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Movie Answer Man (07/04/1999)

Q. I recently saw the "digital" projection of "Star Wars -- Episode I: The Phantom Menace" (at the Burbank 14 theaters--the Texas Instruments version). While it's hard to gauge the full effects of a new technology on a film one has already seen, nonetheless I found the experience seriously lacking. To tell you the truth, I felt like I was watching a giant TV screen. My friend (who can't wait until DVD is the norm simply based on the fact that videotape loses its sharpness over time) loved it. Afterwards, when I expressed my displeasure about the new format, he basically said I had been "brainwashed" into not liking it by your comments. Honestly though, I think I would have had the same reaction regardless of what you said. There's simply something "different" about film and this digital stuff. (Jeff Taplin, United Talent, Los Angeles)

A. I support DVD, films shot on digital, and digital special effects, but I believe that digital projection in theaters is, at this point, a case of the emperor not having any clothes. The digital demo I saw at Cannes was just simply not as good as film. But here is another opinion:

Q. I went to all three theaters playing "The Phantom Menace" with digital in L.A. this weekend and was unimpressed with the Hughes/JVC equipment (which was at two of the three screens), but stunned and amazed by the near perfection of the Texas Instruments projector. It was, amazingly enough, better than film. I know you hate to read that, but it was. Not that I have closed my mind to your preferred system. I really would love to know more about it and hopefully, end up seeing it. (David Poland, TNT Rough Cut web site columnist, Los Angeles)

A. I have not yet seen "Phantom Menace" in digital, and I want to. But what you saw is not quite the same as what millions of moviegoers would see, any more than the crystal-clear film screenings in Westwood are the same as those in cheapo theaters that turn down the wattage to extend the life of their projector bulbs. You saw a custom-built installation with squads of TI acolytes hovering in the booth. As yet, no foolproof system for delivering a digital film to thousands of theaters exists, and one likely candidate - satellite - would involve compression and compromised picture quality.

Digital projection is also likely to create nightmares for moviegoers, since few theaters will want to replace their underpaid projectionists with an expensive, trained computer systems specialist. How would you like it if the movie went down as often as the computers at your bank? Meanwhile, the film-based MaxiVision48 is cheaper, uses existing film technology, and is more than twice as good as the best digital projection. The danger is that digital mania will seduce the movie industry into throwing out a century of experience in favor of a problematic system that is not even cheaper, once you factor in the $150,000-per-screen installation and the high costs of in-booth maintenance. That would be a tragedy.

Q. In "Entrapment," a main part of the plot is that the two main characters will gain 10 seconds off the clock by "stealing" a tenth of a second every minute for one hour. But wait--just add that up. Pull off your shoes if you have to. Okay now, do you see the problem? That adds up to SIX seconds! What rule of Movie Math am I overlooking? (Dave Walsh, Bloomington IL)

A. You're forgetting that nobody in a movie theater is willing to pull off their shoes. Have you ever taken a good look at the floor?

Q. This is in response to the person who felt short-changed because movie employees would come in during the ending credits banging trash cans and brooms. You have to understand that most large theaters carry more than one major movie at a time. So, while "The Phantom Menace" is getting out in one theater, "Big Daddy" is getting out five minutes later in another. In order to clean all the theaters in time sometimes they have to clean while the credits are still rolling. (Jacob Galvez, Phoenix, AZ)

A. Try this Movie Math: If they let the credits roll, the movies would still end at the same times, relative to one another. So early banging solves nothing.

Q. In your review of "The General's Daughter" you mentioned that the seediness of the movie was hard to take. I want to give you my view, which is that this was an anti-rape film, and the violence, sexual seediness and promiscuity was the whole point of the story. My husband had a similar view to yours; he didn't think it was "necessary" to show the rape--it could have been implied. He thought it was horrible to watch. But did anyone say Spielberg should have just "implied" the violence in ""Saving Private Ryan?" NO! That's what made it a great anti-war film. I thought "The General's Daughter" was a powerful, beautifully-done film that really depicted the horror of rape, and what it does to the victim psychologically. (Judy Carr, Tucson Az.)

A. "Saving Private Ryan" was, in my opinion, a pro-war film, about a war that most people feel it was necessary for us to fight. Movies generally tend to argue in favor of what they show, no matter what they say about it. Of course "The General's Daughter" was against rape, but by lingering in the scenes in which the victim is staked to the ground, strangled, etc., it assured that those are the images which linger in the mind.

Q. Like some of the people who recently differed with you, I originally believed the "Star Wars" saga was set in the past ("A long time ago..."). But now I'm certain it's set in the future, for one reason: Jar Jar Binks uses the phrase "Exsqueeze me?"--a phrase coined in 1992 by Mike Myers in "Wayne's World." Watch for "I'm not worthy" when Jar Jar appears in Episode Two. Not! (Ryan Hopak, Hollywood, CA)

A. Even more proof "Star Wars" is set in the future: Don't they use the word "hello?" It wasn't coined until the invention of the telephone.

Q. You made it clear that you didn't think "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" was very good, but I saw a commercial for the movie recently where they were rattling off positive quotes, and I was shocked to see that you were quoted as saying "Big laughs!" I assume that you did say this, but it was clearly taken out of context. Don't you think that it is a little unethical? (Chad M. Roberts, Seattle, WA)

A. A little, but I did say it, and so they're playing by the rules. And hey, "Austin Powers" does have some monster laughs. (Let's see how long that takes to get into print!)

Q. While I was picking out a video last night, two guys came in with a case of beer each (no Canadian jokes please). They were looking through the Action section. For some reason, "Dead Man Walking" was filed under Action. GUY1: What about this one? GUY2: Nope. Saw it. There's nothing but acting in it. (Mike Spearns, St. John's, Newfoundland)

A. If you see Guy2 again, tell him I thought his criticism was perceptive and accurate.

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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