How to Watch Movies
Intelligently and Critically
(in two parts)
on Film Viewing - Part Two: This additional list
of 'how-to's' is provided for the advanced movie-goer
to stimulate thought about film. It gives helpful hints
on the art of reading, analyzing, watching, critically
viewing, and deconstructing a film (to take apart the
film's components and interpret how it was all intentionally
Anyone can learn the language, techniques, and structure of cinema of both the past and present. The Internet Movie DataBase (www.imdb.com) is always a useful resource for factual information about films. See also this site's Film Search page for other helpful film resources.
Here are additional, more detailed components to discover when critically viewing a film, to improve one's cinematic sensibility and literacy, and to unpack further layers of meaning:
About the Film's Production:
Know the film's dates of production; study the production credits to learn more about the film's production; research any interesting facts about the 'making of' the film.
[Note: Understand that films made before the late 1950s had a width-to-height aspect ratio of 4:3 (or 1.33:1) called 'Academy Ratio,' similar to a television screen, while more modern films have non-standard, wide-screen ratios (that are often viewed in the pan-and-scan mode).]
Choice of Film Stock:
Watch how color (or black and white) is used?
Budget and Box-Office:
How did the film do at the box-office? Did it go straight to video? See this site's section on Top 100 Box-Office Hits of All Time.
Was there any controversy surrounding the film's release?
About Initial Reception:
How is the film perceived today?
About Reviews and Reviewers/Critics' Opinions: or
Also consider its critics' ratings (i.e., stars, "thumbs-up", letter grades, number ratings, etc.).
Did it pay homage to (or reference) a previous film in some way?
Narrative Origins and Script:
Read about the narrative origins of the film (literary or otherwise):
Does the film's screenplay effectively communicate the story through action and dialogue?
Learn Whether It's Fact or Fiction?:
Plot, Structure or Story:
Determine the film's pivotal scene(s) and sequencing.
How is the story's plot told?
Additional Questions to Decipher:
Study Running Time and Timeline:
Know the entire run time of the film and the locations of various segments (or sequences) or turning points within that time frame.
Keep track of the timeline of the film's parts - with the digital counter of a VCR or DVD player.
Special (Visual) Effects:
Consider whether the advanced, computer-generated technical aspects of the film are essential to the film's plot, or whether their unrestrained use overwhelms the dramatic, story-telling elements and sacrifices substance - namely, the plot and/or characters.
For reference, see this site's Greatest Visual/Special Effects in Film History.
Style and Tone:
Note how the dialogue is delivered (fast, mumbled, overlapping, loud/soft, etc.).
Are there any recurring lines of dialogue and how do they function?
Characters and Acting Performances:
List the following:
Then, ask yourself these additional things:
Were there any caricatures?
Is the director a veteran or a novice?
How has the director shaped, auteured, interpreted or controlled every aspect of the film's making, and the telling of its story? See this site's Greatest Directors section.
Cinematography and Visual Cues:
Be attentive to various visual clues, such as the following:
Overall, is the cinematography effective?
to Score and/or Soundtrack:
Listen carefully to how the music/score functions within the film to underscore the action, to move the story along, or to provide an emotional tone or mood.
Out About Mis-en-Scene:
How were the scenes 'orchestrated' or set up for the camera?
Locations or Settings:
Note the different kinds of settings:
Film Conventions or Cliches:
Note the film's transitional edits, such as the following (see this site's Film Terms Glossary):
to Audio Clues:
Study and distinguish the use of the following:
Note when sound transitions do not match shot transitions.