Three-Word Reviews vs. Four-Word Reviews: A battle of efficiency

A few days ago, I wrote about my amazement and amusement upon finding the site Four-Word Film Reviews. I hadn’t heard of it before, and enjoyed several laugh-out-loud moments poring over brilliant gags like “President praises suicide bombers” (Deep Impact) and “A fare to remember” (Taxi Driver).

At the same time, I was a little disappointed. I’d had my thunder stolen. My territory threatened. I am, after all, famous (in my immediate circle … of me) for writing three-word reviews of movies. I didn’t have FWFR in my subconscious when I began this tradition. Instead, it began in 2006 after seeing Pixar’s Cars. I returned to work the next day and gave my off-handed critique to my co-workers:

“Beautiful but boring.”

“Neat!” I thought. “I reduced the entire cinematic experience to three words, thereby earning me a reputation of wit, sophistication and snark. Truly, this is my calling!”

So I spent the next few years boiling movies down to their triple-worded core. I had many an exasperated moment of editing when I nearly buckled: “This would be easier with four words,” I thought, or “I could sell this joke if I just had another word to work with.” But no! Nothing good ever comes easy, and I cleaved to the hard, three-word road for the sake of my art. My dedication paid off in such gems as:

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End: “Shipwreck narrowly averted.”

Shrek the Third: “Artless poop jokes.”

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: “Bad book forgiven.”

Ratatouille: “Surprisingly sublime cheese.”

Spider-Man 3: “Checked watch twice.”

Ha! That last one still makes me laugh. But let’s be honest with each other: I know full well that FWFR is the funnier format. It’s that extra word, I’m telling you, where you can squeeze all the comedy out. Even so, I have to caution the casual reader that, for all the ha-has my competitor delivers, FWFR’s actual review quality is quite poor. Indeed, I would classify some of those “reviews” as mere “synopses.” How much qualitative value can one really get, for example, from these so-called reviews of Half-Blood Prince:

“Hogwarts needs new Headmaster.”

“Snape’s nickname finally discovered.”

“Hermione wants Ron. Why?”

Good for a chuckle? Yes. Good for many chuckles, in fact. Useful for making a decision about whether to drop 10 beans on a ticket? I think not.

Consider this FWFR entry: “Fe male.” Yes, that’s an amusing re-stating of the movie’s name — Iron Man — but what does it tell you about the cinematic experience? Nothing. Plus, it wastes two entire words of its four-word allotment! Even “Fe male dresses up” comes closer to giving you something by which to judge this film … but ultimately the effort is empty.

Contrast that with my more meaningful Three-Word Review, where every word is asked to carry its weight: “Heavy metal soars.”

Or maybe I’m just a snob.

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