Reviewing Fast Food as if it was Haute cuisine

I’ve posted a few blogs about this recently and in the past, and I’m doing it again although I’m taking a slightly different slant.  The world of food is full of variation and range.  Within different types of food there are certain qualities that are universally accepted as bad (does the food give me food poisoning? does it make me want to vomit?) and qualities that can vary between different types of product.  I reject the idea that only one type of food is considered right and that all other foods are inferior.  I believe that depending on the situation, the person and the immediate desire different foods can deliver the required experience (enjoyment).

Sure, there’s no doubt that certain foods have the right nutritional quality and some don’t, but if what you seek is enjoyment from eating then I posit that some days you may get that enjoyment from a Burger King Whopper and other days from  Haute cuisine Quail in Puff Pastry Shell with Foie Gras and Truffle Sauce.  If what you expected and wanted was a Whopper and what you got was Quail in Puff Pastry Shell with Foie Gras and Truffle Sauce then you may end up being disappointed and vice versa.  Of course this doesn’t always work out, if you expected a Whopper and got Quail in Puff Pastry Shell with Foie Gras and Truffle Sauce, you might really enjoy the Quail and be pleasantly surprised, but it doesn’t mean you don’t like Whoppers.  It is possible to enjoy a whole range of different food types on their own merits without dismissing the existence of other foods types.

None of this should come as a surprise to most people, in my view.  I think most people realise that enjoyment varies and that what gives you enjoyment on different days can be different things.  Where we get a clash is when people who express an opinion about Food as a subject matter fail to realise that different foods all have their merits and they review that food with a single palette of words and expectations.  If you review a Burger King Whopper using the same standards as Quail in Puff Pastry Shell with Foie Gras and Truffle Sauce then the review might claim the Burger King is a watery mush of over excited tastes smashed together in a microwave oven which no one could possibly enjoy. If you reviewed Quail in Puff Pastry Shell with Foie Gras and Truffle Sauce using the same expectations you had when you reviewed a Whopper you might conclude it’s overly fussy expensive chicken in a sauce you wouldn’t feed to the dog.

Good reviewers and good critics understand the context in which the product or food they’re reviewing exists.  If you do nothing but review haute cuisine then sure, you’re free to stick to a single palette of experience and vocabulary and likewise if your job or hobby is to review fast food then your comparisons are all at the same level.  However if you’re keen to review a range of food types you have to be very careful with your expectations.  Yes, you should demand and expect fast food to be of the highest fast food quality, but you shouldn’t expect it to display the same qualities as Haute cuisine, and of course if you found haute cuisine to be delicious despite the fact that it took 18 seconds to cook and came in a bun you might think you’re reviewing fast food all over again.

Additionally, and again this should not surprise anyone, it’s perfectly possible to not enjoy any fast food.  To decide the whole genre of food is bland and tasteless and beneath you.  It’s also possible to decide that haute cuisine is pointless over frilly and can’t be beaten by a good home cooked sunday roast.  But you shouldn’t dismiss them as valid sources of enjoyment for other people just because you don’t like them.  Nor should you get upset that some people can make a good living out of making food you don’t enjoy, or that people you know enjoy food you hate.  Does making Quail in Puff Pastry Shell with Foie Gras and Truffle Sauce require more skill than a Burger King Whopper?  I don’t think anyone would deny that was true.  It certainly requires a specific set of skills.  Does serving a Whopper require no skill?  Certainly not, they’re just different and more readily attainable than those required to be a top chef.  And of course if we look at the middle ground, perhaps a local restaurant then the skills required are similar to those of top chefs with an added hint of the speed and customer service required in a fast food joint.

What’s the point of this overly long, tedious statement of the obvious?

It’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, clearly.  To some extent it’s also Star Trek and Terminator Salvation.  Those films set out to entertain.  They set out to engage an audience and provide a couple of hours of escapism and fun.  They did not set out to question your beliefs, to expand your conciousness, to develop your interest in physics, they did not set out to make you question history or help you understand your place in the world.  There are films that do that, they set out to do exactly that.  There are films which want to tell the truth, to make you look at the truth in a new way, to make you weep and cry and question everything.  There are films which tell stories where the characters matter and films which tell stories where the explosions matter.  All of these films are valid.

