Roger Ebert died today at 70 after a long, arduous battle with cancer; He will be remembered and revered as perhaps the most influential film critic ever. His influence came not from creating a theory or representing a New York Times or New Yorker, but from being more of a people’s critic, on TV (mostly with the late Gene Siskel and later with Richard Roeper), in the Chicago Sun-Times, and online. He was among the first critics to review movies relative to the kind of genre they occupied and whether they achieved what they set out to do, measuring, say, horror movies against other horror movies and not against Shakespeare. The gimmicks — the “thumbs up” and the arguing with Siskel — could have consigned him to the same fate as the kind of critics whose rave blurbs always show up in ads for lesser movies, but he remained among the definitive critics all the way into the Internet and Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic era. I know people who wouldn’t think of seeing a movie without first consulting Ebert’s review, even people whose tastes were more aligned with Siskel back in the day.
The video above, from the “At the Movies” era of the Siskel and Ebert show, is a 1983 review and analysis of Return of the Jedi. There’s a videodisc commercial in there that’s worth some nostalgia, but so is the entire show, and it’s a reminder of when everybody watched “the fat one and the skinny one” debate the week’s releases. I didn’t always agree with Roger Ebert, but I always checked to see what he thought. Can’t say that about too many other critics in any medium.