Less than one month after film geeks everywhere mourned the death of At the Movies, the revolutionary movie review show pioneered by legendary Chicago critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, Mr. Ebert has announced that the balcony will soon be re-opened, albeit in a substantially modified form. The new program, entitled Roger Ebert Presents at the Movies, is scheduled to air nationally on public television starting in January 2011. Christy Lemire, film critic for the Associated Press, and Elvis Mitchell, NPR and TCM contributor, will be the principal co-hosts, although film bloggers such Kim Morgan and Omar Moore will also appear regularly. Mr. Ebert himself will appear in a weekly segment called “Roger’s Office”, in which the famed film critic will use a computer-generated voice to review a classic, independent, or documentary film.
Fortunately, potential audience members need not wait until January to satisfy their curiosities regarding this experiment in criticism. Chicago’s WTTW has made clips from the show’s pilot episode available online. Based upon the seven-minute excerpt, it is clear that Roger Ebert Presents at the Movies has the potential to bring back relevance and intellectual vigor to a unique critical genre, movie reviews on television. While it is unfair to jump to conclusions about the co-hosts based upon such limited clips, we see that Mitchell and Lemire are articulate and passionate about movies. Some of the review excerpts feel a bit dry and mechanical, but it understandably took Mr. Ebert and Mr. Siskel a while to find their grooves. Mitchell and Lemire are clearly unafraid to disagree with one another, and there is hope that they may capture some of the cheerful and respectful professional antagonism made famous by the show’s original reviewers.
The fact that the program will regularly feature bloggers, respectable film critics who do not live financially by reviewing alone, suggests that Ebert and his production team are in touch with the distinct direction of modern film criticism. The show will also feature regular discussions of uniquely 21st century topics as new media, alternative film distribution methods, and cinema on demand. So far, the signs are good that Ebert and company will produce the type of program that At the Movies in the post-Siskel era tried somewhat unsuccessfully to remain, a relevant and intelligent exploration of movies that casual film-goers and cineastes alike can embrace and treasure.