Want to know what the critics say before watching that movie, buying that book or downloading that music? Here's how to find treasure-troves of reviews, quickly and easily.
The web is a rich source for reviews of popular entertainment, from both professionals and amateurs alike. Problem is, there's such an abundance of critical commentary that it's easy to get frustrated with the sheer quantity, or to despair of separating the wheat from the chaff.
All of the search engines offer various degrees of access to critic's opinions (and I plan to take a closer look at these services in the near future), but today I want to highlight a single source that aggregates some of the best popular criticism on the web and makes it freely available to all users.
Metacritic is an excellent resource for finding critical information about film, video, music, games, books and television. It's mission is to help consumers make an informed decision about how to spend their money on entertainment, by providing access to thousands of reviews, as well as "metascores" that represent the collective opinion of a select group of highly respected critics—more on metascores in a moment.
You can browse Metacritic by category by visiting sections for film, video/dvd, books, music, television and games. You can also search the site; the basic search form appearing on all pages allows you to do a keyword search on the entire site or limited to a specific medium.
Advanced search offers even more control, allowing you to limit your search to titles or a person's name, restrict results to a specific genre, limit by a date range or a metascore range. You can also sort your results by relevance, title, metascore or release date.
In the left pane of the advanced search form there are also links that let you view alphabetical indexes of all titles in the Metacritic database, arranged by genre.
Each title in Metacritic gets its own page (for example, here's the page for the recent film). At the top of the page is the metascore (from 1-100) as well as Metacritic user score (from 1-10). There's a brief description of the work, along with links to related content (including links to buy books, CDs and other relevant merchandise).
Scroll down and you'll see excerpts of reviews from professional critics. These excerpts also have a score from 1-100, and are color-coded (green, yellow and red). Click the link to "read full review" and you'll be directed to the web site where the review originally appeared. You can access most of these reviews even on web sites that ordinarily require you to log in—a nice feature.
The combination of access to individual reviews as well as metascores representing the collective opinion of all critics makes it easy to get an overall sense of how a work of entertainment was received, as well as finding out why the opinion of your favorite critics may have differed from the consensus.
A unique feature of the metascores is that they are weighted averages that give the opinion of some critics more influence than others, based on the overall stature and quality of those critics and publications. It gets even more involved depending on the form of entertainment; see the about metascores page for more information.
Given limited time and the absolute deluge of entertainment options available, I'm finding I'm relying more and more on Metacritic to help decide what forms of entertainment to "consume." If you're an avid reader, watcher or listener, it's well worth spending some time with the service.