The departure of Roger Ebert from the TV show he launched with the late Gene Siskel nearly 35 years ago has me thinking about how the role of the movie critic has changed with the rise of the Internet.
For those not up to speed, Ebert and Richard Roeper (who became his partner on the show after Siskel died nearly 10 years ago) have both announced they are leaving the show because they do not like the new direction in which Disney is taking it — word has it that the change involves a more gossip-oriented format a la “Entertainment Tonight.”
Once, Siskel and Ebert were the source everyone went to for informed, reliable opinions on movies. They were icons in their own right — if I am not mistaken, they both got stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. At times, their words could either save a movie from undeserved oblivion (as happened with 1992’s “One False Move”) or condemn it to a quick fade-out.
But now, thanks to the Internet, anyone can be a movie critic. This site and many others are proof of that. And, as seen here and elsewhere, many Web critics clearly know their stuff and are quite good at what they do. And they have developed audiences of their own.
So it would seem that this has the unfortunate effect of making television critics like Ebert and Roeper not so relevant anymore. After all, who wants to sit and watch people discuss movies when you can publish your own opinions with the click of a mouse?
I think Siskel and Ebert’s legacy is that they made movie criticism popular and brought it to a wider audience, and that they inspired many “regular folks” like me to develop an interest in trying their hand at being online reviewers.
Let’s face it, it’s fun to talk about movies, and even more fun to see your own words in print. Most of us won’t have excerpts from our reviews appear on movie ads in a newspaper, but it’s still something of a rush to post your words and see how others respond to them.
By putting on our “movie critic” hats, especially on the Web, it’s a chance to partake in a wider discussion of something that really shapes our culture today, and so it makes us a part of that whole experience. Many of us will never earn the millions that movie stars make, but we can certainly put in our two cents about how good their work is or isn’t.
And I wonder if maybe that’s part of the appeal of being an amateur critic — a chance to strike back at Hollywood’s elite in some small way to compensate for not being a wealthy, powerful celebrity. Isn’t that why we all love stories about celebrity meltdowns and falls from grace? Because finally someone who is more privileged than you or I ever will be, mostly because of superior genes and a perception of “talent,” has finally been cut down to size?
Of course, many, if not most, critics are really in it just for the enjoyment of their subject and the chance to discuss it with other people. But what I’m getting at is that the Internet, as in so many other areas of life, adds new wrinkles and shades of gray to movie criticism by making it accessible to everyone, regardless of their background or experience. Given that, of course those who publish film reviews on the Web will bring all kinds of agendas to the table.
The interesting question now is that, since Ebert and Roeper have both hinted that they want to continue on TV, what format would their new show take? My suggestion would be to make it a bit more interactive with the “amateur critic” community, which would be a reflection of how film criticism has evolved and probably would open the show up to a wider audience.
Regardless, though, the fact that two critics sitting on opposite sides of a balcony back in 1975 started a discussion of movies that has broadened to include so many of us today has certainly been a good thing. Deserving of a thumbs-up, in fact.