Hearing Roger Ebert's voice for the first time in nearly four years? Now that's a development we give two thumbs up.
Eight years after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer and four years after losing his voice (and weekly movie review show), the Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago Sun-Times critic appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show today to debut the fruit of some Scottish computer programmers' labor, a voice that actually sounds like him.
Programmers from CereProc analyzed Ebert's voice from his numerous DVD commentaries and former show, allowing the still-prolific film critic to not only speak his mind, but speak it in his own voice.
It's admittedly not perfect, but it's getting there.
"You'll know it's a computer, but one that sounds like me," he told Chaz, his wife of 18 years, who hasn't heard his voice since July 1, 2006, before debuting the tool.
"It's what they call a beta. It still needs improvement, but at least it sounds like me," he explained in his new voice to his tearful wife. "When I type anything, this voice will speak whatever I type. When I read something, it will read in my voice. I have got to say, in first grade, they said I talked too much. And now I still can."
"Uncanny. A good feeling," Ebert said.
Throughout the interview, the venerable movie man also touched on his current lifestyle, including how he eats and whether or not he'll consider reconstructive surgery.
"I don't like to eat in front of him because it just seems kind of cruel since he can no longer eat," Chaz said. "When he lost his jaw, he lost the lower floor of his mouth. And so if he ate, there's nothing to support it.
Instead, Ebert receives intravenous drips four times a day to get nourishment. As for his appearance, Ebert says he's not vain enough to be anything other than perfectly content with his new form.
"I'm not going to talk or eat or drink again, so the surgery would only be to patch my face back together," he said. "I don't want to go through that. This is the way I look and my life is happy and productive, so why have any more surgery?"
Ebert added that painful and difficult as the past few years have been, he emerged having learned one of his biggest life lessons, and one he hopes to pass on.
"I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this, and I am happy that I lived long enough to find it out."
Of course, inspirational as Ebert's new life may be, he still has a job to do. And as this is Roger Ebert—and five days before the Oscars—he didn't leave without giving his picks:
• Best Picture: The Hurt Locker
• Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
• Best Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
• Best Actress: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
• Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
• Best Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, Precious
You've seen Ebert's Oscar picks. Now give us your own in our Oscar Prediction Quiz!