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Movie Answer Man (07/21/1996)

Q. Why is "Independence Day" such a hit? Is it just a result of media hype (covers of Time and Newsweek, etc.)? Although I contributed to the opening weekend receipts, I wasn't all that impressed. The effects weren't that impressive and the story was predictable, although I did like Jeff Goldbloom and Will Smith. As far as alien action movies, this one doesn't touch my fave, "Aliens." (Laurie Sullivan, San Francisco)

A. It was the right movie at the right time. It grabbed the coveted Fourth of July weekend and scared away the competition; millions of Americans with time on their hands were convinced by a brilliant advertising and marketing campaign that this was an event. So they went. Many of the members of an audience that huge are infrequent moviegoers, and so perhaps did not realize how unoriginal the story was.

Q. In your review of "Independence Day," questioning the digital read-out on Jeff Goldblum's computer, you asked, "Why are the aliens using hours and minutes? Does their home planet have exactly the same length of day and year as ours?" It was my understanding that Goldblum recognized the signal and CALCULATED the time in hours and minutes. (George Burkhart, Honolulu, Hawaii)

A. You are right. I am wrong. I am still a little dubious, however, about another detail: We're told the aliens needed to use the earth's satellite system because the Moon blocked their transmissions. Huh?

Q. This may sound paranoid, but I believe the makers of "Independence Day" have been paying people to post anonymous messages on America Online that shill for the movie. After reading the message boards over there, I've become convinced that there are three or four people who just don't sound like "civilian" moviegoers but rather more like people working for the studio. I was simply wondering whether this is a practice among the studios these days. I suppose they have the right, but it would bug me a little to realize some messages are fake. (Robert Mason, Cleveland, Ohio)

A. Here's a movie that is grossing hundreds of millions, and the studio is sneaking online to propagandize maybe a couple hundred AOL members? I don't buy it. It may be a studio employee doing it on his own time, but it's very unlikely to be an actual 20th Century-Fox marketing tactic.

Q. Did you happen to read the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly? Mel Brooks said: "There's a great quote: 'Critics are like eunuchs at an orgy--they just don't get it.' I ran into Roger Ebert. He didn't like 'Dracula.' He made no bones about it--thumbs, pinkies, every digit that he had. And I said to him: 'Listen, you, I made 21 movies. I'm very talented. I'll live in history. I have a body of work. You only have a body'." (Michael Hatch North Kingstown, RI)

A. I was saddened by my encounter with Mel, because I have been a supporter of his work (when it deserved it) since "The Producers," in 1967. I was one of the few critics who liked "Life Stinks." I was surprised he didn't realize himself that "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" just didn't work. Yes, Brooks has put together a body of work and yes, a lot of it has made me laugh, but I would not be doing him a favor if I did not tell the truth. (The correct version of that quote, by the way, is by Brendan Behan, who said, "A critic at a performance is like a eunuch in a harem: He sees it performed nightly, but cannot do it himself.")

Q. Is it Hollywood's "in" thing to show men urinating? I don't watch the other guy in the men's room, so why do I want to spectate as Will Smith relieves himself? (Or the guy in "Waterworld," although that rude scene at least had a point.) It's even more sophomoric when the guy converses with himself and refers to his activity. Does he do this when he ties his shoes or shaves? Why don't they have scenes of ladies on the pot in these movies? Doesn't this enhance the feminine mystique? I didn't think so. (Jim Carey, New Lenox, Ill.)

A. I am adding your observation to Ebert's Little Movie Glossary under the heading, "Tinkle, tinkle, little star." It may be related to an existing Glossary entry pointing out that in movies about large corporations, most of the conspiratorial conversations take place in the men's room.

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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