I recently stumbled across an article on cheezburger.com that changed how I looked at movies. This site took well-known movie posters and pasted 1-star reviews from Amazon on them, doing it, as I believe, for the laughs.
But @awfulreviews is also making some pointed arguments about how texts function within images. Since images allow so much room for interpretation, texts that appear alongside the images direct the viewer on how to interpret the images.
Let’s look at the Goonies poster on this site as an example. The author of the page chooses two quotes to include on the poster. The first: “Within the first 5 minutes of the movie there was foul language by the KIDS in the movie, reference to drugs, and a small statue of a naked man with an erection.” The second: “Unrelentingly loud, roll-your-eyes predictable and never less than obnoxious: the movie equivalent of New Jersey.”
The first describes the way the movie is seemingly inappropriate for children: bad language, drug use and sexual innuendo. All things parents want to shelter their kids from until an appropriate age. But the review becomes a figure of authority, seeming important enough to be placed on the poster. The reviewer is a supposed expert that watched the movie and gave an honest opinion.
This is one person’s opinion of why the movie shouldn’t be watched by children. And children deceptively appear to be the target audience, with a PG rating. Yet nudity, profanity and violence are all allowed in a PG rated film, and the Ratings Board recommends that parents view the movie before allowing their children to see it.
But who is to say what age the movie was actually intended for? It could be for adults, with the rating causing some deception. There are still a number of good values to be learned from the movie like adventure, caring, and acceptance, to be broad, even if the way those messages are received is deemed inappropriate. A parent seeing this review first would reject watching the movie. The text guides their way of thinking, even if the poster itself doesn’t suggest anything inappropriate.
The second review assumes a larger-scale analysis of the movie, comparing the movie to New Jersey. Most people will think of the other shows that idealize New Jersey, like the party-hard lifestyle of the Jersey Shore, the conniving and secretive world of Boardwalk Empire or the dangerous and thrilling one of the Sopranos. They may agree, from these samples alone, that sure, New Jersey has a reputation and this movie is living up to said reputation. That being said, the review can be interpreted in different ways based on how much they agree. People who live in New Jersey, or who have spent a considerable amount of time there, may see the interpretation differently than those who have never visited the state.
So far, the Goonies doesn’t seem like a movie most viewers would be interested in watching. But would the poster seem different with its five-star Amazon reviews?
Nothing on the poster itself suggests any of these things, good or bad. All the viewer sees is an artistic rendition of the main characters surrounded by treasure and an eerie location, and appearing afraid of something out of the view of the viewer.
As Errol Morris, in his book Believing is Seeing, describes, captions in photographs can influence how we perceive them, whether or not we know the truth about the photo. Captions are simply an “attempt to put the photograph in context” (194), but many points of view may influence that context. People who didn’t like the movie, that write negative reviews, would frame the movie in a very different context than someone who enjoyed the movie.
Our own beliefs also influence the way we see and analyze pictures. Even with these negative reviews on the movie posters, if you liked the movie in the first place, more than likely you’ll keep on liking the movie. You’ll come up with some reason to argue against the text and reinforce your own opinion, passing the review off as “they don’t understand the point of the movie” or “someone just trying to cause trouble.” The most effective reviews on posters are for the audiences that haven’t seen the movie before – and haven’t heard anything else about it.
So next time you consider watching a movie solely from its reviews, remember that the review belongs to one opinionated person. The image on the poster itself isn’t making an argument, only the person who wants you to believe them.