider whether they are really that interesting. For example, the process of obtaining the rights to a novel or play is usually pretty boring stuff. But what if there is some special detail? For example, the 1910 film Ramona is notable as one of the first films for which movie rights to a novel were obtained legally.
Before including details, ask a few questions:
Will this information increase appreciate or enjoyment of the film?
Is this detail actually interesting or am I including it just because I found it?
Would I enjoy this detail if I were the reader and not the author? Would I skim over it or find it tedious?
What background information do I include? Well, I make it a point to avoid discussing the sex lives of movie personnel unless such details directly impact the film’s production and reception. (For example, it would be ridiculous to review Liz Taylor’s Cleopatra without mentioning the Richard Burton angle but letting these details take over the review is something I prefer to avoid.)
Generally speaking, I am most interested in backstage tidbits, details about the screenplay adaptation and how the film compares to the original novel, if applicable. I usually avoid getting too mired in technical details and dissecting comedy just kind of leaves me depressed. I am a firm believer in this often-misattributed quote:
Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the purely scientific mind.
Amen! The “why” can ruin that little bit of magic and take away the sparkle of a joke. When reviews head down this path, I usually press the “back” button on my browser.
So, I guess my preferred review style can be described as: “I want lots of details but let’s not get carried away with love and things and also please do not try to explain why something is funny when it just is.”
Yep, that about covers it.