When I read Professor John Sutherland's comments about Amazon reviewers I was up in arms. Why should criticism be limited to the cognoscenti? There are thousands of intelligent, well-educated people out there who have a considered view and their opinions are as valid as any professional critic's.
That's what I thought last week. However, last night I decided to look up a film and my faith in Amazon reviews took a nosedive.
I looked up The Eiger Sanction, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. I saw it the other night for the first time and was expecting something of the calibre of Dirty Harry. Instead I spent two and a half hours watching one of the oddest, most inept films I've ever seen in my life. The film was described as a thriller, with 'Clint Eastwood as a retired assassin on a moutaineering expedition who knows that one of the party has killed a friend of his. He must find out who the killer is.' It sounded good, in an enjoyably brainless sort of way.
Unfortunately the finished result seemed to be three completely separate films which had been crudely edited into a whole, with only a tenuous link between each segment. The actual Eiger bit of the film only began after over 90 minutes had passed and it ended not with a bang, but a very disappointing whimper.
I looked up the film on Amazon to see what other people had made of it, expecting some pretty scathing comments, but no, everyone loved it! One review was headed 'Much under-stated', whilst another praised the 'superb screenplay based on a fantastic book'. Were we talking about the same film?
Since then I've looked at a number of Amazon reviews and I almost agree with John Sutherland. However, when it comes to books, particularly literary fiction, the calibre of the reviews is generally very high. The sort of person who reads Elfriede Jelinek probably isn't going to write a banal, ungrammatical assessment of a novel. However the film reviews are very hit and miss. If you need a rule of thumb, crap films attract crap reviews, good films attract intelligent ones.
On the subject of film, I have no doubt that most people reading this will have seen Atanarjuat - the Fast Runner, but if you haven't, I'd strongly urge you to watch it. As far as I know, it is the first film in the Inuit language and is absolutely stunning. When I told certain people that I'd watched a three-hour film in Inuit featuring a cast of unknown actors, they looked at me as if I was mad. But it's one of those movies that makes you realise how underused the medium of film is most of the time.
And the Amazon reviews are very good too.