Monday, July 06, 2009

Ebert: Transformers 2 Fans "Not Sufficiently Evolved"

The Ebert just won't let it go, will he?

In his latest column, "I'm A Proud Brainiac!" (complete with graphic of the DC Comics "Brainiac"), film critic Roger Ebert defends his stance on Transformers 2, among other things:

"Those who think "Transformers" is a great or even a good film are, may I tactfully suggest, not sufficiently evolved."


"So let's focus on those who seriously believe "Transformers" is one of the year's best films. Are these people wrong? Yes."


"Some of the posters at certain popular web forums are nine blooms short of a bouquet."


"But am I out of touch? It's not a critic's job to reflect box office taste. The job is to describe my reaction to a film, to account for it, and evoke it for others. The job of the reader is not to find his opinion applauded or seconded, but to evaluate another opinion against his own."


  1. And this is why traditional old-school reviewers are going the way of the dinosaur. Nothing like insulting your potential audience.

  2. Well, I think I have to agree with him at least in statements #2 and #4.

    I actually don't like people who who think they're above everybody else, but, c'mon! Give the guy a break. Transformers 2 was an awful movie!

  3. The question I see is "is there room for a Transformers movie in this world?"

    Yes, there is.

    I saw it. I enjoyed myself. Did I think it was the greatest movie this year? No. Did I think it was even a great movie? No. But that's not what why we see movies such as Transformers, is it? It's escapist, dumb fun. It's a spectacle. It's a "How did they do that?" outing.

    Not every movie has to be a tightly scripted masterpiece. Not every movie has to blow you away with its crazy destruction and effects, etc. There's room for both in this world. (Every once in a while something with both comes along and everybody wins!) ... But, for now, can't we all just get along?

    Besides, you just have to look at box office numbers, right? In this day and age in particular, the best draw to get people still going to the movies in droves, are to play the ones that get punters saying "That's one I gotta see on the big screen! (And not on my puny iPod)." And that's what movies like Transformers do.

  4. @Kyle. The people he's referring to aren't his audience. Potential or otherwise. Reading a lot of their comments it looks like they only rolled in via a "How dare he criticise Transformers!" link on some fansites.

  5. Kyle,

    He expressed his initial opinion and was called out of touch or elitist for it. If it had not been for that, he would have not felt the need to reiterate his position. And yes, opinion only goes so far. If you think Transformers is a better film than Casablanca, then you are (1) ignorant (as in you have not seen a lot of cinema), or (2) stupid. That's not opinion; it's objective fact.

  6. Why not? The man is educated and well "read" when it comes to film. Please, read the column. It's pretty well thought out.

    Having not seen Transformers 2, I couldn't chime in on the quality of it. In general, Ebert's reviews are pretty reflective and takes into account the usual film goer. It's hard to get below 3 stars.

    You have to try hard. Like Battlefield: Earth hard.

  7. I think a fair amount of what Ebert says -- at least about people who like the movie not being "evolved" -- may be somewhat tongue in cheek, or at least poking a stick at people overreacting to his original review. I liked the original review, and I like statement #4 in this piece. I also think Roger Ebert is one of the best critics we have going these days.

  8. Too many humans in these films. Needs more robots.

  9. Too many robots in these films. Needs more robot testicles.

  10. Anonymous4:24 PM

    Is there a reason he left this stuff out of his first review? He's kind of acting like a [correct] spoiled brat now.

  11. I'm going to have to side with Ebert on this one. Transformers 2 was a sh%@ sandwich with a side order of dung.

    That said, liking escapist fare doesn't mean you're not intelligent...people could make the same argument about movies like X2 or Iron Man (and I loved those).

  12. There's something galvanizing about a Michael Bay movie.

    I'm generally a pretty "live and let live" guy when it comes to story tastes — God help me; I'm guy who convinced Chris Sims he should be reading Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose if he really wanted to be in touch with the comics zeitgeist — but the first Transformers film elicited near-physical disgust from me on seeing it in the theater. I ran across it on some big screens during a trade show recently and had a hard time keeping my bile down even though there was no sound and there were plenty of other things to distract me. Despite some nitwit notion that I "should" go see the second one, I've been resistant to notion of going even with my friends unless we make an hour-long trip to the drive-in so we can at least frame it in the context of some proper kitsch.

    I won't defend my disgust with the film (or with other Michael Bay movies, for that matter), but I am happy to see it's shared by others.

