Reflecting on Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert getting ready to play Sega Genesis with his cohort, Gene Siskel. While a worthwhile critic, Ebert wasn’t afraid to have fun.

-Greg Livingston

If it’s a great movie, it lets you understand a little bit more what it’s like to be a different gender, a different race, a different age, a different economic class. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us. And that to me is the most noble thing that good movies can do — and it’s a reason to encourage them and to support them and to go to them.

-Roger Ebert

Roger Joseph Ebert pioneered. However, it wasn’t through his creations. He was partially responsible for the satirical script for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and he helped to advance the idea of film director as the artistic anchor of a movie. Those are accomplishments, but they miss the big picture; they play into why he won the Pulitzer in 1975 and why he landed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005, but they don’t tell the whole story.

Rather, Ebert pioneered in the art of communication. In his review of Synecdoche, he considered the substance of human life, while in his review of Speed 2, he cheered for over-the-top silliness and action-packed fun. Ebert was at once intelligent and relatable. His ability to engage anyone led him to success with a nationally broadcast television program, and his hunger for thoughtful content kept him relevant for decades.

In addition, his written reviews are powerful even in their short length. His respect for the artistry of each film comes across in his reviews. Somewhere between his thoughts on the acting and notes on the cinematography, Ebert makes known the impact the film had on him. He’s open about how good the movie is, that’s in his star rating system. The more important bits seep through the cracks in his writing, giving the flavor—the visceral content—of the film. Ebert treated the review as an art form itelf, something all critics strive for.

Ebert brought thoughtful content to a wide audience, something few can pull off.

Games have the power to communicate in ways unlike any other medium. In part, it’s a blessing. For decades, we’ve understood content regardless of language barriers; the beauty of Super Mario Bros. cannot be restrained by mere speech. In part, though, it’s a curse. Games are much more ethereal experiences, and oftentimes don’t have centuries-old tradition behind them—how can we possibly relay such an experience to others? In our endeavors as game players, we would do well to bear in mind the work of Roger Ebert, who refined his craft not for the sake of feeding academia or raking in dough, but instead, just to share with people.

…He also spoke on the difficulties of communication.

I recently published a book about movies I hated, and people have been asking me which reviews are harder to write — those about great movies, or those about terrible ones. The answer is neither. The most unreviewable movies are those belonging to the spoof genre — movies like Airplane! and The Naked Gun and all the countless spin-offs and retreads of the same basic idea… the bottom line in reviewing a movie like this is, does it work? Is it funny? Yes, it is. Not funny with the shocking impact of Airplane! which had the advantage of breaking new ground. But also not a tired wheeze like some of the lesser and later Leslie Nielsen films. To get your money’s worth, you need to be familiar with the various teenage horror franchises, and if you are, Scary Movie delivers the goods.