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Movie Answer Man (06/01/2003)

Q. I don't know how it is in Chicago, but the critics' screenings in Philadelphia have been heavy with ridiculous security. Critics are scanned, frisked, probed and body-checked. Bags are searched and cell phone are confiscated. At the local screening of Fox's "Down with Love," The Philadelphia Inquirer's Carrie Rickey refused to relinquish her cell phone and was refused admittance to the screening. She demanded an apology from Fox (for being treated "like a criminal") and a refund of the $12 she spent on cab fares to and from the screening. Similar treatment occurred at "X2" and, to a lesser degree, at "The Matrix Reloaded." Do studio officials actually think that full-time, paid professional critics would download one of their films at a screening or be stupid enough to even try? Do you think they take the same precautions at regular paid performances for the public, where such an event is more likely to occur? The thievery of copyrighted works is more likely to occur at those awful evening, radio-sponsored screenings or at public performances. I can't figure out if this is yet another anti-critic ploy by the studios or if it's just another example of the rampant sense of self-importance in the movie industry. (Joe Baltake, film critic, Sacramento Bee)

A. Carrie Rickey was correct to protest. Subjecting film critics to the equivalent of strip-searches is meaningless while audiences at public screenings are not screened at all. It strikes me that many "security measures" exist primarily to provide income for the security industry, and to give inattentive studio executives the impression that something is being done, when nothing really is.

Q. Some groups have launched a protest against Disney for using Ellen Degeneres as the voice-over talent for Dory, the blue fish in "Finding Nemo." Since she is a lesbian, they feel she is not a "suitable role-model" for families attending the film. What do you think? (Susan Lake, Urbana, IL)

A. I think their protest is silly, immoral, and dangerous. Silly, because the voice of an animated fish is not a role model for sexuality. Immoral, because they wish to deny employment to DeGeneres because of her God-given sexual identity. Dangerous, because this is another example of a slash-and-burn mentality that works through hate and intimidation. My feeling is that moderate Americans are getting weary of these tactics.

Q. I read the letter in your Answer Man column about TV commercials playing in movie theaters. I, too, am pissed off about this. If advertisers don't want their commercials to be scorned by moviegoers, perhaps they could sponsor a short film. That would add to the entertainment value of my movie ticket and maybe even encourage me to buy from that advertiser. (Herb Kane, criticdoctor.com)

A. Having heard moviegoers boo and ridicule the paid commercials, I am puzzled why advertisers would want to offend audiences in this way.

Since theaters place great emphasis on how many times they can show a movie in a day, the addition of 20 minutes of paid commercials will sooner or later result in pressure for shorter movies--a penalty for filmmakers and audiences.

John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, has been quoted as saying: "You can either have movies with ads and pay $7 a ticket, or you can pay $12 a ticket and not have commercials."

If anyone has found a first-run theater that has lowered its prices because of commercials, please let me know.

In the meantime, Chicago area attorney Douglas Litowitz has filed a class-action lawsuit against commercials in movie theaters, and has established a Web site about his campaign at www.nomovieads.com.

Q. One of the things I love most about DVD is that the studios will sometimes release two versions of a film at once--the regular theatrical release, and the definitive director's cut. This means I get to see the film as it was originally intended by the authors of the film before it was watered down by the ratings boards and the studio executive brass with their marketing department. But why do the studios have to wait until DVD to do this? Why can't the studios release more than one version of a film into theatres at the same time--a version for teens or people that are faint of heart, and a version for those of us who can stomach a bit more "realism" or want to see the director's original vision? Curtis Hanson's "8 Mile," with Eminem, reported the biggest opening ever for an 'R' rated movie. It seems to me the studio could have made a bundle more money and kept everyone happy by distributing two versions of his film. (Euan B. Sharp, St. Catharines, Ont)

A. Since then, of course, "Matrix Reloaded" has shattered all records for an R-rated film. I was told by an exhibitor at Cannes: "Once you buy a ticket, we basically don't know which multiplex screen you go to." So - those under 17 buy a ticket to another movie, then slip into the "Matrix Reloaded" theater. Of course, Warner Bros., distributor of "Reloaded," doesn't collect the money on that ticket, which may go to a family film. The ratings system today has little meaning except as a guide to parents, who should not deceive themselves that theaters will, or can, enforce it. When the DVDs come out, Blockbuster refuses to carry unrated or NC-17 rated film, so directors of unrated films (like "Requiem for a Dream") for forced to create an R-rated version for the Blockbuster stores. It's not so much that the movie can't play in theaters unrated as that it can't get into Blockbuster that way.

Q. Some Answer Man readers must have been surprised to learn, in Sir Arthur C. Clarke's message to you about James Joyce, that he prefers the Irish writer Lord Dunsany to Joyce. This might be interesting: Clarke and Dunsany maintained a correspondence and both are writers of fantasy. Ergo, Clarke's judgment is no surprise. Lord Dunsany was a familiar name in my childhood in the '30s and '40s, but no more than a name. The Q&A drove me to the internet and library, and by now I have read and enjoyed Dunsany. There is a great tradition of fantasy in Irish literature. (Harry Ward, Glen Ellyn IL)

A. For me, the big difference between Dunsany and Joyce is that I have finished every Dunsany work that I started. In the movie "Finding Forrester," there was one absolutely accurate bit of set decoration: The tattered stack of well-read paperbacks next to the young hero's bed included one book that looked brand new: Joyce's "Finnegans Wake," which many purchase but few read.

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