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Movie Answer Man (02/18/1996)

Q. Does complexity ever play a role in how a film gets rated? Some films may not be appropriate for young children, not because of offensive content, but because they won't understand. It's difficult in some cases to understand why a film has a PG-13 rating unless complexity is a factor. It would seem to make sense, but I've never heard that complexity was a consideration. My family had a long discussion on this recently. (Ellen White, Madison, Wis.)

A. The MPAA's rating board works from a checklist of elements, such as language, nudity, violence and "adult themes," and if a film lacks those, it's rated as okay for younger audiences whether or not it's appropriate for them. Example: "Sense and Sensibility" got a PG, not a PG-13, although it is probably incomprehensible to many grade schoolers.

Q. Something happened to me when I saw "Dead Man Walking" a couple of days ago. I broke down. I could hardly contain myself in those last 20 minutes of that movie. I am a 31-year-old film buff, male, "seen it all" kind of guy. But I was a withering mess at the end of the movie. Why? Have you heard from any other people who have had such an extreme reaction? I almost left the theater because I could hardly handle it anymore. Looking back on it, I don't think it was the death penalty issue. I think it was that so many of the characters were in such pain, and it was so difficult for them to express that. Just wondered if anyone else had such a reaction (Stephen M. Carrasco, El Paso, Texas)

A. The movie helps us identify with the inner spiritual and emotional life of its characters. It is not about plot. It is about being a person in that situation. I felt great sorrow for the condemned man, because in his talks with the nun and with his family, it became clear that life had not provided him with an education and vocabulary adequate to express what he was feeling. Now, near death, with the help of this woman, his mind is opened enough to allow him to realize the enormity of his crime. He is sorry for what he has done. And we, realizing that he only now understands, grieve for him as well as for his victims.

Q. My husband returned from the movies this weekend upset by a notice that had been posted at the ticket booth for "Toy Story," saying that even though this film had been showing for nine weeks and was prone to breakage, the splicing itself only took a minute to fix and no one was entitled to get their money back because of the above-mentioned technical problems. My husband feels that moviegoers should see a film with good technical quality or get their money back. I think this cineplex is being cheap in not acquiring a better copy. (Irene Ford Hyatt, Asheville, N.C.)

A. Anyone paying first-run prices deserves to see a first-run movie. When prints show signs of wear and tear, they are usually replaced by the distributing studio. The fact that such a notice was posted in the theater suggests they're having chronic problems, which may mean it's their projector that needs replacing, not the print.

Q. How much of the music on "Mr. Holland's Opus" was performed by an actual high school band and how much was done using professional stunt musicians on a scoring stage? (Bill Hammond, Nashua, N.H.)

A. Jeffrey Graebner of the CompuServe Showbiz Forum says most of it was performed by the Seattle Symphony. Even the "bad" performances were by pros. And they were pretty bad, all right, since at one point I failed to recognize the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

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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