Should we be Reviewing Films Based on Shows We Haven't Seen?
So we're going to get to that Downton Abbey film fairly soon, but there's a reason why it was held off. Why are we going to review it now? Well, as you know, we try to cover every single Academy Award nominated feature, and getting predicted films out of the way early helps. With a period piece film like this, plus the elaborate sets and costumes resurrected from the hit show, you know that there is at least a chance that the film will make its waves in these nomination categories. Who knows about other areas (likely not at this point), but it doesn't hurt to predict early.
The film itself is inoffensive. Why haven't we covered it yet? Well, that's today's topic. You see, I've only seen a few episodes of the show. I get the gist of it. I'm not fluent in its entire duration. How qualified is someone like me when it comes to reviewing the film based on a show I'm not caught up with? Well, being caught up with is putting it one way. That's Deadwood and me. I sadly never got around to finishing it (I got very far), so I have yet to watch the film (despite how tempting those strong reviews are). I'm not qualified, and I don't want to spoil the show for myself. With Downton Abbey, I barely know the ins and outs. I never even finished season one. The show was fine, but films take up all of my time (as you may expect).
Can I look at the Downton Abbey film as a stand alone? Absolutely. I don't see the harm in doing that. However, these films are almost always created for the fans of these works. Orphan Black now has an audiobook that continues the lore. I myself am excited for that, because I have seen the entire show. I don't expect everyone to want to hear this. Twin Peaks: The Return made perfect sense for me, because I knew the original series and film inside and out. It's borderline impossible to just jump into the miniseries blindly.
Then there's El Comino: the upcoming Breaking Bad followup film. See, that I can confidently review. I've seen the show. I understand why we will be in the predicaments that the film bestows upon us. Another point to ponder is how I should review this film, even. Do I take all of Breaking Bad into account when I review this? Do I ignore it altogether, and view it as simply it's own film? The problem is, I think these are lines that are willingly criss-crossed by journalists at will; whenever they feel like it. Why not do this now for Downton Abbey? Will my integrity be shot if I attempt to describe this film? I guess many asterisks will be needed for that review.
We're in a place where many forms of media are growing legs and crawling onto the beaches of other outlets. Television shows are leaking into films; films are spilling onto the television screen. Films continue forth in book form. Even music has been considerably cinematic in regards to a few albums released this decade (a strong example being Beyoncé's Lemonade). How much context do we critics need when it comes to these outliers? We put research into the biopic stories we may not have previously known (or into topics we know little about). This is a bit harder. Sure, we can read series summaries for shows we never got around to, but it's also about the experience. Does Downton Abbey rekindle the essence of the show? I sadly don't have the time to watch an entire series overnight, amongst my other responsibilities.
So, ethical or not, I'm going to attempt Downton Abbey as an uninformed viewer, despite my vows-to-self that I wouldn't. Sometimes, an outside perspective helps enhance the analytical pool of a work. I could come off as a buffoonish moron, but hey, I wouldn't be the first or the last critic to exude this trait (it likely wouldn't have been my own first time either). In a few days, I'll have Rod Serling chattering in my ear as I venture forth into The Grey Area Zone: a labyrinth guarded by lapses in information. Let's see how this goes.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.