Different people enjoy different movies at different times for different reasons.  But reviewing a film and describing it as awful because it’s missing certain elements is silly, if the film wasn’t even trying to bring those elements to the screen in the first place but is still entertaining.

Was Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen entertaining?  Yes, I had a really good 2.5 hours of popcorn movie enjoyment.  I laughed and sniffed a little, and I felt engaged and interested and, well, entertained.  I don’t expect everyone to feel like that, and I expect some people who do understand the context of the movie still thought it was a bad example of the genre.  That’s fine, but I don’t accept people think it was a bad movie because it didn’t give them what they expect from a drama or a noir crime thriller.

This is a good review of Transformers 2.  I don’t agree with all of it, and I rate the movie higher.  I was able to ignore the bits the reviewer didn’t like and they didn’t ruin the movie for me.  But the guy writing the review got the context and reviewed the movie within that context.  He didn’t review Transformers 2 as if it was a period drama.

4 thoughts on “Reviewing Fast Food as if it was Haute cuisine”

  1. I agree completely – I do so because it all comes down to opinion, as against right and wrong. Also, it can be situational, that is, a matter of expectation.

    If I choose to sit down to watch American Pie then I expect a very different experience to if I sit down to watch Schindler’s list. Neither film, no film, is good or bad because of my opinion – I either like it or I don’t like it. Sometimes I don’t necessarily like something but I can appreciate it in a different way – an example for me would be rap music.

    Film series like Terminator, Matrix, etc. etc. result in in disappointment and more vocal exrpression. For example, a population of 1000 people like movies. 500 of decide to go and see The Matrix and lets’ say that most of them love it. 450 or so. 50 people walk away and probably put it down to experience. A proportion of 450 really, really liked it and they invest in it emotionally over time and when number 2 comes along – they have mega high expectations. If it fails to hit the mark – I’d suggest they’re likely to be very vocal about they’re disappointment – probably more so than a newbie who didn’t even see the first movie but saw the second and was not overwhelmed and decides to put it down to experience.

    Maybe I am deluded – but isn’ this all just common sense. Opinion – I like X but I don’t like Y …. I try very hard not to say that Y is bad, because who I am to judge?

    Can I have my Whopper now?

  2. I agree with you entirely on this. The exception being unless the film (via trailers, advertising or previous incarnations in the series have indicated otherwise) implies something that is then not fulfilled. While I like reviewers who have an opinion it annoys me that they can’t just say, if you want a film with lots of space ships shooting at each other this is for you, but not if you want in depth character development. Of course, much like Jeremy Clarkson, this type of reviewer is paid to be obstreperous because people don’t pay for sensible comment.

    The one thing that does annoy me (and this is where I fell out with the most recent Star Trek film) is when things happen that are obviously outside the bounds of the film. For example, some of the things that happen in T4, such as a man being thrown across a room and still getting up, couldn’t happen in real life, but they happened in T1 and T2 so I don’t have an issue with them occurring again. If, however, one of the heroes had leapt thirty meters through the air while firing his gun in a Jon Woo style things would have started to look rather silly. To return to your food analogy it would be like having your burger cooked in dry ice by Heston Blumenthal at McDonalds: a long wait, expensive and not what you were expecting.

    Having said that there are some films which have done something unexpected and it’s worked really well. ‘Dusk til Dawn’ springs to mind: they walked into that bar and it all changed.

  3. I agree with you both, obviously. I like your addition about expectation Simes, and Leigh’s comment about misleading trailers and marketing is spot on as well.

    I just resent the attempts to make me feel shameful for enjoying Transformers 2. It’s not like I’ll watch any old summer blockbuster shit and think it was great – The Mummy 3 stank like a 20 day old rat corpse and Wolverine was weak.

    Ah well, I’m mostly a little less bitter today – maybe a few more days and I’ll be back to my only marginally bitter self 😉 Thanks for taking the time to read and comment guys, it’s appreciated.

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