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Movie Answer Man (02/25/2001)

Q. After seeing 'Hannibal's" extremely graphic violence, I wonder how the people who decide film ratings have an ounce of credibility left. When the film "Clerks" came out, it almost got an NC-17 rating due to language. Now we have a movie like 'Hannibal" with gory scenes that remind me of "Day of the Dead" and "Dawn of the Dead." How in the world can they give 'Hannibal" an R rating and not look like a bunch of monkeys? (Kayvan Koie, Plainfield, Ind.)

A. The R rating for "Hannibal" has inspired amazement even from those who liked the movie. Indie filmmakers have long claimed that movies from major studios, backed by strong producers, are given a pass in the ratings. Was that the case this time? As Richard Redwolf of San Antonio writes: " 'Hannibal' and 'Billy Elliot,' two movies I loved, received the same rating. I didn't realize a man eating his own brain and a story about a young boy and his ballet shoes were so much alike."

Q. Is it just me, or do the advertisements and trailers for 'Hannibal" make him a sound an awful lot like that other 21st century killing machine: HAL 9000, in "2001?" (Dave Huhta, San Diego CA)

A. You're on target. In the commentary track for the Criterion DVD of "The Silence of the Lambs," Anthony Hopkins says he told director Jonathan Demme and writer Ted Tally in 1989 that he thought he might play Dr. Lecter a little like Hal 9000, an extremely intelligent machine.

Q. In "The Silence of the Lambs," Lecter was able to unlock his handcuffs with a mere pen component, which he managed to steal with BOTH hands cuffed and behind his back, but in "Hannibal," with only ONE hand cuffed and an entire kitchen to take utensils from, he's forced to chop off his hand. Go figure. (Jess Chia, Richmond, BC)

A. I was disappointed he did not save it for a snack.

Q. A dentist friend suggests that instead of going to such lengths to restrain Hannibal Lecter, they should have simply removed all his teeth. Your opinion? (Adrian Chiles, BBC Radio, Birmingham, England)

A. Those dentists have the same solution for everything.

Q. Is the Academy required to nominate a Miramax film for Best Picture annually? Give me a break! They passed on "Almost Famous" AND "You Can Count on Me" to appease Harvey Weinstein with "Chocolat"? (David Spillers, Tulsa OK)

A. Miramax cannot be faulted for campaigning enthusiastically for its pictures. The voters can, however, be criticized for voting for the best campaigns instead of the best pictures. Nominations for films like "Gladiator" and "Chocolat" indicate the Academy membership is surprisingly unsophisticated.

Q. My award for the most amazing nomination this year: "Gladiator" for best special effects. Wow. One of the worst looking films I've ever seen. And somehow, they DIDN'T nominate "Crouching Tiger". Guess since the effects weren't computer generated, they don't count. When I first saw "Gladiator", I thought it was so-so as a movie. But as time has passed, I've grown to actively dislike it. I have a feeling that the people who like it never saw "Ben Hur" or "Spartacus" in 70mm on the big screen, and think, somehow, that it's a good film. It's not. (Jeff Joseph, Sabucat Productions, Lancaster, CA)

A. You are not alone. Marlin deTardo of Cleveland writes: "As I understand it, that nomination would have been made by people who work in the effects field--shouldn't they at least know better?" And Jon Bougher of Weare, NH, writes: "The shots of the Coliseum were nothing less than cartoonish. 'The Cell's' marvelous visual effects were passed over to make room for 'Gladiator.' Even though the Academy is full of politics, the visual effects category is usually the one that gets it right."

Q. Ed Harris is the movies' greatest chameleon. In "Pollock" he looks and acts just like Jackson Pollock. In "The Right Stuff" he looks and acts just like John Glenn. In "Glengarry Glen Ross" he's a hassled, paranoid salesman. The list goes on and on. How does he do it, beyond just raw talent? Does he just have one of those personas upon which anything can be projected? If he doesn't win the Academy Award for Pollock, then there truly is no justice in this world. (Alvin Epstein, Santa Monica CA)

A. He's an actor. That's his job, and he's superb at it. To be fair, he does look a lot like John Glenn and Jackson Pollock; his father Robert, seeing a book about Pollock, thought for a second it was Harris on the cover, and sent it to his son, planting the original idea for the film.

Q. Why do filmmakers insist on "strong language?" I realize some films such as "Goodfellas" or "Full Metal Jacket" gain a level of realism necessary to the subject, but most films use extraordinary amounts of unnecessary language. Take "Magnolia," for example--a film everyone should see for what it says about people, but poisoned by every character but one possessing a serious vocabulary problem. What gives? Is "A Streetcar Named Desire" any less powerful because it was written in a time less free than this one? Would the classics of film noir be grittier with fouler language? David Mamet's "The Spanish Prisoner" did not need the same language as his other works to be just as good and more enjoyable to sit through. I am not asking for Disney films but for more thoughtful, literate and yes, civil writing. (David Walters, Dallas TX)

A. I referred your query to the director Allison Anders, whose powerful new film "Things Behind the Sun" contains a certain amount of "language." She replies: "While admittedly among the guilty as a filmmaker who uses a lot of f-words, I also often wish we could return to the days when the restraints of the industry forced us filmmakers to economize on language, violence and nudity. If we're going for naturalism in our characters (I tend to make films about rock musicians or gang members!) we use the freedom allotted us by the ratings system to go for the real and the natural, for how these people would truly talk. This is a freedom I don't think we filmmakers would want to lose, but, like you, I wonder sometimes if we wouldn't make our work more powerful by having to curb the strong language and reach for more literate solutions in our dialogue. Having gone through a re-edit due to an undesirable rating from the MPAA, I found the scene, after much of the nudity was cut, was made far more intense by playing most of it on the actresses' face. Artists hate to admit it, but boundaries are just as important as freedom to the success of one's work and restraint forces us to come up with new solutions that often surprise us."

Q. I noticed in your article about "Intimacy" you belittled Anna Nicole Smith and Pamela Anderson as useless "founts of sexual inspiration." I wonder, does this make all the words and pictures about Marilyn Monroe useless as well? (Nicholas Norcia, Glenmoore PA)

A. I never used the word "useless."

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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