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You may have noticed that I am now using a different rating system when reviewing books and movies. Just as a reference, this is a quick guide to what the rankings mean.
Entertainment and Intellect
These are the two things that I appreciate the most in a story. Entertainment is fairly obvious: how entertaining was the book or movie? You may wonder how this can apply to nonfiction books/documentaries if there is no story, but I assure you that it’s still perfectly possible for educational material to score highly in entertainment. The possible scores are:
5 – Enthralling. I was absolutely captivated from beginning to end. If this was a book, I probably finished it in a day or two, and then went straight back to re-read it. For a movie, I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.
4 – Fun. This was at least a little entertaining. This could be a book that has some parts that keep you up reading at night, or leave you craving more. It could also be a particularly funny movie that you wouldn’t mind paying money to see again.
3 – Neutral. This wasn’t a chore to get through, but it also wasn’t particularly enjoyable.
2 – Boring. This was a chore to get through. If I finished this, it was probably because I was obligated to by school’s required reading or having already spent money on a movie ticket. It may have many redeeming qualities or be liked by others, but not by me.
1 – Awful. This is not only boring, but it is also distracting and offensive. For whatever reason, I felt physically sickened by reading or watching this. You’ll hardly ever see this rating because most things this unentertaining never make it onto my read/watch list.
A good example of a 5-scoring nonfiction media are biographies, well-done documentaries, ethnographies, or just books on a really, really interesting topic, like wolf social behavior or game theory. 5-scoring fiction books, of course, are page-turners from cover to cover.
I probably don’t need to explain to you what a really boring book or movie is like…
Intellect may sound arrogant to require from a book or movie, but “intellect” was just the name I came up with for a broader concept. It really means “did this book/movie tell you or show you some lesson that you’ll never forget?” Almost every book or movie has some sort of character growth/theme in it, but those aren’t normally impactful. Aladdin may learn to be himself and Harry Potter may learn important lessons about love, but I’ll honestly never think of those things in my day-to-day life. However, Hamilton (which is neither book nor movie, but still deserves this) inspired several philosophical debates that I love thinking about to this day. The scores for intellect are as follows:
5 – Awesome. This changed the way I view life.
4 – Good. This brought up some interesting issues that I can talk about over dinner, but I won’t necessarily change the way I behave because of it. Or maybe the story addresses an important question but doesn’t give a full answer, like when superheroes are banned in The Incredibles.
3 – Neutral. There was no intellect worth discussing.
2 – Backwards. This is dumb, but harmless. Maybe the protagonist was brought back to life by the tears or his friends, or the main characters learn that they can never trust anyone. I strongly disagree with the lesson or think that it was presented in a clumsy way.
1 – This makes me feel dumber, and I worry for mankind. Imagine a Nazi propaganda film. This book or movie promotes horrible lessons/solutions to real-world problems. I would never expose my child to it for fear they would grow up to be a worse person. I don’t believe in censorship, but my low rating will have to do.
Intellect isn’t something that most people look for in a story, but I have noticed that many of the greats have some kind of message that changes peoples lives. After all, that’s what every artist wants to do: to change the world through their art, to start a mini revolution. Yes, people will remember a movie that made them cry, or a book that made them laugh, but there are other things that will make someone say, “The world would be so much better if everyone watched this.”
Good examples of intellect in books are To Kill a Mockingbird, A Christmas Carol, and probably any other book they made you read in high school. In movies, it’s rarer, but still there. Crash addresses social biases, and even Inside Out reminds everyone that sadness is a useful emotion.
But after using this system for a while, I noticed that some things didn’t add up. For instance, Harry Potter, a series I’ll never decline reading, was getting a 7 (4 in entertainment and 3 in intellect) while The Hunger Games scored a 9 (5 in entertainment and 4 in intellect). Something didn’t seem quite fair.
There are just some remarkable aspects about a story that go beyond easy classification into entertainment or intellect. Harry Potter was the world my imagination played in as a child, but does that bring its entertainment up to a 5? What about movies that weren’t entertaining but were enjoyable because they accidentally gave me some story ideas, like the Ice Age sequels? Do they deserve to be bumped to a 5?
So I now have four kinds of extra points that can be assigned to a book/movie:
+1 for “genre-breaking”/originality. These are books/movies that change the game. Harry Potter, for instance, basically created/popularized an entire new sub-genre of fanasy, Outlander has got to be the best case of a scientist breaking into the writing world, Game of Thrones is without a doubt changing adult fantasy into the most realistic historical fiction I’ve ever seen, and Hamilton has got to be the first historical broadway hip-hop musical I’ve ever heard of. These things might make the story more entertaining, or they might not.
+1 for “imagination invasion.” When I was younger, I used to play make-believe with pretty much every premise I came across. Harry Potter was the big one where almost all of my made-up stories took place, but Ratatouille, Lord of the Rings, Young Justice, Percy Jackson, and even Monster Buster Club had such interesting worlds or characters that I couldn’t resist interacting with them. Nowadays, it’s sadly much rarer for this to happen to me. My imaginary worlds all stay more or less the same and have the same characters. So a book or movie that can invade my imagination as a 20-year-old definitely deserves and extra point.
+1 for “idea fodder.” There are some not-so-great movies that I would definitely watch again (hard to justify this for books, though) just because they stirred my brain the right way: Ice Age: Collision Course, for example, had me scribbling endlessly in my pocket journal for some strange reason. Did I love the movie? No. Would I watch it again? Probably.
+1 for “accidental insight.” This is like the “intellect” version of “idea fodder.” Some books and movies accidentally start me off on a philosophical quest. The story itself probably completely ignores the insight, but it elucidates a real-world problem that I hadn’t thought of before. Let’s take the typical “trading” episode where the main characters want something, but the person who owns that something wants something else in return. So the main characters go to another vendor to get that thing, but they want some third thing, and the result is an episode-long chain of trades needed to get the original desired item. You’ve probably seen this a thousand times before. But maybe I saw that episode right after taking an economics class and began marveling at how inefficient bartering is. Or maybe Lilo & Stitch made me wonder if aggression can be genetically programmed, or how much of personality is due to nature and nurture, or something along those lines. It’s only a minor plot point in the original story, but something that interests me to no end.
I’d like to reiterate that these four criteria aren’t the only extra qualities one can like in a story: they’re just the ones that I’ve frequently wanted to give books/movies extra points for.