Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Everything is four stars

The modern trend is for magazines, newspapers and websites to review films, music, theatre, restaurants, etc, on a five star basis, with five being the best and one the worst.* The majority of reviews, even when they are gushing about an album, book or film, seem to get an average of only four stars. I'm not sure where I stand on four stars: they're either the new three stars (i.e. average) or the new five stars (i.e. great). It's interesting to note that five stars is usually just reserved for re-issues and re-releases of older films or albums. It's usually quite rare for a contemporary film or album to get five stars. Maybe it just takes time and perspective for a 'classic' to be acknowledged (for example, Citizen Kane was panned in its day). On film posters, films hailed by magazines as 'Brilliant!' or 'Genius!' or 'Masterpiece!' still only get four stars. Yet four stars have become so ubiquitous in reviews that I don't expect anything above average from the rating any more, and three stars has become below average, unexceptional. Two is terrible and one unwatchable.

Certain publications, in my opinion, most notably Radio Times (for film reviews) and Q magazine (for music), seem to get the star rating so consistently wrong that I use them as reverse barometers.

*A notable exception is the influential music website Pitchfork music, which I look at on a daily basis. Pitchfork rates albums and songs out of ten (including 'points', e.g. 7.4), a rating that Uncut magazine has recently employed (though without the 'point'). I often don't have time to read whole reviews, but like to play a guessing game. If an album is rated highly, it gets a 'Best New Music' heading, meaning it's over 8.0 (I think). But you can't see the score unless you click on the review. So, I like to guess the rating. I'm usually pretty spot on. And it's usually 8.5ish, which translates as, yup, four stars.

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