How long should a movie review be anyway?

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:

Wearing a furry hat always helps.
Wearing a furry hat always helps.

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.

prisoner-of-zenda-writing

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.)

why-change-your-wife-drinking
Gasp! Will this end up in the review?

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.

16 Replies to “How long should a movie review be anyway?”

  1. Very interesting. I must admit, when reviews are too long I kind of lose my concentration, especially because I read a language that is not my first one (so far I haven’t read many movie blogs in French…). But your Ben-Hur’s epic review intrigues me! 😉 On my side I try to write between 1000 and 2500 words, well like you. But there are, of course, some exceptions when I am very inspired.

  2. The exception to dissecting comedy has to be – and it’s not written but a visual presentation – the brilliant lecture put together by silent film accompanist Ben Model as he peels away the layers of Chaplin to illustrate how he structured his physical slapstick to his intimate understanding of cranking speeds. I think you can find it on YouTube, Ben has his own channel, but I was lucky enough to see Ben present it in person. Absolutely riveting !!

    1. I think lectures or video presentations are definitely superior to just plain text because the humor can speak for itself. And, of course, discussions of filming techniques as related to comedy filmmaking are much more interesting than “why this is funny” articles.

  3. The posts on my old Angelfire site were super-long, as is revealed when I copy and paste some of the surviving ones into the WordPress editor to be recycled on my current blog. A lot of them I’ve gotten down from several thousand words to in the 800-range, without losing anything important. My blog posts in the earliest days of my blog averaged around 1,500–2,000 words, though I’ve learnt over time how to get my average post down to about 400-800 words. Sometimes I’ll have a post going up to about 1,000 words, but I always break it up with pictures, bolded first words of paragraphs, or lines of asterisks. I feel like that’s the sweet spot for the types of things I write about, film reviews included.

    If I’m discussing a really famous, important film, I’ll divide it up into several posts over the course of a week or so, for a series. Each post covers a different aspect, like the plot, the making of the film, behind the scenes, legacy and reception, or the background behind the star(s) moving to that studio. If I see a post climbing above 1,000 words, I either get to work editing it down, or I split it into at least two parts. From what many other bloggers have said, and the advice given every year at the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge blog, shorter is better. Many folks admit they don’t read, or at best skim, posts above a few hundred words. My standards of short vs. long might not be what other people consider short and long, but it’s a length that fits with my writing style and blogging topics.

    1. There is something to be said for pithiness but I do love a good old-fashioned dive into the deep end of the research pool. Some of my favorite classic movie reviews and articles are gigantic and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  4. I must admit, for blogging, I am not one for very lengthy reviews because of the time commitment but I love film so I do like reading about it. I love the tidbits-behind the scenes but that should not be part of the review unless, like you said, it caused a stir. I may write about Destry Rides Again, the 1939 film and mention, in brackets that Marlene swooped in like a cat in heat and grabbed Stewart but that would be it. the behind the scenes stuff is for another time. I don’t want the film hurt by the backstage antics of the stars etc..

    1. Yeah, I mean if a site’s whole style is about scintillating backstage tidbits, that’s their decision. I just choose to keep things out of the bedroom, largely because so much silent film coverage is JUST about the bedroom.

  5. I enjoy background information and pertinent anecdotes; they “round out” the experience of the film under review, so that even if you’ve never seen it, or don’t plan to, you have a more complete experience. However, there are limits: Robert Osborne, in a preamble to Wuthering Heights several years ago, mentioned that Olivier and Oberon detested each other. Now I can’t bear to watch the film, though I’d enjoyed it numerous times, pre-Robert. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing if not handled well.

  6. Interesting post.

    I limit myself to 1000 words, although I actually go for 995 as my cut off point.

    Some films (or anime titles which I also review) I struggle to meet that target while others I find myself doing some heavy pruning because there is so much to discuss.

    Ultimately it depends on the film – if it is an older or classic film there is usually an interesting or revealing behind the scenes story worth sharing; for modern films the focus remains largely on the film itself.

    If it’s an arthouse film I often spend most of my time apologising for not understanding it! 😛

  7. When I started my project, I was shooting for 250-word reviews, and I found it a challenge to even write that much sometimes. What’s happened over time (and this was the point of doing it) is that I’ve learned so much context that now a 600 word review of a 1-minute movie seems short!
    As far as reading goes, I figure there are different readers who would prefer different lengths. I read blog entries systematically, not necessarily in a single sitting. It’s not uncommon for me to spend several days poring over a new post from “11 East 14th Street” (on the rare occasion he posts), or a day or two reading “Silent London” or “Early and Silent Film.” “Movies Silently” reviews I usually complete the same day I start them, not least because the writing is so compelling. For someone who just wants a quick fix – I assume they stick to the shorter-length review blogs, and good for them.

    1. Yes, it’s very much a matter of taste and the tastes of the readers. I like to think that nerdiness is a draw, it certainly makes me go back and read other blogs. 🙂

  8. I’m very much like you, that’s why I really enjoy reading your juicy film reviews.
    Well, I started writing film reviews to get away of the strict dissertation rules I had to follow at school. It was a relief to write about the movies I love when I don’t have to count words, lines, paragraphs! 🙂

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