No One Hated Video Game Movies More Than Roger Ebert
Films based on video games aren’t always of the highest quality; like how that Double Dragon movie with Scott Wolf felt like a waking nightmare, and Street Fighter was basically an inadvertent documentary about the effects of cocaine on testosterone. One guy who was there for the birth of this cinematic trend was, of course, legendary film critic Roger Ebert – and he was not a fan …
Even before specific titles were being adapted into feature films, 1989’s The Wizard brought the world of popular video games to the movies … via a blatant attempt to remake Rain Man with small children with the express purpose of promoting a wide assortment of Nintendo products ranging from Super Mario Bros. 3, to the Nintendo tip line, to the Power Glove – which turned out to be so crappy in real life, it's highly doubtful anyone ever kept it locked up in a bulletproof briefcase.
Ebert really hated The Wizard. His review rightly observes that it was just a “thinly disguised” commercial for Nintendo, and he spends his entire opening paragraph just pointing out random plot holes from the movie, like why “a trucker wouldn't even stop if he saw two little kids coasting down an interstate highway on a skateboard?” and wondering “do businessmen on their lunch hours really gamble on video games with little kids?"
He also called it a “cynical exploitation film” and he was constantly questioning the movie’s “sanity.” He disliked it much, he got into some extremely granular complaints, including that the supposed third level of Nintendo’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, depicted in the film, was actually the first level – a criticism he brought up again during the Siskel & Ebert review.
Then just a few years later came Super Mario Bros. which both Siskel and Ebert despised, calling it a “complete waste of time and money.”
And a few years after that, the world got Mortal Kombat, which Ebert didn’t revile quite as much as the others, but he still gave it a thumbs down, despite Siskel’s arguments in its favor. Gene Siskel told Ebert: “Admit it: you had a better time than you thought you were gonna have in this picture.” To which Ebert replied: “Well since I thought I was going to have a very bad time, that would be true.”
While he did give a positive review to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, later Doom ended up on Ebert’s “Worst of 2005” list. This wasn’t the end of the critic’s engagement with video game culture, either; in 2010, just a few years before his death, Ebert penned an essay claiming that video games weren’t art – or at least “no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.” Which, predictably, didn’t go over so great with the internet. After receiving a flood of negative comments and legitimate pushback, just a few months later, Ebert wrote another essay walking back his thesis slightly, stating: “I was a fool for mentioning video games in the first place.” Presumably, though, he never once reconsidered his stance on The Wizard.
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Top Image: Magnolia Pictures/Buena Vista Pictures