My first exposure to Robert Ebert was two decades ago from his reviews which were packaged in Microsoft’s CD-ROM product, Cinemania. There were a few other reviewers included in that computerized film compendium, but none were as memorable or captivating to me when I was a junior high kid with no real appreciation for art or writing. It seems silly now, but back then it really made an impression on me how an eloquent reviewer such as Ebert could give four stars to seemingly-shallow blockbuster films, the kind that other reviewers would pretentiously dismiss as beneath them. For example, here’s his four star review for Dawn of the Dead:
But, even so, you may be asking, how can I defend this depraved trash? I do not defend it. I praise it. And it is not depraved, although some reviews have seen it that way. It is about depravity.
If you can see beyond the immediate impact of Romero’s imagery, if you can experience the film as being more than just its violent extremes, a most unsettling thought may occur to you: The zombies in “Dawn of the Dead” are not the ones who are depraved. They are only acting according to their natures, and, gore dripping from their jaws, are blameless.
The depravity is in the healthy survivors, and the true immorality comes as two bands of human survivors fight each other for the shopping center: Now look who’s fighting over the bones! But “Dawn” is even more complicated than that, because the survivors have courage, too, and a certain nobility at times, and a sense of humor, and loneliness and dread, and are not altogether unlike ourselves. A-ha.
Ebert judged movies not by his own personal preferences or ideas of what a proper movie should be, he judged them by what they purported to do within their means, and whether they did so with passion and wit. If only more critics, movie or otherwise, had such open minds.