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Catnip5's avatar

How can you tell a movie is good or bad from the writing?

Asked by Catnip5 (320points) December 28th, 2017

Whenever you read reviews or just hear people talk about movies, they would often used certain buzzwords to describe how great or terrible a movie can be. For example, “I found the movie terrible because it has ‘bad writing’ and ‘bad directing’” or “great because of the good writing and directing”. I really don’t get how people could sense a bad script right away from watching a movie sometimes, unless they also happen to have a script sitting right next to them as they watch the movie.

May be there are times where I could sense some awkward dialogues coming from the actors as a part of the indication for ‘bad script writing’ on the writers end, even when the story a movie had to work with is weak too, but how could the Average Joe always sense those things from just watching a movie (or show)? The same thing when it comes to good or bad directing.

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8 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

Earlier today I started watching a movie on Hulu. It was there because I was adding movies to my watchlist last night – without a great deal of consideration except “that seems like it might be interesting”. The movie stars Cristina Ricci, which I thought would be a huge plus (and should have been), because aside from being cute as a button she also plays some pretty quirky characters and generally seems to add to a film.

Well. An army of Cristina Riccis could not have saved this turkey. I don’t think I got more than about 20 minutes into it before I turned it off in disgust and decided to abandon it for good.

To start with, the premise of the movie is asinine: A man released from prison kidnaps a young woman within an hour or so of his release – so that he can take her home to meet his parents (to whom he has lied about the reasons for not visiting for the past few years) and have her pretend to be his wife. Is that not silly? Not only that, but when he kidnaps her he has her drive her car to the destination – because he has nothing, and because he can’t drive a stick. She goes along with him even though she has numerous chances to simply drive away and leave him.

Then they meet his parents at their home (I’m embarrassed to admit that I watched this far!) where the four of them sit around a table, and the camera angle changes from place to place on the table… and the actors’ relative positions to each other changes, as well – during the course of a single conversation. In addition, while the conversation is going on and the actors’ positions change (like expensive musical chairs) they tend to disappear from the conversation. They probably even come back to the table – later in the same conversation – wearing different clothes. (This is a failure of “continuity”, where obvious errors in the filmmaking and editing process throw the viewer out of the story to concentrate more on the errors and stupidity of the story than the story itself.)

If you want to see a bad, bad movie, I highly recommend “Buffalo ‘66”. What a stinker.

ETA: And yeah, the dialog was stupid, too.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Writing (bad writing) is usually a way of saying that the dialog is poor and/or the scenes don’t make sense.

The two big things that make (or break) a film are the writing, and the production. By production I mean the directing, the staging, the physical setting, the camera work, and so on.

You can have the best production quality in the world, but if the dialog (which is what tells the story) doesn’t work, the movie is a dog.

The key is in listening. If the story doesn’t maker sense and you find yourself saying “what the hell is going on?” then there’s a good chance the writing is poor. (unless it’s art house avant-garde, in which case it might be just what was desired).

Zaku's avatar

It can be difficult to tell whose fault some things are between the writer and the director (who can either spot & address some script issues, or overrule parts of the script and create new problems), or possibly have to do with the actor and/or producer or even meddling investors/owners or even censors. People making comments may be making guesses or inferences, which may or may not be informed by other experiences or information about any of those folks.

I mainly blame JJ Abrams for messing up all the recent Star Trek and Star Wars films and having apathetic hyperactive careless continuity, as they all have the same foul stench, and watching his TV show Lost all the way through, it was evident there too that he doesn’t give a damn about continuity, especially not action continuity or logic or detail (but in that show it makes some sense because it was about a mass delusion/deception/hallucination sort of thing and it was its own thing that was never supposed to make any kind of sense, whereas Trek and Star Wars had at least some version of an attempt at logic). I don’t know exactly who was responsible for each of the details that I find utterly disappointing and preposterous, though.

rockfan's avatar

Even as a young kid I could tell when a movie had poor dialogue.

flutherother's avatar

The writing used to be much sharper in the days of black and white movies. Now the emphasis is on special effects and how the film looks. Maybe cinema goers today aren’t so interested in the dialogue but for me the script can make or break a movie. When the writing is good you become much more involved in the story and good dialogue brings the characters to life.

Patty_Melt's avatar

When I consider writing, I’m not thinking much about the dialogue, because actors and directors change dialogue a lot.
To me, the writing is bad when the movie jumps around a lot in time and place. Too many flashbacks, or a plain disregard for any sequencing is bad writing.
When someone writes a subject they don’t know well, it makes for a clumsy, boring movie. For instance, if the story is supposed to take place in a country where the writer has never been, and the type of currency actually belongs to a different country, obvious blunders like that reduce the quality of the picture.

Catnip5's avatar

I do agree with you on that one regarding today’s movies, @flutherother. I do also find myself more invested in the story when it comes to movies. It’s not always style over substance for good movies. In a sense, I supposed, where the story would have a strong script and dialogue to support it.

In fact, watching movies like “The Room” got me to immediately realize the errors of what a bad script, dialogue, and directing can truly be like. Well, among other things too…

Catnip5's avatar

Thank you everyone for providing me some interesting perspectives.

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