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A thumb in the eye for critical dialog

Posted at 3:55 PM on September 5, 2007 by Euan Kerr

While it's great to hear Roger Ebert is on the mend and attending the Toronto International Film Festival (actually I am green with jealousy because the TIFF is a fun event,) the news about the spat with Disney over the use of the 'thumbs' gives me pause.

While I have great respect for Ebert as a critic, and found him charming on the one occasion I was lucky enough to meet him, it has to be said that the 'thumbs' are problematic, and ultimately damaging for film art.

Despite any quibbles that ancient Roman emperors might have, Ebert holds the copyright on the "thumbs up/thumbs down" review which are the hallmark of "At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper."

While there is a value to snap reviews, and "What did you think?" is a natural first question about a movie from just about anyone, the 'thumbs' reviews have dampened dialog on movies. People don't read the reviews any more, they just want the box scores.

Seldom do you hear "Ebert says the film is derivative mush because....." Instead you hear, "Ebert gave it a thumbs down." Ebert is at his core a film teacher, but he has developed the ultimate teachable-moment-killer.

Ebert says he isn't going to withhold the use of thumbs when he returns to the show after his illness. Actually, I hope he does and makes people talk a little more.

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