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Movie Answer Man (06/29/1997)

Q. Why is it that the bald, overweight or physically unattractive actors are always the first to die in horror or disaster films? Does this not reflect a subtle prejudice against those who don't look like Brad Pitt and Cindy Crawford? I knew as soon as I saw that bald guy that he would die, just as the overweight Newman from Seinfeld was doomed in the first Jurassic Film. (John Dempsey, WBEZ, Chicago)

A. The First law of Movie Economics states that the more you pay an actor, the longer he is in the picture. Stars get paid more that supporting players. Stars are usually more handsome than supporting players. Thus, what at first appears to be bias based on appearance is actually, you see, only good cost control.

Q. I read your review of "Speed 2: Cruise Control" and last night heard you discussing it on Letterman. You were bothered by the use of the word "now" as a computer command in response to the question "Time to initiate?" The word "now" has been used as an answer to "when?" since the 1970's, on UNIX systems in particular. I appreciate the fact that you are computer-literate, but unfortunately, on this occasion, you "missed the boat." (Abe Shliferstein, Bridgewater, NJ.)

A. Now.

Q. The advertisement for "Temptress Moon" boasts: "A Seductive New Film So Provocative It Was Banned In Its Own Country." Considering that its own country is China, that's not such a big deal. I wouldn't be surprised if "Herbie Goes Bananas" got banned in China. (Rhys Southan, Richardson, Texas)

A. Ban a Disney picture? Who would ever do a thing like that?

Q. In your "Great Movies" re-review of "2001," you wrote: "I learn from a review by Mark R. Leeper that this was the first film to pan the camera across a star field: 'Space scenes had always been done with a fixed camera, and for a very good reason. It was more economical not to create a background of stars large enough to pan through'." The opening of 'Star Wars' is dramatic, but it is hardly the first film to pan across a star field. "2001: A Space Odyssey" used this technique extensively--most noticeably during the final scene, where the film cuts from a close-up of the monolith to a shot of a planet, then pans down (across a large star field) to the star child. (Steve Ankrom, Findlay, Ohio)

A. Mark Leeper's review appeared in the Internet., Contacting him, I learned he lives in Old Bridge, N.J., and he and his wife have run the Bell Labs' science fiction club for almost 20 years. He replies to Ankrom: "I suppose you are mostly correct, probably because my language was a little more loose than it should have been. What I was reacting to in 'Star Wars' was the fast (even dizzying) pan through what looks like 90 degrees or more of nothing but sky. In '2001: A Space Odyssey,' the camera does indeed pan. But it is a very limited pan. The camera always either follows an object or pans between objects which are close to the camera and in angle close to each other. The background has enough sky to support the camera movement. The background sky is never really the center of attention of the shot. I would guess that the camera does not pan an angle of starscape of more than ten or twenty degrees--a fairly small star field. They could have set up the scene with the camera panning considerably more and I would guess did not because the camera motions were slow and dreamlike and the viewer would end up gazing into empty space for a long time. Also prior to digital technology that much starscape would have been expensive to build."

Q. What's the latest scuttlebutt on Demi Moore? Even though "GI Jane" has been rescheduled and she's had a couple of bad films in the past few years, do you feel she is "box-office poison" as has been reported in the trades? (Bruce Maiman, Monterey, CA)

A. Not a chance. She's been in a few bad movies recently, but remember that actors take a big chance every time they sign onto a project. When an actor is good, it must have been something they did, but when they're bad, it could be direction, script, editing, or a lot of other things. The same industry wizards who are writing off Moore also dissed Julia Roberts on the basis of a couple of box office flops, and now that "My Best Friend's Wedding" had a mighty opening, suddenly they're trying to sign her.

Q. Have you seen the Criterion laserdisk of "Breaking the Waves"? It includes four deleted scenes--three of which are dreadful. In one of the scenes (which takes place after Bess' sister-in-law calls her stupid) we learn that Bess can't read. In another that takes place after her husband tells her to have sex with other men to keep him alive, the husband tells his best friend (the guy with the weird sideburns) that he only told Bess to do this to drive her away. The strange part about the scene is that his buddy stays in character throughout, smiling and laughing inappropriately. The worst scene of all takes place after Bess escapes police custody. She confronts the doctor, asking him not to send her away because she must keep her husband alive. At the end of the scene, she pulls a gun on the doctor. Von Trier showed good judgment keeping these scenes out of the movie. He preserved the film's mystery and in the case of the gun scene, saved himself from a bad plot device. But why did he ever let these clips see the light of day? By deconstructing a film that worked (for me at least) on an allegorical level, he has taken something away. I don't know if I'll ever be able to watch the film again without having these terrible scenes in my mind. (Daniel M. Conley, Chicago)

A. My guess is that the additional scenes are included in the "supplementary materials" section of the laserdisc simply so that buyers can feel they are getting a bonus. They do not make the disc into a "director's cut" because Lars von Trier of course exercised his final cut in the film as it was seen in theaters. To see wrongly-removed scenes is one thing. To see outtakes of scenes that were unwise or unsuccessful is something else altogether.

Q. In "Star Wars," when Ben Kenobi dies, he fades away. In "Return of the Jedi," when Yoda dies, he also fades away. But when Darth Vader dies in "Return of the Jedi," he doesn't fade away. Am I to presume that only the good Jedis fade away? (Jon Pietrowski, Genoa, OH)

A. The Answer Man's "Star Wars" guru is Andy Ihnatko of Westwood, MA., who replies: "Well, Anakin Skywalker, by virtue of the fact that he personally killed the leading force of evil in the galaxy, definitely built up oodles of Good Karma points with that one act and died A Good Jedi. But realize that his uniform was a fully ambulatory life-support system, and so it can be expected that the machinery kept him alive past the point of consciousness, long enough that Anakin could die discreetly--and cheaply--off-camera."

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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