Movie Reviews

Siskel and Ebert and Roeper

In 1986 two Chicago based film critics (Siskel and Ebert) took their reviewing skills to the little screen (much littler then than now, although those CRT pigs weighed a lot more than today’s flat screens). So, this is the misty past. Universities were starting to get internet connectivity that year, but the WWW was but a gleam in CERN’s eye. Still, time does pass, and eventually Siskel succumbs to illness. Ebert carries on, and after a while he – or some management type, more likely – finds a new cohost, named Roeper, who is a younger more peevish version of Siskel. In 2001 they review The Lord of the Rings, part the first, subtitled, The Fellowship of the Ring.

Keep in mind, by this time I had read that book, and the others in the trilogy, more than 10 times (total to date: 13; once in German, and once aloud to some nephews), and not because I disliked them and had a monk’s need to punish myself for past sins. No, au contraire, I was, and am, a fan. Roeper was clearly not a fan, leaning more towards the likes of Claire’s Knee, I strongly suspect. And if his take on LoTR is any indication, it is clear he had never read any of Tolkien’s works. Indeed, it seems likely he had never heard of the trilogy, and dismissed the entire genre as insignificant twaddle.

So, the LoTR episode is in full swing, and they’re bantering back and forth. Ebert has said some positive things about this grandly epic film. And then Roeper chimes in, and he says at one point: “The characters are getting tedious after a while … they go on one adventure after another …”. From this I conclude that he also thought the Iliad and the Odyssey were tedious drivel. He continues: “… this hobbit character, who’s, you know, in this elfin world, or whatever, and he’s wide-eyed and …”. Yikes. Holy fuck. I mean, he’s not strictly speaking saying anything wrong in any of this. He makes semi coherent English sentences and phrases, but yikes. And yes, “this hobbit character” – that would be Frodo – does live in a world in which elves also live, or whatever; and sure, Frodo was born and raised in the Shire, so perhaps a tad naive, but … Roeper carries on like this, utterly and entirely dismissing the film for its great sin of not pertaining to Claire’s knee, but instead continually introducing places and creatures that do not exist, and are evidently unimaginable (I mean, what next? A cyclops whose eye was put out by Noman?). And then, oh, crap, in summarizing the story he talks about “this silly little ring”, which everyone seems so preoccupied with for some bizarre reason.

Three rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for mortal men doomed to die,
One silly little ring for the Dark Lord on his dark throne;
In the Land of Mordor where the shadows lie.

One silly little ring to rule them all, one silly little ring to find them,
One silly little ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them;
In the Land of Mordor where the shadows lie.

Well, I must confess, had the book and the movie used this modified description, I would have found it entertaining, but in being less ominous, I’d likely have stopped at 3 or 4 reads of the epic. Perhaps Roeper’s view was warped by Wagner’s opera, Der Silly Little Ring des Nibelungen. Or the Norse saga upon which it was based. Sigh. Still, Roeper by this point had given every sign that not only had he never read the books, but really seemed never to have heard of them. And it became clear at the end of his goofy tirade that he may not have known it was a “them” – that there was more than one book. Did he even know the film was based on a book?

So, yeah, finally, Roeper completely astonished me – and Ebert, who was getting more and more concerned for his cohost, who seemed to be foaming at the mouth – by complaining that the ending of the film left it so obviously wide open for a sequel to appear at some future date, draining the wallets of fans for this film number 2. At that point, in my original viewing in 2001, my jaw hit the floor. Did he just say that? WTF!?!?!? And an idea started growing in my younger – but not really young – brain: No one should be allowed to review any work of art if they have no interest in the genre, and may even disdain it.

By the way, Ebert – embarrassed for his cohost, and always the most cogent and insightful of all the critics who ever appeared on the show – did his best to help Roeper out of the hole of ignorance he’d dug for himself. He succeeded to some extent.

Alas, eventually Ebert also succumbed to illness, and the show was taken over by younger, less cogent and insightful critics. But without Ebert it was destined to fail, and although I continued to watch, albeit less regularly, I remember nothing about this later incarnation other than a general sense of annoyance.

That Reminds Me

Hollywood, like mainstream theoretical physics, is intent on diminishing the influence of any work outside their narrow purview. In the case of theoretical physics, this involves limiting exposure of the works of people like me, by keeping such works out of the arXiv, and when that is impossible, relegating the works to gen-ph, a kind of trash heap set aside for papers with which the mainstream is displeased, but can’t outright banish, because they have been published.

Hollywood doesn’t have an arXiv, but it does have film critics, and it rules them with an iron fist, if they are American, and if they want to maintain cordial relations with the mother ship. This manifests itself in generally awful reviews of good foreign films by American reviewers – especially science fiction blockbusters (Hollywood is less afraid of Clair’s Knee, for such films have a limited audience that Hollywood considers irrelevant), and a sure indication of such meddling can be found in the Rotten Tomatoes favorability numbers, which will look something like this: Critics – 22%; Viewers – 95%. Numbers like these, pertaining to foreign films, should be ignored, except for the Viewers score. (Example: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. 82% of google users liked it; Rotten Tomatoes critics gave it 47%.) Ignore American reviews; see the film.

What else is going on?

Nothing, really. 2021 has been blissfully free of catastrophes and drama. The pandemic is at an end; climate change has stopped changing the climate; the peoples of the world are content with nearly everything, and they have promised to stop overpopulating your planet (not my planet – I want no part of this one – it’s a fucking nightmare); and bunnies and unicorns …

You know …

It isn’t really that mainstream theoretical physicists have formed a secret cabal to exclude everything that does not discuss, exploit, or promote QFT. It’s just that this is what they’re trained to do; they’re mostly goobers and nerds (I have some nerd-cred myself), and they like rubbing elbows at conferences while discussing familiar topics (my problem has always been that I like rubbing elbows at conferences while discussing unfamiliar topics). It’s all very comfortable, until someone outside the circle points out the lack of progress over the last 20 to 40 years in advancing our understanding of the universe. At that point they bring up the successes of QED, quarks, and quantum entanglement. If need be, more senior members may be called upon to address the outside world with stern and confident gravitas. This kind of thing still works in allaying the fears of those who suspect the theorists may not have a clue. For the time being, at least. But it’s really not a cabal. One hears talk of deep states nowadays, but really, quelle surprise. Deep states are inevitable, and they form organically, but … ooh, that’s a pretty cloud.