Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Congo Movie Rating System: An Official Introduction

congo 3 It was June of 1995, and the promises of summer blockbusters had the cinematic world drooling in anticipation. Recent years had seen the release of groundbreaking productions such as Forrest Gump in 1994, Batman Returns in 1992, and the earth-shaking Jurassic Park in 1993. When it was announced that another Michael Crichton book was being adapted for the big screen, America could hardly wait.  My dad and my sister went to go see Congo about a week after its release. Without going into detail about the movie itself, it’s enough to say that they were disappointed. Nevertheless, they stayed until the bitter end, enduring every ridiculous detail.

As he was leaving the theater, my dad had an epiphany: Congo was exactly the quality of movie that, having paid for a full-price ticket, he would not walk out on. He would never pay to rent it. He probably wouldn’t even want to spend an evening watching it for free (though with the right incentive he could sit through it). And if it happened to be on TV in the other room, he might even get a modicum of enjoyment out of listening to it, provided he was doing something else at the time. But he wouldn't walk out of it.

Thus he established the baseline from which the Congo Rating Scale was born. Since then it has been employed frequently by family and friends, and even caught fire recently among a small group of my college friends.

It seems like it's about time to officially explain the basics.

By definition, regardless of how much you may like the movie, Congo is worth exactly one Congo, and just as in any other measurement system, this fact does not change in the same way that a meter is always one meter long. A single Congo is defined as the minimum quality of movie that one can withstand watching in theaters after paying for a full-priced movie ticket.

Above the baseline, The Congo Rating is a logarithmic scale whose units are made up of integers up to 100. The designation of 100 Congos is somewhat asymptotic - if you have a movie that you call “perfect” and give it 100 Congos, then you’re making a pretty wild bet that no movie ever will ever be better.

Below the baseline, movies receive fractions of Congos with zero as a lower-limit (there is no such thing as a movie getting negative Congos). This range from zero to one is reserved for movies you wouldn’t even watch if you paid for them, and if someone paid you to watch them it would create a real internal conflict.

Because of this logarithmic behavior, the difference in Congos becomes much more important the better a movie is. There is a huge difference between a 97 and a 93 Congo movie, but there is room for debate when a movie falls between 50 and 75.

Colloquially we sometimes say that the system is defined by how many more times you would rather watch a movie than Congo, but this is not a correct usage of the Congo Rating Scale. Obviously, there are several movies out there that many would rather watch over 100 times rather than watch Congo once.

The Congo Scale takes into account a number of complicated dimensions. It is not purely a measure of how much enjoyment one gets out of a movie, nor is it purely about quality. The Congo Rating is influenced by side elements such as score, acting, special effects, societal/cultural/personal impact, depth of plot, and the range of audiences it appeals to. This is why the Congo Rating System is so much fun.

One complication is a phenomenon called baseline drift. The one Congo designation has an offset from person to person. For example, there are some people that are awfully miserly with their money, and it takes a lot to make these people walk out of the theater. Other people throw their money around like bread crumbs, and walk out just to save time. Additionally, there are those that enjoyed Congo and feel it should receive a higher rating. We account for this by allowing each person to calibrate their baseline values accordingly, keeping Congo at one Congo .

I will neglect from giving any specific examples in favor of saving space, but I will give some general guidelines:

- Movies that fall in the range of 90-100 Congos must be rare. In a world where there are 100 Congos to work with, and they become more difficult to attain the more you have, this range has to be selective. A 90+ Congo movie should be technically sound, multidimensional and it must create a massive cultural impact or spark a poignant societal reflection. Do not take this range lightly. No cinematic archetype can get more than 90 Congos without some serious work.

- Giving a movie over 40 Congos means that you would generally pay to see it. Under 40 Congos and you might not be happy that you paid for a full-price movie ticket, but understanding that only hindsight is 20/20 you aren’t willing to spend too much time worrying about it

- This scale should absolutely not fall into the bias of the 100-point grading scale that this country is familiar with. A movie does not need to get above 70 Congos to be “passing.” It doesn’t even need above 50 to be considered good. Congo (which gets exactly one Congo) isn’t even that horrible.

More definitions will follow, as I’m sure this will prompt more debate than I can answer to in a 1000-word limit.

Before I conclude, I will add that I have in fact seen Congo more than four times already in my life, and chances are I will watch it again. Bad movies can have plenty of entertainment value, even if they don’t get very many Congos. Lastly, please remember that the Hemmingson family has all rights reserved, copyright, patent, and all general ownership, so please don’t steal it to make the millions we deserve.

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