Saturday, October 18, 2008

Writing Reviews

According to Deadline Hollywood Daily, famed movie critic Roger Ebert is coming under fire for writing a movie review after only watching the first 8 minutes of a 99-minute movie (story here, review here). In his opinion, it was so bad that after watching 8 minutes, he knew it was a stinker and walked out (or, um, stopped the DVD). Here's the part that bothers me, though: he then partly based his review on information found on and only made it clear that he hadn't really watched the whole thing until the last sentence of the review.

From my point of view as a book reviewer, I have not done this so far, but I can understand hating a book so much that you just can't bear to go on. For example, I remember reading Devourer of Book's review for a book so bad she had to give up. But she admits this in the very first line of her review. Regarding Ebert's movie review, on his blog, Ebert writes that his own editor told him "Your original review is clever and well-written but I think morally dishonest because you conceal your MO until the very end." Ebert's response is that the logical flow of the review didn't require him to admit that he hadn't seen the movie until the end.

I'm interested in your take on this. As a reviewer (of books or movies), are we obligated to finish the whole thing? If not, is it valid to write a review of something we haven't finished?

Update: Thanks to Ali for pointing out that Ebert went back, watched the whole movie and wrote a new review. Definitely the right thing to do.

As an aside, here's a line that popped out for me, as a book reviewer, from his blog post about writing a new review:
In even my negative reviews, I try to give some sense of why you might want to see a film even if I didn't admire it.


  1. That's a good question. I stopped about 1/3 of the way through a book and I'm not sure what to do with it right now. I'll probably try to continue on but we will see. I really want to know what movie it was that he disliked so much!

    I usually have no problem getting through a book, well except for like 500 page science or history related things for school but i wasn't writing reviews for those. Just preparing for a group discussion!

    I think what Devourer of Book's did is the right thing, telling upfront that she didn't finish.

  2. That book was SO BAD that I had to warn all my readers not to make the same mistake I did and read it. I have another book right now that I set down for a week 3/4 of the way into it and I just don't want to finish it. I'm mostly 'eh' about this one, though, it certainly isn't horrible. I don't think at this point, though, that I could do justice to reviewing it, particularly because I put it down for so long, I've now lost the train of it.

    I'm thinking I may just not review it at all at this point. The question now is whether I write that I wasn't able to give it the concentration it deserved and link to other reviews or just forget about it.

    P.S., This did show up in my trackbacks, but I appreciate you emailing me and letting me know about it!

  3. Some books/movies are so bad they're not worth finishing, but 8 minutes out of 99 does seem a little extreme.

  4. I think a review that starts with, "I was only able to watch 8 minutes of 99" is enough review. I mean...that tells us everything we need to know. ;)

    A faux review...not admitting it til the end...not cool.

  5. Looks like Ebert went ahead and watched the rest of the film, and wrote a new review!

    I won't review a book I didn't finish, but I will write a post saying that I didn't finish it and why. To me there's a difference, but there might not be to the author of the book, LOL.

    I wrote just such a post about The Longest Trip Home, and then yesterday I posted an update saying that I'm going to finish it after all (after having read the NY Times review, which was positive overall but had the same criticism I did about the first part of the book). I'm fully prepared to change my opinion after the halfway mark. We'll see!

    Oh, wait, I lied! Just remembered, I've posted at least 2 reviews on LT for books I didn't finish: The Stand, and A Prayer For Owen Meany. I think I would do so again, if the book were already a best seller or considered a classic by a well-loved author.

  6. I put down Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks with just 6 pages left to read. I was just exasperated and bored, and I've never looked back and wondered what happens. Since its about John Brown, I guess I technically already know what happened, but...

    I don't have a big problem with what Ebert did. He admitted that he didn't finish the movie, and didn't lie about any part of what he did see. Waiting til the end of a review to reveal something is just a literary technique; it isn't dishonest. And why is his opinion of what he saw any less valid because he didn't finish it? I've blogged about this already, so you know how I feel about one's right to opine without basis!

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