"I began by asking if you notice, really notice, what a movie looks like. I have a feeling many people don't. They buy their ticket, they get their popcorn and they obediently watch what is shown to them. But at some level there is a difference. They feel it in their guts. The film should have a brightness, a crispness and sparkle that makes an impact. It should look like a movie! -- not a mediocre big-screen television."
Note how the Ebert cites his 'gut' evidence right at the bottom of the article. This is not by accident - but a master stroke. For why would you admit that you have no pragmatic basis for your outrage at the beginning of the article? This would simply alienate you from those readers who might, oh, you know... be after some kind of empirical data.
I know I probably deserve to be down voted - in order to cure me of my irk. (After all - why should I care if people like the Ebert?)
But it's IRKSOME this guy is so well read.
Almost the entire article is devoted to explaining that there is an empirical (the word I think you intended when you used "pragmatic"? not sure) degradation in film projection and why that is.
He then relates that to the comments he's had on his blog and in email about how movies look better on blu-ray than at the theater, as well as other comments from professional movie critics. This doesn't seem unreasonable at all.
I'd like to hear more about your contentions with the article, because I don't really see how what you wrote corresponds to what Ebert wrote.
So yes - clarification is needed. I'm willing to take on faith that there is measurable degradation of film quality. Let us grant that there is plenty of empirical evidence for this claim.
There is no empirical evidence presented besides blog comments that this measurably effects the greater portion of hedonic goodness in theatre goers. Worse - I see no presentation of empirical evidence whatsoever for Ebert's larger thesis that the degradation is sufficient enough to have a measurable effect on market share (as against dvds etc). Bearing in mind they were losing market share before 3d.
Hence there is no pragmatic reason to be upset beyond perhaps you're own heightened sensitivities - which Ebert himself may possess - I have no idea.
In any case - it's an extremely poorly argued article.
But it is truly weird - People just love the Ebert.
You make a good argument that Ebert's argument isn't sufficiently scientific. Ebert also doesn't provide any data for his hypothesis that the degraded qualities of movies is going to effect box office returns.
However, I think these are the wrong criteria for judging the article. I don't think Ebert's it's meant to be scientfic, nor is his article primarily about economics. I saw it as more of a love letter, which is very personal, very subjective. His last paragraph:
"I despair. This is a case of Hollywood selling its birthright for a message of pottage. If as much attention were paid to exhibition as to marketing, that would be an investment in the future. People would fall back in love with the movies. Short-sighted, technically illiterate penny-pinchers are wounding a great art form."
The primary purpose of the article isn't to explain the potential economic impact of the degradation in projection quality, or to provide scientific proof that the majority of people are affected. It's to say that movies look shittier, and to explain why - and to express how sad it makes him that movies are looking so shitty. I saw the remark about how people would be less likely to return to theaters as more of an expression of his unhappiness than as the central point of his article.
Personally, I found the article very helpful. I saw Thor opening weekend, and I was confused about why it looked so dim. It was disappointing to me to view something so graphically rich in a way that made it look it was 50 years old and faded. I didn't know what was wrong, but now I do, and now I know how I can attempt to see movies in a way that I'll like more.
He's proposing that the cause (or at least, one possible cause) of that "gut feeling" is that movies are poorly lit.
1. That movies are being projected at considerably less than their intended brightness seems like an empirical fact to me. Unless you really believe that watching a movie through a pair of sunglasses (the equivalent to projecting it through polarized lenses) might improve the experience I'm not sure what more evidence you need. The pragmatic basis for his outrage is the fact that movies are often projected with much less light than their creators intended.
2. Calling someone "well read" is the same as calling them knowledgeable or well informed. While I believe Ebert to be well read on this particular issue, I believe from the context of your post that you meant to write "widely read" (or else I misinterpreted your argument).
On your first point see my reply above.