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Movie Answer Man (01/15/1995)

Q. I recently saw "The Client" on an United Airlines flight and noticed that the soundtrack had been dubbed to replace profanities with substitute words. I would assume that a bit of violence may also have been removed, for example during the suicide episode. My guess is that the resulting movie would be given a "PG" rating. There are many popular movies that I would love to rent for viewing with my family if only they were rated "G" or (maybe) "PG." Cleaning up the language, removing the sex, and toning down any graphic violence would make very little difference to the entertainment value for many people of the movies I'm talking about. Are "airline edits" available anywhere for rental? Have studios ever considered issuing "family" and "mature" versions of the same movie? (Jon Bale, San Jose, Calif.)

A. Such versions are not available through ordinary rental and sale channels. Some directors are so disturbed by the "airline edits" of their films that they have their names removed (Robert Mulligan, for example, took his name off of "The Man in the Moon"). Their contracts usually include the studio's right to edit for in-flight and broadcast use, however. Most directors would violently oppose a similar edited version for commercial video channels. I am sure you are correct that a market for such films exists; I doubt that an R movie could easily be transformed into a PG, but it would be easier to tone down a PG-13. I believe, however, that films are works of art, not commodities, and that every film should be seen as the director intended.

Q. I was delighted to read your review of "I.Q.," which was also favorably noticed by Janet Maslin in the N. Y. Times. I was lucky enough to be an extra in the film, which premiered here in Princeton last Monday--frankly to mixed reviews (a friend pronounced it the "worst film I've ever seen"). The problem is, Princeton people are very protective of Einstein, whom they think they "know." Even though locals loved Matthau as a person while he was filming here, they worry whether Einstein himself would have approved. I'm glad non-Princetonians are enjoying the film; around here, they're too busy noticing the scenery ("Hey, I think I saw my house!"). (Bob Brown, Princeton, N.J.)

A. It was the great French director Francois Truffaut who once said no one could appreciate even the greatest film if it was shot in their own house, because they would always be looking at the wallpaper.

Q. I would have thought "Princess Caraboo" was exactly the kind of film that would have hugely benefited from good reviews. The critics did get to see it at the Montreal festival, and it received only positive reviews. Yet I understand it was never shown to critics, and as a result got few reviews, one way or the other. What was the thinking of? (Matthew Cope, Westmont, Quebec)

A. You are referring to the September release of a comedy about a mysterious young woman who appears in England in the early 19th century, and fascinates society. The film had a first-rate case; Phoebe Cates, Kevin Kline, Wendy Hughes, Jim Broadbent and John Lithgow. Yet it was not screened, and I was unable to catch it in a theater before it disappeared. Sometimes there are political reasons why a studio wants a movie to fail, because it has been sponsored by an executive whose success is not in the best interest of his rivals. Other times, the studio simply has no idea what it has. Look at the last year's case of "Tombstone," where Disney's non-screening policy may have cost Val Kilmer an Oscar nomination.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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