In spite of its box office prowess, it's not surprising that Roger Ebert was less than kind to the new toy commercial/blockbuster, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen:
'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys. If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination.It is a tour de force of critical savagery. I can't say it's fully deserved, as I've not seen and have no desire to see the movie. But based on the 45 minutes I spent with the first movie, during which I could hear some brain cells committing seppuku, I have no reason to quibble with Ebert's conclusions.
Alas, many others have found a great deal to quibble about, in the comments to this post over at Ebert's blog. In response, Ebert's post this week defends himself against charges of elitism and being out of touch and proudly proclaiming that he's a braniac. It's a good read, and Ebert is rational enough to realize that different people take different things away from movies and that if you happened to like Revenge of the Fallen it's of no moment to him. But I think he then takes one leap too far:
So let's focus on those who seriously believe 'Transformers' is one of the year's best films. Are these people wrong? Yes. They are wrong. I am fond of the story I tell about Gene Siskel. When a so-called film critic defended a questionable review by saying, 'after all, it's opinion,' Gene told him: "There is a point when a personal opinion shades off into an error of fact. When you say 'The Valachi Papers' is a better film than 'The Godfather,' you are wrong.' Quite true. We should respect differing opinions up to certain point, and then it's time for the wise to blow the whistle. Sir, not only do I differ with what you say, but I would certainly not fight to the death for your right to say it. Not me. You have to pick your fights.Emphasis in original. I think Ebert misses the mark in two ways, each of which makes him come off as quite the elitist.
First, the bolded phrase there at the end is obviously a riff on Voltaire's famous quote that:
I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.Maybe I'm being simple minded, and Ebert is merely being hyperbolic, but the idea that someone shouldn't have the right to say The Godfather isn't a better film than The Valachi Papers is distressing. Even idiots and those with questionable taste have the right to speak. They can't force anyone to listen, of course, but neither can anyone else shut them up.
Second, I just don't think there are objective measurements when it comes to the worth of a piece of art. The "greatness" of a piece of art can get measured in two ways. The first is the simple reaction that it produces in a particular audience, down to the individual. It is entirely subjective and often tied into the particular place and time in which the individual consumes that piece of art. The second is measured in terms of technical achievement or influence, something which is reasonably able to be objectively measured.
For example, we've spent weeks hearing how great an artist Michael Jackson was. I'm sorry, but I cannot agree. For this audience of one, his music was fluff and flash, without anything of interest to me. His stuff will never be "great," in my opinion, as it pales in comparison to the great stuff Marillion or Mike Keneally or echolyn have produced. Nevertheless, I recognize that the man had talent and his work influenced a lot of people. In that sense, he was a great artist.
To use another example, consider Citizen Kane. It was one of the first additions to my DVD library, due largely to its reputation as the greatest film ever made. Nonetheless, I've heard lots of people talk about how boring it is and how it did nothing for them. To them, it's certainly not great (indeed, not even good!). However, in one of the DVD commentaries, Ebert himself goes on a great length talking about the numerous technical achievement of Orson Welles in making the film, many are routine parts of the movie business today. In that sense, it's hard to argue that Kane isn't great, in its influence at least.
Having said all that, I want to generally harrumph Ebert on his rejection of ignorance as bliss. I wholeheartedly agree with his assertion that:
What I believe is that all clear-minded people should remain two things throughout their lifetimes: Curious and teachable.There are few things worse in this world than a closed mind. That not only includes obvious prejudices and ignoring the evidence of the world around you, but also your ideas about art and culture. Which means, I'm afraid, that maybe I'll have to sit down and watch Revenge of the Fallen at some point after all.