Who remembers Siskel and Ebert? For extra credit, who remembers when they were on PBS and the show was called Sneak Previews? Of course the internet has the opening to that show available to you:
Man, that brings back memories.
No love lost
Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were film critics for rival newspapers back when newspapers actually shaped popular opinion. They were tapped in the early 1970s for a local television show reviewing the movies. No one could have forseen the revolution this would cause in the world of movie reviews. For the next twenty years, the reviews that mattered were on television, not in print.
And yet, the two men by their own reports hated each other at first. They were rivals in their industry, and had nothing good to say about each other. The bitter sniping you remember from their early days was due to the fact that they often disagreed bitterly, and the frustration you saw was due to long taping times.
Gene Siskel, whose reviews I more often than not agreed with, passed away in 1999. Not only was this too soon because he was a brilliant writer and fairly young, it was also too early because the internet was still in a fairly embryonic state back then. As a result, there isn’t really a searchable archive of the written reviews he created.
Interest in Roger Ebert’s written reviews continued to grow throughout the 2000s. Ebert himself grew in increasingly poor health, and there came a time when he no longer felt comfortable appearing on television. Returning to the written word, he wrote books and blogged about then-current films. He also brought a comprehensive archive of his past reviews to his web site.
Roger Ebert passed away in 2013, but the site he created still thrives. Through the work of a new generation of movie reviewers, you can still find the latest written movie reviews, a rare island of trustworthiness in an ocean of user-generated content.
More interesting, though, is the archive. Wondering what Roger would have said about the largely forgotten 2001 action film Swordfish? It’s all there. Want to know what he originally thought about The Godfather? You’ll find it there too. If there was a major studio release between about 1970 and 2010, Roger reviewed it, and it’s all there.
Creaky but functional
The rogerebert.com site seems a little creaky at this point, to be sure. It received a visual update last year which somehow makes it seem more dated than the previous version. The search functionality brings up tons of ads, and the mobile experience is still a bit lacking. But it’s ok for what it is. I’m not sure if it’s still affiliated with the Chicago Sun-Times but I’d doubt it. For a site run on a shoestring budget, it works.
Besides, the most important thing is the content, and there is a ton of it. Search for virtually any movie you can think of and you’ll find a real, professionally-written review. It’s a great companion for those late nights when you’re scrolling through Netflix looking for something to watch. It’s a testament to good writing that often times these reviews will give you more appreciation for that schlocky movie you landed on.