Q. I was recently watching the wonderful new DVD of "Ben Hur" and during the chariot race it looks as if a man is actually killed when run over by a chariot. It happens at the 24:00 minute mark of side B. According to the IMDb the only injury during the long filming of the race was a stuntman's cut chin. Are my eyes fooling me? (J.S. McLain, Asbury Park NJ)
A. Richard Roeper, whose forthcoming book Hollywood Urban Legends deals with such matters, replies: "There is no evidence that anybody was killed during the making of the 1959 version of 'Ben Hur,' but the rumor has been around for decades. It's definitely an urban legend. However, there is a general consensus that a stuntman WAS killed during the filming of the 1926 'Ben Hur'."
Q. President Clinton was well known as a fan of the cinema. What about President Bush? (Dirk Neely, Los Angeles CA)
A. White House spokesman Scott Stanzel says the President saw the following movies at the White House between January 20 and April 9: "Thirteen Days," "Varian's War" and "61*." The first is about JFK's Cuban missile crisis; the second stars William Hurt as a man who helped refugees escape Nazi Germany; the third is a biopic about Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and the asterisk next to Maris's 61 home runs.
Q. Ain't It Cool News reports on a labyrinth of web pages apparently connected to the upcoming Spielberg flick, "A.I." "The Blair Witch Project" began the phenomena of pre-release Web strategies, but they have nothing on the multiple sites and stories that "A.I." has brought to life. What do you make of a web story which exists at such an extensive level? (Dave Jaycock, Victoria BC)
A. This is an intriguing publicity stunt. Ain't It Cool, Corona Coming Attractions and many other popular fan sites have reported that in the movie's online trailer, the closing credits draw attention to Jeanine Salla. A Web search for her name leads to a labyrinth of sites from the 22nd century, touching on aspects of artificial intelligence. Clues lead to phone numbers leading to other pages. Both AICN and Corona have links to the sites; the Yahoo Club "Cloudmaker" discusses them.
Q. I have a widescreen video projection system and I have been told there are differences in picture quality on DVD's that have widescreen as well as standard aspect ratios. What should I look for? (Emerson Thorne, Chicago)
A. My video guru, Fred Thomas of Mills Custom Audio & Video in Oak Park, tells me: "Standard DVDs with the picture in the 1.33:1 ratio are not affected. But when you shop for letterbox or widescreen versions, you should look for the words 1.85:1 or 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, or Enhanced for widescreen TVs. This information is generally in small print on the back of the DVD jacket. Anamorphic or Enhanced versions yield between 25 to 35% more resolution than standard widescreen, thus producing higher-quality pictures on your widescreen system."
Q. I just saw the movie "Along Came A Spider" and wonder if the trailer was intended for a different film. In the preview there was one scene showing the little girl running from a helicopter into her parents' arms. A second had a police officer looking down and saying to Morgan Freeman "You had better take a look at this." As I recall, neither shot made it into the finished product. Was there post-production tampering? (Terry Dow, Winnipeg)
A. Rich Heimlich of Cherry Hill, NJ, has a similar complaint: "In the trailer for 'Bridget Jones's Diary' we're shown a clip of Bridget answering the phone in a sexy way and then saying, 'Oh, hello Dad' but in the movie it becomes, 'Oh, hello Mom'. Why?"
Q. Re the theory that the Oscars have "nearly a billion viewers." Last year Nielsen estimated 80 million U.S. viewers, which is about 29% of Americans. According to Boxofficeguru.com, U.S. movies top out around 60% in terms of international box office. If we assume that the composition of the Oscar audience is similar to the worldwide box office, that's 200 million viewers, which even by standards of Hollywood Hype falls short of "nearly a billion." (Matthew Butterick, San Francisco CA)
A. Now let's go to work on those McDonald's numbers.
Q. I noticed that the TV commercial for "Blow" says "the critics are unanimous." The only thing you can count on from film critics is that they are never unanimous. (Herb Sasman, Santa Fe NM)
A. When I hear critics are "unanimous," I turn to Rottentomatoes.com, which measures critical response on its Tomatometer. Among major critics, 47 percent approved of "Blow" and 53 percent did not.