    I am a little dismayed at Kyle Kaczmarczyk's implication that reviews should pander to audiences' tastes. I'd argue the real reason "traditional old-school reviewers are going the way of the dinosaur" is because many adopt that attitude, and there's never been a demand for pundits to tell people things they already know. (Especially in the internet age, when opinion validation is readily available at every turn.)

    On the Ebert front, perhaps this is a bit of backlash from comics/super-hero/kiddie-fare fans whose favorite subjects have traditionally gotten the benefit of the doubt in Ebert's reviews. As it seems we've finally come to the age where comics, super-heroes, and the like are treated with equal respective to cop dramas and adult pop entertainment, perhaps it's time they bear a similar burden of proof and begin measuring up to basic standards — like making sense.

  13. Frankly, the first Transformers film was so bad that I can't rationalize spending money to see a sequel. As far as I'm concerned, I agree with Ebert.

  14. I have no quarrel with Ebert's column, I just feel that after at least 3 columns on Transformers 2, he should know already that picking fights with hardcore fans is doomed to failure.

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  16. Just because you like Transformers 2 doesn't mean you're "not sufficiently evolved", it just means you like Transformers 2. Whether a movie is good or not is a matter of opinion.

  17. Anonymous7:13 AM

    Whenever I see old action movies, old block busters, I see spectacle but also characterisation, nice acting, decent or even good stories...

    Nowadays, it seems that good stories only get written whenever there's no budget for special effects.

    I think that Ebert is happily using the Transformers movie as a model of what movies should *not* be - and if you've got a good model, then it's fair enough to keep using it to make some points about movie making clear. I don't think he'll hope to open the eyes of the hard core fans, but there may be the grey area in the middle where he can get somewhere. I don't think he's laying awake of fans screaming murder either.

  18. Was it the best movie? Nope. Was it enjoyable? Yup. And if you can walk away from a movie thinking at least that, then your money wasn't spent in vain.

    Gonna love to see his reaction to G.I. Joe. Now THAT looks like crap with the exo-suits.

  19. Let's check Rotten Tomatoes:

    Transformers I
    57% reviewers (206 counted)
    80% RT Community (4334)

    Transformers II
    19% reviewers (212)
    68% RT Community (4115)

    So... it seems that both reviewers and RT members both consider the second Tranformers movie to be worse than the first. (Yes, one should consider mode and median, but I do not have access to that data.)

  20. Umm Josh, that's what a movie review is -- one person's opinion.

    I'm going to have to give Ebert the benefit of the doubt here. One of the reasons I always preferred him to Gene Siskel back in the day was because he knew how to contextualize movies -- i.e. holding Friday the 13th up to the same standards as Citizen Kane is stupid. Even when he didn't like a particular genre, he was good at identifying whether a movie in that genre was good by the standards of that genre (including horror, action, spectacle, etc.).

    The thing that got me about Transformers was how long it was. If you're going to do big, dumb and loud, do it quickly and for a brief period of time.

  21. Just to be clear, I'm not condemning Ebert's column, I'm just pointing out that this is at least the third Transformers 2 piece he has written.

  22. Umm Roberts, exactly. That's my point. Everyone's got their own opinion about what's good and what's not. And opinions differ.

  23. I think I'm going to be a little condemning. If Ebert doesn't like the hate mail he's been getting, fine. But his column now seems to be taking personally the fact that some people don't like him for not liking Transformers (which, I think was less of a bad movie than a movie based off a rushed first draft. Subtle difference). It reminds me of Ms. Hoffman Twittering about how much she hated getting a bad review. Ultimately, it ended up doing her more harm than good, and this can only end badly for Ebert.

  24. Ebert's just arguing that opinions can be wrong. And he's right. I'm not sure when everyone started getting a sense of entitlement over their uninformed opinions, but the basic anti-intellectual nature of those stances is sad.

  25. Ed,

    The only problem with Ebert's argument is that he's a movie critic. His entire career is based on opinions, fercryinoutloud! People are entitled to their opinions; they expressed them long before the Internet came, and the only difference now is how many people those opinions can reach.

    I really see Ebert as picking a fight here. If the movie is so bad and the fans are not "sufficiently evolved," then ignore it. Ignore them. Go on to the next movie. I'm pretty sure Internet audiences have a short enough attention span that they'll forget about it and be willing to discuss/debate the next movie Ebert reviews.

  26. "I really see Ebert as picking a fight here."


  27. Anonymous5:11 PM


    However, as Ed says, one point that Ebert makes (and I have to say I find it not only a valid point, but that it has faint whiffs of similar arguments Valerie has made) is that people who are informed and experienced are better able to make objective judgments.

