Roger Ebert left a legacy of film criticism that has gone to be an inspiration for many of the dozens upon dozens of movie reviewers out there. I attribute his success as a critic to his show with Gene Siskel, wherein Siskel and Ebert talked about a movie, debated its merits and flaws, and gave it either a group of thumbs up or thumbs down based on a set of 4 hands. But can one man be so consistent? I think not.
Back in 1970, the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! depicted the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7th, 1941. The movie itself was very faithful to the events and was even joint-produced with a Japanese movie company for all the scenes in Japan or featuring Japanese actors. And Ebert criticized the movie, saying “[the movie] offers no suspense at all because we know the attack on Pearl Harbor is going to happen, and it does, and then the movie ends.”
Then you have his review for Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor. This movie, which was boycotted by Pearl Harbor survivors, was given half a thumb more than Tora! Tora! Tora!. I look at this review and I think to myself “How did the movie that offended actual veterans of Pearl Harbor get a better score than the faithful on-screen adaptation of the attack?”
Diverting away from Ebert, my favorite review is the NYT’s Autumn review. It tells you why the book is good without telling you the entire book. On the subject of short reviews, I looked at the review of Pink, saw it was one paragraph, and said: “That’s it?”
I think continuity of voice is the most important quality a reviewer can have. A reviewer has a set of standards, and ought to stick by them.