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Discussion questions attached to reviews


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I don't know about others, but I have a hard time taking reviews seriously when they come with discussion questions. This seems to be a popular practice among Christian review sites online... but why? They remind me of terrible Bible-study curricula. The kind that thinks the most insightful question that can be asked about any given epistle is "From where was Paul writing?"

I'm being a little harsh. This is just something that's bugged me ever since I started reading Christian movie reviews. I know it's no one's decision here whether or not these get attached to their reviews, but what do you all think of the practice? Why did it start? Do Christians have some odd desire to be guided in questioning the things they read? Is it a helpful practice, or is it redundant as the questions should be expressed by the review itself? Why don't secular movie critics include discussion questions? How do the purposes of Christian critics differ in ways that would make discussion questions necessary?

Edited by theoddone33
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Why did it start? Do Christians have some odd desire to be guided in questioning the things they read? Is it a helpful practice, or is it redundant as the questions should be expressed by the review itself? Why don't secular movie critics include discussion questions? How do the purposes of Christian critics differ in ways that would make discussion questions necessary?

Wouldn't you love to see these discussion questions at the bottom of a movie review somewhere? :)

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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I think in a lot of earlier cases the questions were one of two things: they were well-meaning Socratic devices that tried to teach Christians how to think about movies, or they were the natural by-product of Christian reviewers falling back into the familiar Bible study discussion group routine because that is the path of least resistance. (And to be fair, these are the kinds of question that come out in film discussion groups anyway - so they aren't always unnatural or even unwelcome.)

As you point out, in a lot of recent cases the questions seem like a marketing ploy designed to make people think a review is just like all those small group bible studies they have been involved with. It makes reviews more acceptable even when dealing with films of questionable moral content. Since so many Christians are used to a few pages of text followed by a number of questions designed to foster group interaction, reviews that mimic this learning process are easier to digest. The content of some outlets' questions implies that they use this strategy, and it gets annoying. The goal of criticism is to enable us to think on our own two feet. Some outlets could give its writers a few hundred more words to lead readers to important questions more naturally.

And this is not to say I don't like bible study group booklets, I actually like them a lot.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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theoddone33 wrote:

: Do Christians have some odd desire to be guided in questioning the things they read?

FWIW, I take it as a positive sign that Christians want to be ENGAGED with a film and the issues it raises, rather than simply passive consumers of cinema. It can be frustrating, though, sometimes, when you're reviewing a really dumb or shallow movie and you have to come up with questions to make people Think More Deeply about that film.

: Is it a helpful practice, or is it redundant as the questions should be expressed by the review itself?

Interesting question. I know it's happened once or twice that an editor has asked me to rewrite a review to include some aspect of the film that I alluded to in the questions but didn't spell out quite so explicitly in the main review. There is certainly a temptation to regard the questions as the section where you get to talk about the "other stuff" that you didn't make time for in the review itself.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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It depends on the questions themselves. Surely secular film studies classes pose discussion questions?

I guess that they do. This particular set makes me quite sad. I always feel like discussion questions that merely rehash basic plot points are a bit insulting to the reader's intelligence... but I guess a quick perusal through IMDB's comment section might reveal that a lot of people miss these things.

I guess I wonder if attaching discussion questions to a review makes sense. What's the review trying to achieve that's enhanced by the addition of discussion questions? Do they occasionally end up being used as an apology of sorts? "I know that this film contains swearing, sex, and violence with which you may not be comfortable, but here's how watching it can help your walk with God."

I don't really disagree with a lot of what's been posted here. The usefulness of the questions depends on how well they're constructed and how the reader uses them. I'm interested more in the actual practice... possibly because I've seen it not just in one place, but on multiple Christian review sites. Are the reviews written with the intent that they could be used as part of a film discussion group? Should they be?

I understand that significant differences in the target audiences is going to mean that movie reviews in Christian publications have some marked differences from reviews in secular publications. I just think it's an interesting discussion because this particular difference is one that was really unexpected for me when I first started reading Christian reviews.

If they went away, would we occasionally lose interesting insights on the films in question? Peter's anecdote suggests that the act of creating the questions can point out a facet of the film that's unexplored in the review. Hmm... this is starting to make me wish that readers used the comment sections after each review for discussing the questions raised by the film (whether or not they're asked by the review), rather than for trashing the reviewers or film content.

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ZEN??? And I thought this was a CHRISTIAN site ;0)

Uh...

I find questions at the end of reviews a strange concept. While I appreciate good questions, what happens if the review was negative? If the reviewer decided the film wasn't worth our time, why should there be questions at the end? Then again, unless you are on a Web site specifically designed for the discussion of such things, there may not be a better place to include questions...

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Great thread.

At cinema in focus we added questions after about 9 years because one of our readers said that since our purpose was to increase thoughtful analysis of a film it would be helpful if we added questions at the end. It is interesting to me that even our secular outlets - where we tell them they don't need to publish the questions - always use the questions. I have had mixed feelings about the questions but have had so many people write and thank us for them that I've become more comfortable with their purpose.

So, that being said - I would find it interesting to have response to some questions and get some feedback.

Let me give our two most recent review questions. How can I make them better?

RELIGULOUS

Discussion:

1. The first verse of the first Psalm explains the progression from walking with the wicked, to standing with sinners and finally sitting with those who mock people trying to do good. The author says:

Since 1995 we have authored a commentary on film, cinema in focus. Though we enjoy cinema as an art form, our interests lie not so much in reviewing a film as in beginning a conversation about the social and spiritual values presented. We, therefore, often rate a film higher or lower due to its message rather than its quality of acting or film-making.

Cinema In Focus Website

Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara Website

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