Roger Ebert Home

Movie Answer Man (04/25/1999)

Q. What is your take on the hype surrounding the release of "Star Wars -- Episode I: The Phantom Menace?" I've been eagerly anticipating this movie, but I'm worried that it may suffer from being grossly over-publicized by the time it is released. I've heard that LucasFilms and Fox have the publicity machine cranked up, with tons of product tie-ins and other promotions. I'm worried that by the time May 19th arrives, there may actually be some backlash to all of this publicity. (John Egan, Boise, Idaho)

A. My ballpark guess is that 10 to 20 times more words will be written and broadcast about "Phantom Menace" before anyone has seen the movie than after. Consider the similar pattern last summer for "Godzilla." A new Star Wars movie is however the biggest showbiz opening of the year, and I for one am in a lather.

Q. I'm writing to amplify the Answer Man's comments about turning down the wattage to extend the life of projector bulbs in movie theaters. I'm an electrical engineer. The answer is, yes, it does extend the life of projector bulbs when you dim them, but not by any significant amount. I did some hand-waving calculations based on a 3000W Xenon bulb from Sylvania, for which I happened to have a table of physical properties handy. If you were to run it at 2000W, you'd extend its life--by 2.3 percent! Wattage is a small factor among many others affecting the life of a bulb. (Hank Graham, Seattle WA)

A. Readers! Clip this item and mail it to any theater where you have been victimized by a picture that is suspiciously dim. If daytime skies are not bright in a movie, or if interiors seem too murky, you may be the target of a penny-pinching exhibitor. I'm not talking about dark movies--I'm talking about underlit screens. The Answer Man has quoted both director Martin Scorsese and scientists from Eastman Kodak as saying many theaters turn down the wattage to extend bulb life. The irony is that their only real achievement is to cheat their customers.

Q. No interview with Sandra Bullock seems complete nowadays without her bringing up her disgust with herself for agreeing to star in "Speed 2." It appears to be the pivotal moment of her professional career; she begs our forgiveness. You recently expressed irritation at Bullock's Mea Culpa tour for "Speed 2," a movie that you gave three stars to, going against the critical consensus. Do you think she is truly contrite, or is she trying to curry favor with the critics to establish herself as a serious actress after the film's critical savaging? (Lloyd A. White, Rockville Md)

A. The dissing of "Speed 2" has become a popular folk ritual, as if no worse movie has ever been made. Bullock has cravenly joined in. She would be performing more of a service if she warned us about "Forces Of Nature." Yes, I gave "Speed 2" three stars - and, yes, I was correct, if the movie is seen for what it is, a genre action picture. I am grateful to movies that show me what I haven't seen before, and "Speed 2" had a cruise ship plowing through a pier and right up the main street of a Caribbean village. I recently spent a week at the University of Colorado, where, in a small and futile gesture of support for the movie, I announced a contest for a short film to be named "Speed 3." Contest rules: No longer than 5 minutes, and must involve something that cannot stop moving. Finalists will be shown next year at CU's Conference on World Affairs, and the winner gets a standing ovation, plus a copy of the DVD of "Speed 2," autographed (by me, since I wouldn't think of causing any more pain to Bullock).

Q. An oft-mentioned criticism of today's movie critics is that they are "too critical," that they've either been doing the job too long, or that they consider themselves such "film experts" that they judge a movie on "artistic" designs, rather then on the enjoyability. With your recent search for guest hosts on TV, this might be an interesting time to add someone not affiliated with the film industry. Someone who doesn't have a degree in film; someone who normally doesn't review movies; and someone who doesn't gain or lose from a film review. Basically, someone who sees these films through the relatively unjaded eyes of a "regular human being." (Patrick M. Geahan, Midland, MI)

A. I could not agree with you more. We need more critics like me, who have no film degree and can judge "Speed 2" on enjoyability! Your insight is so valuable I recommend you apply it to surgeons, dentists, lawyers, accountants and airplane pilots. These professions are also overloaded with jaded people with degrees, who cannot see their specialties through the eyes of regular human beings. I have even heard alarming rumors of over-competence in the Midland Fire Department.

Q. In regard to the Answer Man's comment about the pointlessness of "Best Lists" (such as the AFI's upcoming list of the "greatest actors and actresses"), here are the first two entries in Entertainment Weekly's list of the "100 Greatest Television Moments." #1 - The Kennedy Assassination #2 - Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat in the air. 'Nuff said. (David J. Bondelevitch, Studio City, CA)

A. "Best lists" share with phone-in telephone polls the admirable journalistic attributes that they can be made to resemble useful information, and can be illustrated with photographs of popular people.

Q. What is with the growing trend for Hollywood to feature scenes from a movie in the trailer--then the scene never appears in the film? I understand that scenes are often cut from a film-but why make it a part of the trailer? For example: "The Devil's Own" had a huge love scene between Brad Pitt and Natascha McElhone in the trailer but not in the film. In the trailer for "200 Cigarettes," Ben Affleck says "By the way, I'm not gay. I get that a lot, and no, I am not gay." In "EDtv," Woody Harrelson walks on his hands down the stairs and falls. Not in the film. This is irritating false advertising. I already don't like trailers to begin with, and this doesn't help. (Jason Steele, Chicago)

A. Trailers are edited weeks or sometimes months before the movie has been finished, which is why they often use music from older movies, instead of from their own scores. They're shipped out and actually playing in theaters while editors and directors are still sweating over their final cut--where a scene, no matter how well it works in the trailer, has to work in the movie, or out it goes.

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.

Latest blog posts

Latest reviews

Back to Black
The Strangers: Chapter 1
The Big Cigar
You Can't Run Forever
In Our Day


comments powered by Disqus