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Movie Answer Man (08/09/1998)

Q. I'm confused by crucial details of "Saving Private Ryan," and it's driving me nuts. There are four key German soldiers throughout the film, and I'm not sure if they're all the same guy (warning--spoilers ahead!): #1. The German prisoner blindfolded and released by Miller (Tom Hanks) at the bunker. #2. The German who stabs Mellish (Adam Goldberg). #3. The German who shoots Miller. #4. The German executed by Upham (Jeremy Davies). I think 1, 2, and 4 are the same guy, but is 3 also the same? (Michael Whalen, Lewisville, Tx)

A. I wasn't sure, either, and am grateful to Mary Jo Kaplan of the CompuServe ShowBiz Forum, who informs the Answer Man: "I called my contacts at DreamWorks publicity just now to see if we could get the bottom line about which German was which. This is what they told me (more spoilers ahead!):

1. The German who is released is referred to for convenience as "Steamboat Willie."

2. Steamboat Willie does NOT stab Mellish. That is a different German. I thought it was the same guy, but they flat-out said, "No, it is not."

3. But Steamboat Willie IS the German who shoots Miller.

4. And, yes, Steamboat Willie DOES call out to Upham, "Upham!" before Upham shoots him.

Q. I was driving past our local cinemultiplex and noticed on the marquee, "Gone With the Wind (G)" beneath "Madeline (PG)." How can GWTW get a G rating when it contains scenes of war, mutilated soldiers, the famous "street of death," and the death of a child, while "Madeleine" gets a PG? The reason quoted in your review of "Madeline" was that it got the PG for a single "damn." Certainly GWTW has the most famous "damn" in the history of cinema. (David M. Arnold, Brookfield, WI)

A. Joan Graves, co-chair of the Motion Picture Code and Ratings Administration, says "Gone With the Wind" was originally rated in 1971. Once a film is rated it keeps that rating--unless, on a re-release, the distributor chooses to re-submit it. For its current re-release, "GWTW" was not resubmitted. "Madeleine," of course, was given a PG this year. Ms. Graves said that if "GWTW" were to be submitted today, it would probably not get a "G" rating.

Q. I apologize for resurrecting The Question That Will Not Die less than 12 months after its last appearance in the Answer Man, but after an extended argument with a friend of mine I feel compelled to write. The QTWND involves the rumor that there is a dead body hanging in the background of a shot in "The Wizard of Oz." You claimed this is an urban legend. Unfortunately my friend seems convinced of a mass studio cover-up conspiracy. Can you could provide me with more ammunition? (Dominic Armato, Burbank, CA)

A. Ask your friend what the odds are that a dead body could remain unnoticed, dangling from a tree, in full view of several hundred people, while a full-blown musical number is filmed around it on an MGM sound stage. If they wanted to cover up the death--wouldn't cutting down the body before filming the scene be the first thing they'd do? I quoted "Wizard" expert David J. Bondelevitch in an earlier AM column: "The man in the background is a sound man (a boom operator, to be precise). He was not electrocuted, he was simply stupid and got in the shot when he shouldn't have." Advise your friend to cut way back on his viewing of "The X Files" and drop out of those Internet discussions about Area 51.

Q. The new movie "Mafia!" was originally titled "Jane Austen's Mafia!"? I like the original title better. Perhaps distant family of Jane Austen's threatened to sue, or a Jane Austen society was up in arms about this, or maybe there was some sort of mass Jane Austen fan backlash. I'm very curious about the change. (Jeff Braun, Seattle, WA)

A. Nope, no mass backlash from Jane Austin fans. Quite the contrary. According to the film's director, Jim Abrahams, the studio marketing team found that a majority of the target market did not know who Jane Austen was.

Q. The new version of "The Parent Trap" repeats the gimmick of having one actress (Lindsay Lohan) playing twins. Which is less expensive, hiring actual twins, or using technology to duplicate one person? (Willie Holmes, Chicago)

A. Regarding your first question: It would be cheaper to hire twins than to pay for the special effects technology, and indeed the Olsen twins starred in "It Takes Two" (1995), which was, like "The Parent Trap," about twins who play Cupid.

Q. Please tell Gordon (Buzz) Hannan of Chicago, who said we should not be able to see explosions in outer space films like "Armageddon," that what we see, including explosions, results from light (either direct or reflected) and this is unimpaired in a vacuum. If it was not, we could not see the sun, moon, stars, etc. He also said you couldn't see fireballs, because of the lack of oxygen. It is true explosions require oxygen to work, but rockets fire in outer space because their fuels include oxygen components; it is entirely feasible that explosives for use in space could do the same. You really should consult someone more knowledgeable before printing nonsense from home-grown "experts." I have never taken a course in physics, but science is not that hard. (Thomas P. Breen Jr., McHenry, IL)

A. I consulted Richard J. Gaylord, professor in the Dept. of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana, who replies:

"Thomas Breen is half right (and, therefore, half wrong). Light does travel in a vacuum, so anything producing light would be visible through space.

"However, explosions do not require oxygen. Explosions are simply the result of a chemical reaction, so even if the material combusting does not contain oxygen, a fireball could result, which would then be seen. There is no oxygen in the sun and we can see it 'burning.' By the way, science can, in fact, be quite hard when you do it right."

Q. Last week I went to see the advance screening of "Pi" at Piper's Alley. The movie started 25 minutes late, and then it was projected with a grossly distorted aspect ratio. The film looked as if it was stretched out horizontally. It seems like every movie I see has some problems with the screening. The lights don't go off, the projector shakes, the movie starts out of focus, the focus goes out of whack when the reels change. The breaking of the projectionist's union is having a detrimental effect on the quality of the movie experience. I'm curious -- how much money are the chains saving per screening? It can't be significant. A projectionist at a multiplex handles several screens simultaneously. We're entitled to a competent screening. I'm not a bleeding-heart liberal. I'm a selfish consumer looking out for Number One. (Alex Strasheim, Chicago)

A. Yours is one of many complaints I have received recently about incompetent projection. A friend had problems in two attempts to see "Saving Private Ryan" at the same prominent North Side theater--the first time because the projection simply stopped, the second time because it began an hour late. At another theater recently, the entire corps of Chicago movie critics waited two hours for a movie to begin. My advice: Demand a refund not only for your ticket, but also for your refreshments.

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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