Automotive Holiday Deals Up to 50% Off Select Books Shop Men's Athletic Shoes Learn more nav_sap_SWP_6M_fly_beacon Indie for the Holidays egg_2015 All-New Amazon Fire TV Grooming Deals Gifts Under $50 Shop now Amazon Gift Card Offer bf15 bf15 bf15 $30 Off Amazon Echo $15 Off All-New Fire Kindle Black Friday Deals Holiday Music in CDs & Vinyl Shop Now DOTD

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars18
Format: Kindle EditionChange
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item

There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 28, 2014
The Art of Watching Films, by Dennis Petrie and Joe Boggs, is one of the poorest textbooks I've come across. While the sections dealing solely with the technical aspects of filmmaking are sound (aspect ratios, shot descriptions, etc.), the rest of the book presents its readers with either blatant misinformation or author bias disguised as fact. For an example of the former, Let's take a look at this excerpt from p. 45:

"Flash-forward, a filmed sequence that jumps from the present into the future, has been tried in such films as Easy Rider, They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and Love! Valour! Compassion!, and at the end of the HBO series Six Feet Under. It is doubtful whether this device will ever gain widespread acceptance."

This rather bold declaration will surprise anyone who's ever seen Goodfellas, Citizen Kane ("Merry Christmas..."--twenty-year flash-forward--"...and a Happy New Year!"), Breaking Bad, Forrest Gump, American Me, and Backdraft, just to name a few. To say it's "doubtful" that the flash-forward--one of the oldest and most common cinematic storytelling techniques--may not "ever gain widespread acceptance" isn't just incorrect--it's conspicuously, obviously incorrect.

Other mistakes are even more bizarre, suggesting that the authors may not have even seen some of the films they reference. In a section on types of stories, Petrie and Boggs give examples of "The Way Things Never Were And Never Will Be." Here's what they say about fantasy films:

"By using their special brand of artistry, filmmakers can create on the screen an imaginary world that makes us willingly accept incredible settings, characters, and events in such films as Edward Scissorhands, Be Kind Rewind, Ratatouille, and In The Loop."

The inclusion of In The Loop with these others is baffling. For those who aren't familiar with it, In The Loop is a dark comedy about the US and UK collaborating on the invasion of a Middle-East country. It certainly doesn't take place in an "imaginary world," and there are no conspicuous special effects or fantastical scenarios. Quite the contrary--the film's cinéma vérité approach and use of realistic characters and settings are what make it so effective. In other words, it's the polar opposite of something like Edward Scissorhands, which uses heightened characters and exaggerated settings to tell a modern fairy tale. That the authors picked In The Loop instead of a thousand more relevant examples for their fantasy category (the Lord of the Rings series, any of the Harry Potter movies, The Neverending Story, etc., etc.) makes one question their judgment as well as their understanding of film.

If The Art of Watching Films hadn't already lost its credibility with its egregious factual errors, it does so irrevocably when it chooses to venerate certain films while taking jabs at others, all under the pretense of academic instruction. Even casual film students will likely be put-off by the authors' repeated statements of opinion in what's supposed to be an impartial textbook. Take the following passage regarding special effects:

"The potential power of such visuals, however, often temps filmmakers to overuse them, to let them overwhelm the story. The Thing (1982) featured so many transformation sequences that the internal suspense the director was striving for was destroyed, and so much focus was placed on Blade Runner's grimly detailed futurescape that its characters sometimes seem lost in it."

Wow. Was the suspense in John Carpenter's The Thing really "destroyed" by the effects? Did the characters really "seem lost" (whatever that means) in Blade Runner? The authors seem intent to annoy virtually every reader who's seen either of those two films, which are considered among sci-fi aficionados as some of the finest in the genre. In fact, The Thing and Blade Runner specifically are frequently cited as examples, often in the same breath as Alien, of successful integration of special effects with story. Either the authors weren't aware of that fact or they didn't care. They could have made their point about over-indulgent special effects much more successfully with, say, the Transformers movies. But even then, readers of academic texts aren't usually looking for author opinion. A more reputable textbook would have phrased its arguments along the lines of "Many critics felt that..." or "In an interview, the director said that..." Unsupported criticisms are suspect in an allegedly academic work. Unsupported criticisms about some of the most celebrated films in their respective genres make the authors look foolish.

Adding insult to injury, the films lauded by Petrie and Boggs are often disliked and ridiculed by cinephiles. Here's a passage they should have given more consideration to before going to press:

"The exciting action in Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull gives us little time for reflection. We are kept on the edge of our chairs throughout and, by film's end, are totally exhausted by the constant, fast-paced tension."

Again, one can't help but think of at least a dozen better examples they could have used to make their point. Petrie and Boggs may very well have been kept on the "edge of [their] chairs," but fans are in near-unanimous agreement that Crystal Skull is the weakest entry in the Indiana Jones series. It's even the source of the popular meme "nuke the fridge," which Urban Dictionary defines as "a colloquialism used to refer to the moment in a film series that is so incredible that it lessens the excitement of subsequent scenes that rely on more understated action or suspense, and it becomes apparent that a certain installment is not as good as previous installments, due to ridiculous or low quality storylines, events or characters." In a 2011 interview, Spielberg himself (with characteristic good humor), expressed his pride that "nuke the fridge" had replaced "jump the shark" as the phrase used to identify the low watermark of a series. Doesn't that make Petrie and Boggs look just a little naive in their gushing endorsement of Crystal Skull?

I realize you may not have a choice as to whether or not you purchase The Art of Watching Films. It's probably on the syllabus for a film class, and your teacher's requiring you to pick it up. If that's the case, I urge you to take what the book says with about a pound of salt (not to mention everything your teacher says, as I don't think a serious film teacher would ever assign this book).

If you're a teacher yourself, and you're looking for something for your students to read, I'd encourage you to look elsewhere. Not only is this book exorbitantly priced ($123.39 as of this review's posting), but you could easily make your students a course reader from excerpts from much better books--Awake In The Dark by Roger Ebert, Nightmare Movies by Kim Newman, Who The Devil Made It by Peter Bogdanovich, and so on--or just assign those books in their entirety. They're a fraction of the cost of The Art of Watching Films, and they're serious works of film scholarship.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on June 26, 2015
Didn't read too much into it as the class I purchased it for "required" it, but didn't use it. From what I can tell of the first couple of chapters it's pretty thorough. Keeping it for future reference. I also have some reservations about Avatar being on the cover... but I digress.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on September 24, 2015
I needed this book for film class and the fact that there is an option to rent the book instead of buying it saved me a lot of money. I would recommend renting textbooks on here to anyone. This helped save a headache by far.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on May 27, 2015
I loved this book! it helped me to appreciate film content better.I would purchase it but it's a bit pricey.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on August 25, 2015
I used this book for my Intro to Cinema class. This textbook was interesting and easy to read.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on September 5, 2014
this item arrived on time and was as described.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2013
This was the assigned text for my Introduction to Movies class. This book breaks down every element of how a movie is made even why certain colors are chosen. If you love movies which I do! This book is great as it helps you break down movies even more and become a critic in a way. After reading it you will start to see little things you never saw in your favorite movies and it makes them that much better.

My only CON just like any textbook is the price!
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on February 27, 2015
Its was great .I loved the book
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on April 14, 2015
cover weak and prone to tears.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2014
Good book for class. Said everything it needed to about films.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.