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Movie Answer Man (04/08/2001)

Q. I'm dumbfounded by "Gladiator" winning the Oscar. I caught this amazing glitch in the first 10 minutes. The scene: The Germanic hordes, lumbering out of the winter woods to challenge the Roman legions, chanting a war song. The problem: The song isn't German or even European. It's African. It's a war chant lifted directly from the 1964 classic, "Zulu." And I mean lifted directly, with the same voices, the exact words. (John Markey, San Antonio, Tx)

A. Al Goldstein of Novato, Ca. also wrote the AM accusing the movie of a "direct ripoff." I consulted Prof Nate Kohn of the University of Georgia, who was the producer of "Zulu Dawn" (1979). He responds: "Ridley Scott certainly did not lift the 'Zulu' soundtrack. He probably accidentally approximated it. I looked at the first 10 minutes of 'Gladiator,' and there are remarkable similarities to both 'Zulu' and 'Zulu Dawn,' though more to 'Zulu Dawn.' The warrior chant in both Zulu films, designed to spread fear among the enemy, is 'Uzu,' which I believe is Zulu for 'kill. The German hordes are indeed chanting a similar word, although to me it sounded more like 'ooooo' - no 'z' in there. But the way the chant is heard, disembodied and sudden, sounding as if it is echoing off the hills of Zululand, is indeed very similar to the Zulu films. Also, the disembodied voice echoing out of the bush in 'Gladiator' mirrors directly a scene in 'Zulu Dawn' when an off screen Zulu warrior yells the obvious question at the invading imperial army: 'Why do you come to the land of the Zulu?' Add to that the camera set ups, the framing, the hand-to-hand combat, and you have a sequence that looks and sounds a lot like the Battle of Isandhlwana in 'Zulu Dawn.' More than anything, the resemblance comes from the nature of the chant's echo_it does sound exactly like the African echo. Interestingly, both Ridley Scott and 'Zulu Dawn' director Douglas Hickox I believe once worked at the same company making television commercials in London. There is a great similarity of style. Either that, or there is really only one way to shoot large armies with shields and spears going at each other. Another reason 'Gladiator' is more like 'Zulu Dawn' is that on 'Zulu' director Cy Endfield only had 100 Zulu extras, so he couldn't compose the panoramic warrior scenes in the way we could on 'Zulu Dawn' with 6000 extras."

Q. I recently imported the "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" DVD, with both English subtitles and an English dubbed track. I watched the movie in its original Mandarin, with the English subtitles. The sentences on the screen seemed simple and brief. Later, I watched the movie again with the English dub. To my surprise, the dubbed dialog was vastly different from the subtitles: more poetic, complete, and powerful. (Scott Gillan, Manhattan KS)

A. The AM consulted both James Shamus, who wrote the movie, and Sony Pictures vice president Michael Schlesinger. They disagree about the desirability of dubbing, but agree about subtitles.

Q. I rented "Wonder Boys." When I put the cassette in, a message came up that said the film was "formatted to fit my screen." So I thought, "Okay, no letterbox." But then, at the end of the message, it said the film was "Edited for Content." What does this mean, exactly? Are the thought police watering down what I can watch? (Matt Jaycox, Chicago)

A. Michael Mustizer of Waterbury, Conn., also wondered, "what has been edited either out or in?" The answer: Only one name. Martin Blythe, VP for Publicity of Paramount Home Video, tells me: "In the movie, the Toby McGuire character includes Alan Ladd in a list of suicides. The character is incorrect about this, and out of respect for his family, we deleted his name from the home video and DVD releases."

Q. Wassup with Bjork's dead-bird dress? (Susan Lake, Urbana, IL)

A. Style does not consist of letting a haute couture stylist supply you with a free gown in return for promotional considerations. Style consists of wit, imagination, and the courage to be yourself. Bjork is a silly lovable goose, and her dress was a perfect choice.

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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