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Movie Answer Man (02/23/1997)

Q. My take on the new Jabba the Hut scene in the refurbished "Star Wars" is, how come Jabba is so short? Did he double or triple his size in the next six years? 'Splain that one to me please, Mr. Ans. Man. Eating too many froglets? All Huts do that? What? (Don Howard, San Jose, CA).

A. You have a point. Jabba is a towering figure the next time he turns up, in "Return of the Jedi." Perhaps he grew? Perhaps he just seems taller because of his elevated perch? Ever notice how much he looks like Don Rickles?

Q. Last night we paid our homage to the re-issued "Star Wars." It seemed to have aged badly. Or is it me? In the Death Star conference room I was constantly diverted by the BALL CASTERS on the chairs, cynically thinking, "They got those from some London office supply--just like ones I used to have in an office when I had an honest living." (John Jakes, Hilton Head Island, S.C.)

A. Of course you wouldn't want ball casters on office chairs in space, unless the Death Star makes its own gravity; crew members would forever be rolling around and smashing computer screens. But remember that "Star Wars" was made for only $12 million, which was peanuts. Even so, Lucas ran out of money and the plug was almost pulled. The people in that conference room were lucky to have chairs.

Q. I can't understand how Kenneth Branagh gets nominated for best adapted screenplay when he took Shakespeare's play and filmed it verbatim! It was an excellent and original adaptation, but how can he be nominated for what Shakespeare wrote? Methinks the screenwriters nominated him based on his direction of the movie, not on any writing. (Steven Sherman, Montreal, Quebec)

A. A screenplay is something more than dialog. Consider, for example, that Alan Parker got a screenplay credit for "Evita," even though virtually every word in the movie was in the form of a Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber lyric. Screenplays also cover construction, scene choices, character treatments and, in the case of a writer-director like Branagh, the visual strategy. Yet the fact remains that this was an uncut text by Shakespeare. Screen writer W. C. Martell tells me: "The staging of the soliloquy in front of the two-way mirror was brilliant! And there were other visuals which had to come in the script stage, rather than the direction. But I would question if there were enough new visual elements added to the original text to qualify Branagh as a co-writer. Had Shakespeare been alive, his agent would have surely pushed this through Writers Guild Arbitration, and they would have awarded the Bard sole script credit. Branagh would have to have added over a third new material to get his name on the screen."

Q. Yikes! A new system for nominating documentaries, and still no nominations for films like "Paradise Lost" and "A Perfect Candidate?" (R. J. Cutler, Great Neck, N.Y.)

A. Also no nomination for Al Pacino's "Looking for Richard" or the brilliant French doc "Microcosmos," which invented new photography techniques to examine the lives of insects. There seems to be a fundamental flaw in the way the Academy judges new documentaries, and it results in penalties for films that have opened commercially or had much success. One obvious reason: There is no Documentary Branch of the Academy, so the nomination process has to be farmed out to volunteers, instead of being left to a vote of the branch membership. The reason there's no such branch? Insiders tell me the Academy is reluctant to dilute its establishment-oriented membership by the addition of more independently-minded documentarians.

Q. After seeing Billy Bob Thornton's incredible performance in "Sling Blade" last night (and isn't it well past time we had a Best Actor nominee named Billy Bob?), I think Mr. Thornton would be an excellent choice to portray Hunter S. Thompson in the upcoming "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas." What do you think? (Ed Slota, Warwick, R.I.)

A. Billy Bob Thornton is a considerable and original talent, but he does not look or sound like Hunter S. Thompson. Although a good actor can make quite a stretch (who figured Anthony Hopkins for Richard Nixon or Woody Harrelson for Larry Flynt?), the actor who seems to fall into the Thompson groove most easily is Tom Noonan (the villainous inventor in "Robocop 2").

Q. I've heard lots of talk that in the case of "Fargo," the Academy assigned the wrong category to William H. Macy, who was nominated for best supporting actor even though he has more screen time than Frances McDormand, who was nominated as best actress. I decided to do a relative comparative analysis of the roles. Here's what I found: Macy's Screen Time: 31 minutesMcDormand's Screen Time: 28.5 minutesTime they are both on screen: 3.5 minutes Macy's first onscreen appearance is one minute into the film. McDormand's first onscreen appearance comes at the 32:30 minute mark. So there you go. Macy did have more screen time. I can't see why they both didn't get nominated as leads, perhaps with a supporting nod for Steve Buscemi. (Andre R. Mallette, Wilmington, N.C.)

A. I agree. I did not realize, until you pointed it out, that McDormand first appears so far into the film; her performance has such weight and charm that it dominates my memories of the film.

Q. Speaking of dumb trailers, have you seen these Wesley Snipes trailers for "Murder at 1600?" He lands on the lawn of the White House in a police helicopter (as if the Secret Service would OK that) and then steps out and on an open radio channel he says "I have a murder at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue!" As he was summoned there and as there were 20 police cars there already, the dispatcher would probably know, but then--this kills me--he adds, "an address that changes all the rules!" Hoo boy, as if anyone in the world would actually say that, in person on a radio or the phone. Who do the screenwriters think are in the audience? Numbskulls? (Eric M. Davitt, Toronto, Ont.)

A. Yes.

Q. Last week I rented the 60th anniversary video of "King Kong." In an early scene Fay Wray is abducted and the Chinese cook wants to join the rescue party. In the original print, a crewman says, "This is no job for a slopehead." I was startled to hear the line changed to "This is no job for a cook." The original line was offensive but is changing it the right thing to do? Isn't that the same sort of tinkering with history we used to chide the Russians for? Couldn't the distributor have issued a disclaimer and presented the movie as is? (D.A. Forte, Chicago Heights, IL)

A. Old movies should be released in their original form, period. Rewriting history deprives us of the opportunity to learn from it. Seeing old movies is a way to put the present into a wider context. A reasonable viewer could look at the movie and reflect that the crewman's language is regrettably typical of racist attitudes at the time.

Q. I've seen all of Martin Scorsese's work, and have noticed that Frank Vincent appears in every Scorsese movie Joe Pesci is in. They begin as friends or at least accomplices. but in "Raging Bull" and "GoodFellas," Pesci gives Vincent a torturous beating or kills him. In "Casino," Vincent turns the tables, and gives Pesci a beating more extreme than in the other two films, getting his "screen revenge." Is this a coincidence, or an in-joke? (Josh Korkowski, Minneapolis, Minn).

A. Kim Sockwell of Scorsese's office replies; "Marty laughed when he read the question. He said it was not an inside joke, nor was it necessarily intentional that the characters ended up that way. It was more of a 'happy coincidence,' especially for Frank Vincent; Frank and his wife often joked with Joe Pesci on the set about Frank finally getting years' worth of revenge."

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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