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Movie Answer Man (07/13/1997)

Q. I am fascinated by the legal issues that might come into play involving the marketing of "Hercules," in which many of the ads, whether in print or on TV, depict the character "Hades" giving "two thumbs up." I imagine that Disney folks hoped, and perhaps not unreasonably expected, that "Hercules" would receive the coveted "two thumbs up" rating, and scripted the movie to include a clever self-referential line to take advantage of the fact. But, failing that, they apparently decided there was nothing wrong with giving (italics) themselves two thumbs up--simply by using a clip from the movie. The problem is, that while the phrase "thumbs up" is obviously in the public domain, the phrase "two thumbs up" insofar as it applies to movies was--correct me if I'm wrong--created by you and Mr. Siskel. I note, with interest, that today's New York Times ad for "Hercules" contains a picture of "Hades" making the "two thumbs up" gesture, sandwiched in among the "other" movie reviews. I also note that your own positive review of the film is conspicuous by its absence--since that would alert readers to the fact that Mr. Siskel did NOT give it a favorable review. What's next? Perhaps a film could have a character exclaim "Janet Maslin loves us," and then air the clip over and over, regardless of what Ms. Maslin thought of the film. (Scott Morgan, Houston, Texas)

A. "Two thumbs up" as it applies to movies is a trademark registered by Siskel and myself. We try to keep it from being misused. When "Hades" says "two thumbs up!" in the movie that of course is fair comment and part of the fun. But when we saw the TV ads, we made our opinion known to a studio executive, who agreed that it was a misrepresentation and said the offending ads would be pulled. Then the print ads appeared (not just in the New York Times but in the Sun-Times and many other newspapers). The thumbs-up Hades artwork was obviously intended to be misinterpreted as a favorable review. Once again, we called the studio, and once again we were told the ads would be pulled. How do I feel? That the ads were misleading and unfair. How does Gene feel? "Make it two thumbs down."

Q. I'm trivia editor for the Internet Movie Database. I just read your recent "Answer Man" bit on the shot of the fleeing Japanese businessmen in "Lost World: Jurassic Park." I thought you'd find this interesting: When fleeing the T-Rex in San Diego, what one of the Japanese businessmen says in Japanese is, "I came to America to get away from all this," a reference to "Gojira" (1954) and other "Godzilla" films. (Murray Chapman, Brisbane, Australia)

A. Although I got a few letters (none from Japanese-Americans) complaining that the shot was offensive, I disagree. It was obviously done in fun, as good-hearted humor, and will no doubt be enjoyed as such in Japan. I hope political correctness hasn't gotten to the point where no group can be represented at all without stirring up a protest. See the next letter.

Q. The AP reported that the National Federation of the Blind has protested Disney's plans to make a new movie about the nearsighted Mr. Magoo. What do you say? (Susan Lake, Urbana, IL)

A. What I say is, this is a silly, knee-jerk, decision by a bunch of well-meaning people who got caught up in a fervor of passing resolutions. Let them decide after the movie comes out if it's offensive, and protest it then, if they dislike it. Mr. Magoo is described in their resolution as "an ill-tempered and incompetent blind man who stumbles into things and misunderstand his surroundings." That only partly describes Magoo, who is also brave, resolute, creative and adaptable, loves his nephew, and is always revealed as a good guy at the end. (He is not blind, by the way, but nearsighted, which indicates how carefully the delegates have studied the films.) The AP story goes on to say some of the delegates were hurt as children by being called "Magoo." Lucky is the child who has never been hurt by being called a name--many of them much worse than "Magoo." Movies like "Mr. Magoo" help to defuse the tension, caused by ignorance, that develops when we are too inhibited to deal openly and frankly with aspects of the human condition.

Q. When watching a movie, how do you decide the best time to go to the bathroom, when you really have to go? My answer is this: I go during a scene when you can tell at the start how it is going to end. For instance, if a cop's boss says "I want you to go undercover one more time to try and catch this guy," and the cop says "no, no, I told you, no more undercover work," well--that's a good time to go, because you know he will eventually agree to go undercover. And you will be back from the bathroom in time to see that happen. (John Dempsey, Chicago)

A. Sometimes I can tell at the start how a movie is going to end, and am tempted to spend the entire movie in the bathroom. What I don't understand is how the average moviegoer sits through a two hour film (italics) without going to the bathroom, since the large size of pop served in movie theaters contains about three times as much liquid as the human bladder can physically contain.

Q. I read in Liz Smith that they're planning a remake of "Casablanca," and the writer (Michael Walsh) wants Sean Penn in the Bogart role, Julia Roberts as Ilsa, and Ralph Fiennes as the brave resistance leader. To me, remaking "Casablanca" falls between sacrilege and stupidity. To you? (Emerson Thorne, Chicago).

A. "Casablanca" cannot be remade, any more than the "Mona Lisa" can be repainted. It is as near to perfect as a movie can possibly be. Lesser films can be remade. Great films can only be ripped off. "Havana" (1990), with Robert Redford and Lena Olin, was a recycling of the same underlying story, which only served to illustrate that the material is uniquely linked to the original stars. Sean Penn is one of the best of living actors, but I am sure he would be the first to agree that Bogart, he ain't. And if, for the sake of argument, you were casting the Ilsa role, how could you possibly consider Julia Roberts when Isabella Rossellini, Bergman's daughter is available--and has the right look, the right accent, and is the right age? If Nevada can pass a law against chewing off ears, why can't California pass a law against remaking "Casablanca?"

Q. Re your Answer Man item about how the command "now" can be correctly interpreted by many operating systems: The part of "Speed 2" my husband and I found much less believable than the "now" command was when the computer advised him that the program had been altered and he typed in "Adjust course to compensate." (Sue Rideout, Orlando, FL)

A. I also thought it was dubious when he typed in, "Create screenplay for 'Speed 3,' writing me out."

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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