    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.

    I mean, if a 10 year old tells you that the Harry Potter movies have a better story than Lord of the Rings, yes it's her statement of opinion, but it's also a statement of her lack of experience and maturity.

  28. Anonymous12:58 AM

    You obviously don't understand Ebert's essay.

    That is all.
    Yes, it's a pretty big statement to say, that opinions do not hold as much merit as one another. Yes, a bit of it IS awful.

    But it's also true.

    Dear effin' lord.

  29. @greyman,

    I see where you're coming from, and I don't entirely disagree with it, but this is art. Pop art. Commercial art. Not that I'm going to completely write off Roger Ebert's opinions, but this is essentially Roger Ebert saying that Transformers 2 sucked and some fans responding that it didn't.

    My point is this--art is subjective. Guess what? I don't like Jackson Pollack. Other people, art critics, also don't care much for Jackson Pollack. Heck, I've heard movie critics on NPR pan The Graduate and I've heard writers take shots at Strunk and White's style guide.

    Now, some opinions can be wrong enough that they are errors of fact. But this is art we're talking about, even if it pains every reader of this thread that I use the word in reference to Transformers 2. And art at its core is subjective. Although I don't know this for a fact, I can say with some certainty there are people that despise Michelangelo's work on the Sistine Chapel. There are people who think the Mona Lisa is boring. There are people who hear Jimi Hendrix and think he was overrated as a guitar player.

    Now, Ebert does have more credibility as a critic, if only for the fact that he gets paid to state his opinions. But you're talking about art, and everyone is entitled to their opinion. Ebert going after Transformers fans for their opinion is like when Anne Rice attacked a critic for not liking her books. It's a no-win situation for him, because regardless of all the reasons he brings to the table, at the end its his opinion, which he has already given, against a bunch of fans.

    You can shred the reasoning behind the fans' opinions. You have every right to do that, and you'll probably hit on some valid points, the same as Ebert. But it doesn't change the fact that at the end, it's Ebert who looks bad.

    Besides, why is he specifically going after Transformers 2? Why not go after people who thought Bloodrayne or Ultraviolet were the best movies ever? Why won't he defend The Dark Knight against people who were pining for Jack Nicholson's version of the Joker? Just a thought.

  30. @Chris, but he is not going after fans of TF2 for their opinions. He is responding to the response he got for publishing that opinion. He originally published a straightforward review where he panned it, which he followed up with a more thoughtful essay to talk about broader issues as he does from time to time. Some fanboys overreacted and he defended himself.

    Everyone is entitled to like what they like. I know I like things I would be slightly embarrased to admit to (the fear of my iPod oon shuffle in a public venue).

    However, it's one thing to say you like TF2. It's another to say it's a good movie. The latter statement is one which is not purely subjective and where not all opinions are equally valid.

  31. Seems to me Ebert is legitimately making conversation out of the context available to him. People want him to talk about Transformers, and he has things to say about it. Is it really such a crime that he continues the conversation instead of abandoning it?

    For those who haven't followed the link and read his comments in context, it's worth it. I think even our esteemed hostess would admit she's engaging in similar reader-baiting by using the "not sufficiently evolved" comment outside its original context. (Roger Ebert is calling fans of the movie neophytes, not Neanderthals.)

  32. Anonymous5:34 AM

    I agree that this is his opinion and this is why we read his critiques, we care what he thinks about movies. So he is right about giving his thoughts on movies, what he doesn't have the right to do is tell me or anyon else that they are unevolved or dumb because they enjoyed watching something entertaining for a few hours. If you didn't like it cool if you did great. Personally I think it is more evolved to be able to sit and enjoy something rather than pay money so I can pull it apart at its seams.

    Like I said though, he wouldn't get paid if we didn't care what he had to say.

  33. I never meant to imply that critics should pander to any audience. However, saying if you enjoyed this film that you are "not sufficiently evolved" seems rather mean spirited and pretentious to me.

    Some people genuinely enjoy mindless action flicks. I consider them a guilty pleasure. But does that make me a knuckle-dragging neanderthal? No.

    Ebert's rebuttal was unnecessary, he's just being a prick because someone disagreed with him. He's a critic, of course, some people are going to disagree with him. You don't take it personally. But insulting your readers is never cool. There is little room for pretentiousness like this when people will happily go read another column. You think he'd be more concerned about his readership.

    That was the only point I was trying to make.

    (Sorry, it took me so long to respond to this, I forgot I posted on this.)