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Movie Answer Man (05/19/1996)

Q. The movie "Twister" opens in my town the day after tomorrow and I have yet to read a review of it. I presume this is because the studio does not want adverse comments before the opening and they do not have faith in the picture. Would you say the length of time before the opening of a movie that critics are permitted to view it is decreasing? Perhaps this length of time in days would be a useful statistic to go into the review. (Dane Rigden, Merrimack, N.H.)

A. "Twister," which scored a scorching $37-million opening weekend, was not withheld from the critics, but it wasn't previewed until the last moment because its complex special effects went right down to the wire. Although some movies are ready for advance screenings days or months before their opening dates, many of the biggest ones, including summer blockbusters made with lots of effects, arrive in theaters dripping wet from the lab. Another big summer opening, "Mission: Impossible," has also delayed its preview screenings because of deadline post-production tinkering.

Q. I am a fan of 70 mm movies, and would like to see more of them in theaters. It's a shame that "Baraka" and the Tom Cruise movie "Far and Away," both from 1992, seem to have been the last shot in this great format, since they didn't evoke enough interest in Hollywood or the public. I wish I could see "Lawrence Of Arabia" in 70mm. I've had little success in asking theaters to bring it in, including the IMAX theater, which has the perfect-size screen for 70 mm. I have received short responses from Spielberg's and Lucas's secretaries, which is somewhat encouraging. (Scott Pickering, Vancouver, B.C.)

A. The prints for 70 mm movies offer four times more surface area for the light to shine through than traditional 35mm, and as a result the picture quality is much better. However, the prints are very expensive, and can only be shown in theaters equipped with costly and seldom-used 70 mm projectors. The current emphasis is on massive opening-day grosses, with movies booked onto 1,500 screens or more. Because of its smaller number of screens, a new movie in 70mm would (italics) seem to have low grosses (it wouldn't crack the top 10). Given the herd mentality of moviegoers and their obsession with box office "winners," it would be handicapped by its more limited launch.

Q. In my opinion "Fargo" is full of unnecessary scenes, such as the last one discussing the "duck stamp," the scene with the earthworms, the scene with the old classmate, the scene of the police chief calling an old friend, the scene of the two kidnappers having sex, and later watching the "Tonight Show," etc. (Mike Pollard, Ballwin, Mo.)

A. All scenes in all movies are unnecessary--unless they entertain or interest us. The notion that every single scene must advance the plot is responsible for many of the thin, untextured big-budget action pictures that are dulling the imagination of the mass movie audience. One of the many charms of "Fargo" was the way it allowed the three-dimensional humanity of the characters to coexist with the kidnapping plot.

Q. Guess I've been living in a cave, but just recently I realized that what we see on video is not necessarily what we saw in theatrical release. Can you enlighten me as to why movies would be arbitrarily edited for video release? I've noticed this in some films but wonder if it's done as a matter of course and I just haven't been paying attention? I should mention, I see most films on video rather than in the theater, unfortunately. (Kathy Nickerson, Meadow Vista, Ca.)

A. In general, the video release represents the theatrical version. In the case of Blockbuster Video, however, the company has a policy against NC-17-rated material, and so much marketing clout that studios will sometimes edit offending material out of a movie in order to quality for Blockbuster distribution. On the other side of the coin, studios sometimes release "unrated" versions of movies that include steamy scenes originally cut out to qualify for the R rating. A third variation is the "director's cut," a version including scenes the studio wanted deleted but that the director now wants you to see.

Q. After some searching, I found "The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea," with Kris Kristofferson and Sarah Miles, on video. A steamy movie, as you may recall, but when I watched it home, I found 95 percent of the erotic content deleted! There was nothing on the cover to indicate that the movie had been edited for video release. Is such a practice (sanitizing) common? (George Onstot, New Westminster, BC)

A. Yes, as explained above. And unfair.

Q. If you were not a movie critic by profession, how many times a week would you go to the movies, and how often would you rent movies on video? (John Palino Fremont, CA)

A. Before I became a movie critic, I went to the movies at least once or twice every week. Today, I think I'd watch movies much more often, because I've become interested in the careers of so many directors and actors, and because the invention of home video makes it easier to view almost any title. I would always prefer to attend movies in theaters, however, since light through celluloid onto a big screen is still by far the best way to exhibit a film.

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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