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Movie Answer Man (05/28/1995)

Q. Do you think that because you've reviewed so many movies, your opinions may not reflect that of the public? If you say the storyline has been overused, does it mean it isn't a good movie to other people who haven't seen as many movies as you? Others may think it's an original storyline and enjoy the movie. Is it possible to be an objective movie critic? (Andy Chin, San Diego)

A. I have no interest in being objective or in reflecting the public's opinion. A critic should not be a ventriloquist's dummy, sitting on the knee of the public and letting it put words into his mouth. The only critics of any use or worth are those who express their OWN opinions, which the readers are then free to use or ignore. Anyone who believes a critic must reflect the views of the public has not thought much about the purpose of criticism.

Q. I saw a documentary about David Lean in which he talked about an incident in which Pauline Kael said some mean-spirited things about his then current film "Ryan's Daughter." Lean said that all of the negative reaction, culminating with Kael's remarks, led him to abandon directing for more than a decade. First, do you know anything more about the whole event? Perhaps it is unfair to blame Kael for losing a decade's worth of David Lean films, but I wonder, what purpose does this sort of attack criticism serve? (Michael Levy)

A. I have not heard about the incident you describe, although it is certainly true that "Ryan's Daughter" deserved negative criticism. If David Lean allowed Pauline Kael influence him so much that he quit making films for 10 years, then he was a fool. I can't imagine anyone with the temperament of a film director having such a fragile ego. But the "lost decade" is not Kael's fault. Actually, Lean lost many years in the 1980s preparing an ill-fated version of "Mutiny on the Bounty," with producer Dino De Laurentiis pulling the plug shortly before filming was set to begin.

Q. Kevin Costner is spending $200 million on "Waterworld," and Mel Gibson is spending another fortune on "Braveheart." Shouldn't moviegoers be protesting these gargantuan budgets? (C. H. Smith, Chicago)

A. Why, are they billing it all to your credit cards? I've never been able to understand public indignation over big budgets. Hey, as long as they're not charging you $60 to see these films, how can you lose? The more they spend on a movie that still costs you the same ticket price, the better--right?

Q. What's the latest on DVD--Digital Video Discs? Will they be appearing in the home video market anytime soon? (Susan Lake, Urbana, Ill.)

A. DVD discs and players will probably be making their entrance in consumer channels within the year, according to my high-tech guru, Fred Thomas of Mills Custom Audio-Video in Buffalo Grove, Ill. The new video discs will be the same size as audio CDs and computer CD-ROMs. The home video industry hopes they will replace VHS videotapes, and help move the industry from a rental to a sales basis; if movies on DVD are priced about the same as CDs, around $11 to $15, they figure, consumers will buy them instead of renting. They hope the rental market will immigrate to video-on-demand services delivered by cable and satellite. (Blockbuster and other major rental chains are betting the store that it won't.)

Q. Why, do you think, a lot of comedies start off funny and end off serious? Why aren't they consistent and start funny and end funny? Of course there are some comedies that aren't funny throughout. (Bill Millard, Colorado Springs, Colo.)

A. You can hardly even call those last ones comedies.

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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