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Movie Answer Man (04/01/1993)

Q. I understand Warner Bros. was forced to suspend plans for the release of a new 70mm print of the restored "director's cut" of Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" after the MPAA rated the film NC-17. I would very much like to hear Jack Valenti explain why "The Wild Bunch" gets an NC-17 when even more violent films like "Total Recall" get an R. Violence is okay only so long as it occurs among cardboard characters in a cartoon script? --Robert Lauriston, San Francisco

A. In a tragedy crossed with a travesty, "The Wild Bunch" has been outgunned by the MPAA's Code and Rating Administration. The movie was rated R when it was released in 1967. That version reflected some 17 minutes of cuts made by Peckinpah after the film's world premiere. The original cut was thought for years to be lost, but then Warner Bros. rediscovered it, and made plans to re-release Peckinpah's version in theaters in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Houston.

Q. That HBO movie, "Barbarians at the Gate." Did the producers get any heat from the wheeler-dealers who were portrayed on the screen? --Harris Allsworth, Chicago

A. Veteran moviemaker Ray Stark, who produced the film, told me the principals were mostly content with their screen portrayals. But he got an early call from buyout artist Henry Kravis, worried about how he would come across. Kravis is not the tallest of men. Stark told him: "If you don't cause any trouble, Jonathan Pryce will play you. Otherwise, I'll get Danny DeVito. That was the last we heard from him."

Q. I've seen many goofs in movies. It seems that with budgets of millions of dollars they could afford to reshoot a scene. The first one was a western with all the cowboys and Indians and stagecoaches tearing across the dusty plains, and way off in the background, cars on a highway! I caught the top of a set in Bergman's "Magic Flute," and a corner of the camera boat in "On Golden Pond." Is it really too expensive to fix them, or do they just leave them so people like us can have fun looking for them? --Benjamin Wheeler, Santa Cruz, Ca.

A. Most directors try to leave a couple of goofs in every picture, just so people like you can have fun looking for them.

Q. Regarding all the controversy over the secret of "The Crying Game:" There was an interesting article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette saying that in Richard Corliss' original review of the movie in Time magazine, he revealed the secret very sneakily. If you read just the first letter of each paragraph of the review, it tells the secret! --Michael Leger, Pittsburgh

A. I ran into Corliss and he confirmed this story. He used a sentence like "Initially, the secret is not obvious," as a clue to look for the initials, which (read no further if you don't want to know, etc.,) spelled out, "He is a she."

Q. I feel silly asking this question, but I promised my 10-year-old son I would. There is a rumor floating around the 4th grade that in "The Wizard of Oz" a shadow of a man can be seen being electrocuted after Dorothy, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow begin their walk down the yellow brick road together. We reviewed our tape and did see some unusual movements in the background--but is there any truth to the electrocution theory? --Mara (cq) O'Neill, Pittsburgh

A. "Wizard" expert David J. Bondelevitch replies: "The man in the background is a sound man (a boom operator, to be precise). He was not electrocuted, he was simply stupid and got in the shot when he shouldn't have." Another fan of the movie, Andy Ihnatko, tells me the scene has inspired many stories, the most baroque being about a guy who hanged himself in one of the prop munchkin trees and was overlooked until after the scene was shot.

Q. In the movie "Sneakers," the girl gives a telephone number. I called it, and got a recording of two women named Mary and Deanna. They acknowledged the movie by mentioning "all you Sneakers fans." I did not receive a return phone call from them, however. Do you know what this is all about? My curiosity needs to know. --Michael Grigsby, Palmdale, Ca.

A. According to Louis Epstein, sysop (cq) of the Show Biz Forum on CompuServe, "Sneakers" director Phil Alden Robinson had the studio buy the number for people who like to call the numbers they hear in movies. Usually movie numbers begin with the phony "555" prefix, but Robinson thought this would be more fun. Sorry, but I can't tell you a thing about Mary and Deanna.

