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Movie Answer Man (07/29/2001)

Q. It is nice to see the networks HBO and NBC present their flagship shows "The Sopranos" and "E.R." in letterbox format, but why won't they present films in their original aspect ratio? It seems that 99% of the classic films shown on the Turner Classic Movies channel are presented in widescreen format and I suspect that audience response has been good (or the "all movies in their Original Aspect Ratio" policy would have ceased long ago). Why won't other networks follow suit and allow viewers to see films the way they were meant to be seen? If it's good enough for their #1 shows, it is good enough for the films that they broadcast as well! (Michael Riesenbeck, Cincinnati OH)

A. They just don't care, and they think you're too stupid to notice. I got a chilling insight recently into the thinking at HBO. The network is one of the sponsors of the Grant Park Film Festival, the popular summer series of free outdoor screenings here in Chicago. I went to introduce "An American in Paris" and found that although the movie was shot in the 1-to-1.33 ratio (as were all films before 1954), it was being projected in a widescreen radio that had the effect of masking 20 percent of the image, and cutting off Gene Kelly's dancing feet. This was not merely a mistake--it was HBO policy! An HBO exec in New York, I was told, ordered the films to be shown in widescreen, "so people won't think we're showing television." This is one more pathetic example of the dumbing of America--to show the films in the wrong aspect ratio to placate the stupid, instead of in the right aspect ratio to reward the knowledgeable. I am happy to say that my complaints bore fruit, and the series will now show all films in their proper ratio. Wish I could say the same for HBO itself.

Q. A recent story claims that a fourth "Indiana Jones" movie is in jeopardy because of Harrison Ford's age. Why is everybody so determined to have Ford play the role? Sean Connery retired his license to kill years ago, but even after 40 years, the James Bond series is still going strong. Why? Quality of scripts and productions not withstanding, it's the ROLE that keeps a series going, not the actor. You didn't go see "Harrison Ford and the Temple of Doom." Let another actor take over the fedora of Dr. Jones. After all, counting the TV series, four actors have played the role already. My suggestion: George Clooney. He's got the right build, looks, charm and sense of humor to handle the role brilliantly! Remember, "Batman and Robin" wasn't his fault. (Christopher M. Terry, Atlanta GA)

A. One problem may be that Harrison Ford, at 59, is understandably reluctant to agree he is too old to play Indy again. Sean Connery retired from Bond in 1971 ("Diamonds Are Forever"), at the age of 41, simply because he was tired of playing the character. He then gave it one more try in 1983 ("Never Say Never Again"), at 53. Could he still play Bond today? Sure--brought out of retirement for one more crucial case. And Ford could still play Indy. It might require a certain suspension of disbelief, but then suspending disbelief is a specialty of fans of both the Bond and Indiana Jones movies.

Q. I was told that they're working on special subtitles that could be seen through the use of special glasses so deaf people could enjoy watching movies at a theater without distracting the hearing viewers. Is this logical in terms of cost, technology, and the cooperation of studios and theaters? Will it ever become a reality? (Lindsay Drexler, Chicago)

A. I asked for help from Marca Bristo, president of Access Living in Chicago and chair of the National Council on Disability. She says you are referring to the Rear Window Captioning System, and steered me to the web site of the National Center for Accessible Media, which explains that the system "displays reversed captions on a light-emitting diode (LED) text display which is mounted in the rear of a theater. Patrons use transparent acrylic panels attached to their seats to reflect the captions so that they appear superimposed on or beneath the movie screen. The reflective panels are portable and adjustable, enabling the caption user to sit anywhere in the theater." For more info, go to

Q. The Internet Movie Database has User Comments on every movie, and the first one is excerpted on the Details page for the movie. Is this another place where the studios have slimed their way to the top? You recently listed the Top Ten Rotten Movies from titles with universal disapproval from all critics. Yet the first IMDb comments on each of these movies are nearly all fawning, and are mostly written by users who have contributed no other comments to IMDb. Are these plants by studio publicists? For example, "Down to You" is "The Best Teenage Romance Film I've Seen in Years." And check out the praise for "Battlefield Earth," "Jawbreaker," "3 Strikes," "Lost Souls." "Chill Factor' ("a great crowd pleasing movie...the audience seemed to love it from beginning to end"), "The Mod Squad" ("I thought it was one of the best movies I have ever seen"), "Bless the Child," etc. Is there a new David Manning scandal brewing? (Glenn Worthman, Mountain View CA)

A. I turned for an answer to Col Needham, founder and managing director of this most useful of all web movie sites. He responds: "We do not knowingly accept comments by studio publicists, though it is, of course, possible for such people to register from their private e-mail addresses and pose as ordinary users. We do try to address the problem by only allowing comments to be posted once a film has actually been released. This means that if there are any planted submissions, they will be drowned out by genuine comments from real IMDb users. Additionally, new policies have recently been implemented to ensure that the comment selected for the main page is representative of the general opinion expressed on the film by the users of our site, be that positive or negative. People are welcome to let us know at of cases where the selected comment is out of balance with the prevailing opinion and we'll review the title and select a different comment, if appropriate. We'll look into Glenn's list; we had already changed one of the comments he noted via the normal review process."

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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