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Movie Answer Man (02/28/1999)

Q. Do you think MTV's "The Real World" could be anything but acting--what with a camera, sound, and light crew following the "cast" around day and night? (John Krajewski, University of Washington)

A. You can't act all day and all night. Frederick Wiseman, the grandmaster of cinema verite, has found that if your camera is there long enough people sometimes forget it, or weary of remembering it, and act naturally. I am sure there's always a certain level of restraint, but the show does seem to reflect the characters' real personalities. The situations and plot lines are obviously guided by a hand from above, not unlike "The Truman Show."

Q. In preparation for the May release of the new "Star Wars" movie, some friends and I were watching the new Special Edition of "Return of the Jedi" on video. At a point early in the film, a blinded Han Solo is hanging upside down from the side of one of Jabba the Hutt's skiffs. He is attempting to help Lando, whose leg has just been grabbed by the Sarlacc, by aiming a gun at the tentacle that was wrapped around his leg. The dialogue is as follows. LANDO: "No, wait! I thought you were blind!" HAN: "It's all right. I can see a lot better now." This surprised me. It seemed as if Han Solo's line had been changed. I went back and checked an older version of the film, and indeed, the original Han Solo line was, "It's all right. Trust me." Why would George Lucas change a line in the film, which not only offered a chuckle, but seemed more like what the wise-cracking character of Han Solo would have indeed said? (John A. Adams, St. Paul, MN)

A. Karen Rose of Lucasfilm Ltd. says she did a lot of research before being able to supply this answer:"The sound mixes for all three films in the original `Star Wars' trilogy were produced before the days of fully automated digital mixing studios, and each film actually had several different sound mixes, depending on where and when you saw it. These mixes were almost like live performances in the subtle variation they sometimes produced between, for example, stereo and monaural versions of the movie soundtrack. "`Star Wars' sound designer Ben Burtt recalls that the battle around the Sarlacc pit was the most cut and re-cut sequences in all of `"Return of the Jedi.' Several editors tried their hands at reworking this sequence as Lucas worked to get a satisfactory result, and John Williams even went back and scored the sequence a second time. During filming, many lines of ad-lib dialogue were filmed in addition to the scripted lines, giving the editors many alternatives to choose from. The `trust me' version of Han Solo's line ended up most widely distributed in video and laserdisc, but as the lastversion of the sound mix was prepared, Lucas became concerned that Han's clearing vision was not satisfactorily explained, and so his final directorial choice was the `I can see a lot better' line. This was the line that went into the archived version of the sound mix,and it was this master that was followed for the remixing of the`Return of the Jedi Special Edition.' "

Q. Recently I've seen three films in black and white: "Pleasantville," "Pi," and "Celebrity." "Pleasantville's" black and white was essential to the plot. "Pi's" black and white seemed to compliment the stark world of Max Cohen and his obsessions; also, it was shot on a micro budget. I can't even start to wonder why Woody Allen's "Celebrity" was shot in b&w. (John J. Fink, Pompton Lakes, NJ)

A. Perhaps Allen shot "Celebrity" in b&w because it was a veiled homage to Fellini's "La Dolce Vita," one of my own favorite b&w films. The fact is that color is the wrong choice for many films, and it's a shame that directors have the b&w option taken away from them because studios fear that would hurt the eventual TV sale. Their thinking is about 30 years out of date. When most TV sets were b&w, color was a novelty, and color programming got higher ratings. Now that everything is in color, b&w is the treat--and when I'm channel surfing, I pause on b&w channels out of curiosity. As a general rule, b&w programming is likely to be more entertaining than color, because it has to be--to get on the air.

Q. Why is "Shakespeare in Love" rated R? Were the MPAA reviewers replaced for one day by NFL officials? There is nothing in "Shakespeare" that a teenager couldn't handle. In fact, that is the exact audience who should see this picture, as it provides a wonderful introduction to the Bard and situations that may have inspired his art. (Douglas Trapasso,Boston)

A. They're bean-counters. "Shakespeare in Love" gets an R, and so does "8 MM." "Shakespeare" has a little mild nudity and some bawdiness. "8 MM" contains rough sex, sadistic violence, and representations of snuff films. Any category big enough to contain both of those titles is so commodious it's meaningless. We need an "A" rating, between the R and the NC-17, to distinguish films that are not hard-core porno but are nevertheless clearly for adults only. The MPAA won't take this obvious step because of pressure from exhibitors terrified of losing a few ticket sales.

Q. In your Jan. 24th Answer Man column, you responded to the question, "who is the greatest actor in film history?" with the statement, "Only a barking idiot would attempt to answer such a question." I was reading through your 1996 Video Companion, and when I got to "Last Tango in Paris" I was shocked to read the line, "[Marlon Brando] makes it absolutely clear why he is the best film actor of all time." I won't debate your assessment of Brando, but as for your contradiction--well, to quote Steve Buscemi in "Fargo," --"What gives, man?" (Thad Jantzi, Vancouver, British Columbia)

A. The answer is obvious. I am a barking idiot. In my defense: The question involved the balloting for a new AFI list of the Greatest Movie Actors. Such lists are meaningless. When I say Marlon Brando is the best, that is at least my opinion, for what it's worth. When hundreds of people are polled on a list of hundreds of names, it's statistically likely that the winning total won't be anywhere near a majority of the votes cast. Instead of calling the winner the best actor of all time, you could with equal accuracy boast that he got seven percent of the votes.

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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