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Movie Answer Man (07/12/1998)

Q. While I can't fault you for overlooking a minor detail in a film as ridiculous as "Armageddon," the movie does answer your question about how the drillers were able to walk around normally despite the asteroid's puny gravity. It was because they had little booster packs on their backs to push them down, simulating gravity. However, every time one of our brave explorers bent over at the waist, those boosters SHOULD have sent them scooting backwards across the asteroid's surface at nearly the same rate as a freefall on Earth. I'm betting that either (a) the writers failed physics miserably, or (b) they were betting that the bulk of the American populace failed physics miserably. (Dominic Armato, Burbank, CA.)

A. And when they were down in the holes they dug for the bombs, did they have to turn their boosters off in order to get up to the surface again?

Q. About those explosions in outer space in "Armageddon"--space is a vacuum, so of course you couldn't see explosions, and there wouldn't be fireballs, because--no oxygen! What gives? (Gordon "Buzz" Hannan, Chicago)

A. Plus, in space, no one can hear you scream, unless you happen to be watching this movie.

Q. The cartoon animators at Termite Terrace always put some reference to something or other (politics, films, etc.) in their Merrie Melodies and/or Looney Tunes for yucks. One has always made me curious. Yosemite Sam is chasing Bugs, comes to a closed door that is locked, bangs, knocks, yells to be let in and then calmly looks at the camera and says, "Notice I didn't say Richard." What was (italics) that in reference to? (Frank Mendez, Dallas, Tx.)

A. I presented this seemingly unanswerable question to Leonard Maltin, an expert on animation and author of Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons He told me: "That was a topical reference to a popular song called 'Open the Door, Richard,' the lyrics of which consisted of a guy haranguing his friend to open his locked door and let him in. The scene occurs in 'High Diving Hare,' I believe."

Q. Your review of "Mulan" is predictably incomplete. "The message here is standard feminist empowerment," you say. No. The message here also is empowerment for transgendered persons such as myself. This is far from a standard message for any movie, much less for an animated film with a hopefully large children's audienmce. Society has put so many restrictions on transgendered people's chances to simply be themselves. But just as I didn't want to play sports as a boy but would rather play house or dolls, just as I found myself enjoying wearing the clothes of women, Mulan finds herself not wanting to follow the so-called "rules" of her assigned gender. The message from "Pinocchio" of "let your conscience be your guide" is the true message of "Mulan." When they need to, even her fellow soldiers abandon convention and dress up like women (and seem a little freer and happier for it). It's a beautiful moral to the story, one that transgendered children especially need to hear so they don't go through years of self-hatred: It's okay to be one's self. (Jennifer Wendy Michael Gilbert, also known as Dave, Chicago)

A. Sorry I had to edit your longer letter for space; I hope I got the essence. I am not convinced that Mulan does in fact believe she is a boy who has been mistakenly born inside a girl's body; I believe she is a girl who pretends to be a boy simply in order to take her father's place in the Army. She is not, however, happy with the roles assigned to women in her society, which is why she flees the matchmaker and an arranged marriage. That's why I think the message is essentially feminist.

Q. Last week I was at Universal Studios and saw that construction had started on what looked to me like sets for the upcoming remake of "Psycho." The tour guide didn't mention it, so after the tour I asked her to confirm my suspicion. After a bit of beating around the bush, she said that the construction was for "Psycho," but that she wasn't supposed to say anything about it. Why do production companies sometimes try to hide what they are working on? I've run into similar situations at Universal before--notably the most recent Batman installment. During its filming a tour guide told me he had "no idea" what movie the street with all the fake ice and signs that read "Gotham City" had been prepared for. (Dominick Cancilla, Santa Monica, CA)

A. In some cases, the productions have not yet been officially announced. In others, they're trying to confuse tourists with cameras, who might take shots of sets that the studio doesn't want to be publicly revealed. It would spoil the illusion, for example, to see an icy Batman street with palm trees in the background.

Q. Geez, is it true that Rhino Films is planning a remake of "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls"? How can such a film possibly be improved upon? Aside from remuneration, I'd assume you're not enthralled by the prospect? (Kevin Driscoll, Scotts Valley, CA)

A. I've heard the same report. Rhino has not contacted Russ Meyer, who directed it, or the screenwriter (me). Some films can be remade and others cannot. "Whatever you may think of it, "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" is one of a kind. What makes it special is not just the story but the style, the period, the actors, the direction, the whole feel of the film.

Q. I had to bite my tongue from laughing when Sam Neill's character showed up near the end of "The Horse Whisperer." I kept thinking he had fulfilled his dying plea from "The Hunt for Red October." After being shot, Sam Neill's dying words in "Hunt" were (in a thick Russian accent): "I would like to have seen Montana." (David J. Bondelevitch, Studio City, CA)

A. An autographed copy of Roger Ebert's Video Companion to you, and to the reader who sends the funniest similar example of a character's wish in one movie being fulfilled in another. Send to: Wish Fulfillment, Box 146829, Chicago, IL 60614.

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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