Good or bad? It's in the eyes of the viewer

Roger Ebert & Gene Siskel

From the June 6, 1981, Deseret News

Rick Kogan, second-string movie critic at the Chicago Sun-Times, loved "Breaker Morant." On the four-star scale, Kogan gave it the maximum four stars and raved about how good it was.

Chief reviewer for the Sun-Times, Roger Ebert, who co-hosts PBS-TV's "Sneak Previews," saw the film later and did not like it. On his nationally broadcast TV program, he said he could not recommend that audiences see it, despite co-host Gene Siskel's endorsements on the same program.

The four-star review, however, stays in the Sun-Times, appearing week after week in the capsule listings, despite the lead critic's different feelings about the film.

That incident illustrates how subjective this reviewing business is and why the general public needs to get to know those regular critics they read and rely on for information about movies they intend to see.

Last year, Newsweek ran two side-by-side reviews of "The Island," with an editorial note explaining that the two critics disagreed so wildly about the picture that the magazine decided to run both opinions.

As a film critic for the Deseret News I try to give reasons for films being rated G, PG or R but they must be generalizations since the ratings board does not spell out its decisions. In the movie list that runs on the entertainment-calendar page each Friday, I include parenthetically why I think each film is rated as it is. I also offer firm opinions about whether I feel the film is worth seeing.

Often, readers disagree.

When I recently reviewed "The Four Seasons," I raved about its virtues, and though many people have told me they agreed that Alan Alda's film is excellent, I have also had a few readers write in and tell me they hated it.

Sometimes people don't come to me with adverse reactions, however. Sometimes they go to my section editor, or Entertainment Editor Howard Pearson, or even the newspaper's publisher. It's important to understand that the opinions expressed under my byline are my opinions and not necessarily anyone else's.

It isn't necessary to agree with a critic to use him as a consumer resource. If he praises a film but his review gives information about it that makes you decide not to see it, then he has still done his job. The same for negative reviews of movies you decide to see anyway.

When you go to a movie after reading a Deseret News review, whatever the rating, whatever the quality, you will be better informed as to its content. At least that is our aim.

Readers and critics are never going to agree 100 percent about whether a movie is good or bad. When my negative review of "The Cannonball Run" appeared in the paper, it was the very day that film raked up the third largest box-office gross in history for an opening weekend.

But at least anyone who read my review and then went to the film knew what to expect.

Many publications merely describe a film's storyline, a few scenes and then offer an opinion, never giving a hint as to its rating or why it received that rating.

The Deseret News will always tell you the probable reason a film is rated R or PG.

Then an opinion will be offered. But whether you ultimately go to the theater and pay to see the film is up to you.