Emilie Toomela ponders the traps of the rating system of Internet Movie Database.

Cardboard, paper, packages, glass and bio-waste. Ideally, old batteries and electronic devices should be disposed of properly. Some containers have a deposit that can be collected upon return. Every house does not have separate bins, everyone can’t be bothered to sort and recycle and the word on the street is that sorted waste in Estonia will all end up together in one place anyway. So all of it might actually be totally pointless – nobody cares in the end. Nobody really cares why either. How come a lot of imported beers have a deposit but there is none on wine bottles? A lot of the wine bottles also have that standardized shape.

Other by-products of human activity are also similarly sorted – including the creative production of motion pictures. It’s not exactly clear, however, how that works. Countless new movies are released every year. Some of them become famous while others fall into obscurity. The most handy and popular means to help choose films is definitely IMDb (Internet Movie Database). It has over a 100 million registered users and even more regular visitors, it’s a flagship for film reviews and everything else related. It offers available information about the cast and screenplay of every movie, accompanied by user comments etc. The quality of the film is rated on the scale of 10 and based on points given by users.

Like many other models of statistics, IMDb also has its flaws. One can already question the method used before going into detail about how it generates the evaluation exactly. There’s many a compilation of „bests“ that makes you stare in wonder how polar opposites have been estimated to be of equal quality. For example, the top 100 movies of all time include Ratatouille (dir. B. Bird, J. Pinkava), which is rated with 8 points – the same as La Strada (1954, dir. F. Fellini) and Nosferatu (1922, dir. F. W. Murnau). The ones with the very best rating are all of different genres – drama, comedy, legendary cinematographic masterpieces, political documentaries, animation…it’s all mixed together. The lack of any general criteria makes the ratings differ fundamentally from the opinions of professional critics, which aim to provide balanced feedback. Such reviews would consider screenplay, production, acting, scenography, music and other technical aspects. While IMDb has an abundance of data, the ratings given by the users do not separately focus on the aforementioned list. It is more focused on the story the film tells. It is not possible to rate the execution of a film separately. However, if the viewers do not rate the artistry of making a film, then how would you rate the emotions evoked by the story? It is not very clear what kind of criteria the score given to a movie does exactly comprise of. It seems to vary based on the viewer. Thus the ratings of films are not really comparable in this database since they lack uniting features. On occasion, the numbers with decimal places don’t really have much to do with the actual quality of the film. If the personal opinions and the basis for judging diverges, the average rating has no actual value. This might not always be the case, but there is also no method to leave out those ratings that have no foot to stand on.

Regardless, IMDb is still popular, mainly because it offers quick access to information in a compressed form, there is no need to dig deeper for info. Many newspaper editors have complained that people are no longer interested in reading long articles. IMDb provides the info you’re looking for quickly and conveniently, there’s no need to flip through and assess various reviews. The increasingly short attention span among internet-users is also what probably contributes to the success of IMDb. To find your way through IMDb scores, facts and pictures, you don’t need to focus as much as reading an actual review in a magazine. On the other hand, film is such a complicated medium, that it cannot simply be understood in the blink of an eye. Considering the length of an average film and the poignant semantics of the audiovisual language, one simply cannot grasp the bigger picture satisfactorily in a mere few minutes. Clearly not every viewer seeks to gain some deeper understanding. Cinema should also be fun. For the ordinary user who is looking for superficial entertainment, IMDb is probably enough.

Current marketing strategies in art are also shifting from the artist and his creative process towards the consumer. The needs of the consumer are set above the rest. Contemporary marketing revolves around the client. IMDb has completely adapted its concept to the consumers’ need to access information immediately. At the same time it is doing a disservice in aiding the escalation of languid thinking, but it also cultivates trust towards a questionable source. The aim of a person using IMDb is to find information about a film and to make choices based on that. If the system of rating, however, is faulty, then IMDb is effectively not representing the interests of consumers. Furthermore, the ratings are not the only thing why we should be weary of IMDb. We should seriously consider the long-term effects of replacing proper long news stories with short tidbits, as this could lead to the future consumer’s short attention span and an unwillingness to participate in thinking.

Considering film as a form of art also poses the question if it can really be assessed on a mere scale of one to ten. Numbers can successfully create misconceptions. IMDb has the power to nip the possibility of a good experience in the bud. A person’s expectations play a huge role in the end result. If the IMDb rating is low, it creates certain preconceptions. Who hasn’t skipped over a film just because the rating was so low it didn’t seem at all promising? One could only imagine the frustration an unfavourable rating can create for the director and other participants. Tarantino probably loves IMDb. Just take a look at the top 100 films.

Looking up the rating on IMDb before watching something, makes the choice appear safe. Similarly to Google, which restricts the information we have access to and influences how we can see the world around us, IMDb aids in creating “tunnel vision”. But the aim of cinematography in general should be the opposite – to offer new experiences. Those that work on making films, work on producing results that push the boundaries of imagination. The most memorable films are those that shake us out of the mundane safety of our everyday lives and offer a new point of view.

Blogs and other more established reviews also have a few shortcomings. The main mistake made is that critics often place themselves above the audience and use pompous style. A review should not be a show of superiour intellectuality. This kind of text will just repel readers and make them feel inadequate. Sometimes it also makes for a good laugh. The best reviews are stylistically fluent and readable. Good wording and witty wordplay is what conveys a good impression of what the film’s about. Moreover, new film reviews usually take a longer time to get published, but IMDb obtains information rather quickly – even a lot of reputable film critics use IMDb for access to most recent news and details.

I can’t deny the positive sides of IMDb. There is a number of them and considering the immense popularity of the site, there’s really no need to list them all. It offers great and fast access to various information about movies and it’s a source of ideas on what to watch. I would like to stress that the ratings on IMDb should be approached with caution and be compared to other sources as well, like proper reviews for example. Additionally, we should avoid enabling shallowness and superficial thinking. We should also avoid watching something with pre-conceived notions towards it. IMDb might not be the best souce to rate quality on, however, it offers all sorts of other interesting information.