Anatomy of a review

I started writing DVD and Blu-ray product reviews for Home Theater Forum in 2006. It often proves to be an interesting challenge, as I don’t consider myself either a fast or particularly insightful writer. Or rather, my insights don’t necessarily come quickly, and so the speed of my writing tends to follow suit. And there isn’t always a lot of time to spend thinking about a film, given deadlines and that it’s a volunteer position. As much as I want to do a good job, there’s a limit to how much time I can spend on it all. Getting to keep the movie is nice, but for the time spent on a review, it’s honestly more economical to just go out and buy it. Ultimately I do it because I enjoy the challenge, not because of any material perks.

The hardest part of the review is ultimately the evaluation of the film. The technical evaluation is fairly rote with certain things I’m always looking for and really only a few ways of describing them (e.g. “the full range of contrast values”). The evaluation is of course subjective, which makes things interesting when there’s a difference of opinion, but such controversies are fairly rare these days as the methods of video transfer have reached a certain level of maturity and consistency. Every so often there’s something universally regarded as poor, but that’s often so obvious you’d have to be blind not to see it.

Reviewing the special features really comes down to a matter of time. Audio commentaries are ultimately the worst in that respect – it takes the entire length of the feature to say you’ve reviewed it all. When there are two or three commentaries? Sometimes I just throw up my hands and pick one I’m most interested in and say that’s the only one I listened to.

So when it comes to the feature review, that’s where I struggle most. The Forum doesn’t really expect us to go to great lengths in this section, seeing that it’s a review of the product, but it feels a little half-assed to not devote some attention to it. At one time I was limiting my words to about 100 for this section, and set the challenge as finding the most concise way of describing the story. I have since expanded that out, though the goal is still to be as brief as possible by keeping it contained to one paragraph. I also provide an additional paragraph to one or two personal observations or insights about the film. You’d think that keeping it brief makes it easier, but I’m not so sure. Every writing class I’ve taken has said that being concise is harder, but sometimes I’m not sure whether I’m being concise or incomplete. I often go back and re-read what I’ve written. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised; sometimes I know I could have done better. I guess that’s the nature of most things.