Q. In the movie "Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness,", the "magic words" used are the same ones spoken by Michael Rennie in "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951). You mentioned that this movie must have been targeted for 14-year olds, so I wonder if the movie writers thought this also. Only adults (or sci-fi addicted adolescents) would get that tongue-in-cheek reference.--John D. Patrick, Champaign-Urbana, Ill.

A. "The Day the Earth Stood Still" was also targeted for 14-year-olds. That is a compliment. Most Hollywood movies are targeted for 12-year-olds.

Q. I just returned from seeing "A Far Off Place" with my 8 and 10 year old daughters. This is a Disney children's movie. Yet with an audience full of little children, men are machine-gunning elephants, then chainsawing off their tusks! That is followed by the massacres of the parents in the bedroom, the burning of the farm, and men actually firing on children from helicopters. All, yes, amid a sweet and otherwise well done story. Is our society now that callous and brazen and violent....or is it just me?--Jon Albert, Carmel, Ca.

A. The movie was rated PG (suitable for all ages; parental guidance suggested) by the MPAA. I would like to know what sort of parental guidance you provided your daughters about why elephants had to be shot down and their tusks sawed off. One good thing about the parents being killed--at least the movie didn't dwell on it by having the kids weep and mourn a whole lot.

Q. Two years ago I bought a laserdisc player. The picture and sound are flawless. More and more stores are starting to sell discs, but I am a student and am on a limited budget. So, do you see more of a market for laser disk rental? --Blake A. Fortune, Olathe, Kansas

Q. I went to see "Falling Down," and what a surprise! It's a drama! All the previews I've seen are promoting this movie as a real laffaminit comedy. Have you noticed how often serious films are being promoted this way? If a film has even the slightest element of comedy, those scenes are spliced together, provided with a jovial voice-over to form the trailer and sent out to fool unsuspecting audiences. --Frank Scalfano, Fort Walton Beach, FL.

A. Yeah, judging by the trailers you'd also think "Swing Kids" was a musical, and "Jack the Bear" was a hug-me, feel-me family movie. I guess the marketing experts believe the public can't handle the idea that a movie might really be about something.

Q. I've been a Disney animated movie fan for years. With their three latest movies, "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin," however, aren't the stories basically the same? Two young "people," who are lonely and lost, find each other and have to fight circumstances to be together. It's a beautiful theme, but three times in a row is monotonous. Look at the stories Walt Disney himself used. They ranged from the terror of a young deer growing up in the world, to an elephant learning to live with his peculiarities, to a young girl living her dreams in a fantastic make-believe world. The quality put into the new Disney movies is extraordinary, but when you view them in series, you finish by asking, "Didn't I just see that one?" --F. Stein, Chicago

A. You may experience a sense of deja vu when you see Disney's next animated release, "The Lion King," about a cub named Simba, who is exiled from the pride by his evil uncle after the death of his father. Lonely and lost, but returning to reclaim his rightful heritage, he falls in love with a beautiful lioness, but they have to fight circumstances to be together. Their ballad, sure to be an Oscar nominee, is "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?"

Q. I think I know why you can't tell one Teenage Mutant Turtle from another. The turtles' characters were well-defined in the original TV show, but not in the movies. My son Elijah, now 9, went through a turtle phase a couple of years ago. He used to watch the animated Saturday morning cartoon regularly, and my wife and I used to occasionally watch it with him. Much to our surprise, we found ourselves enjoying it. And yes, we did learn to distinguish the turtles, not just by their colors and letters, but by their personalities. The adults in the family have never seen any of the movies, but Elijah has. He didn't care for them. Why? "All the turtles acted like Michaelangelo." --Lincoln Spector, San Francisco

A. Now if I only knew which one is Michelangelo.

Q. In the TV Guide article about your big fight with Gene Siskel over the secret of "The Crying Game," Siskel was asked if you came to blows, and replied that you "lacked the motor skills" for a fight. How did you feel about that? --Ronnie Barzell, Los Angeles

A. What Gene meant to say was that I lacked the speed to catch him.

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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