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Movie Answer Man (08/20/1995)

Q. Any idea why there isn't more media coverage of the tobacco industry's practice of paying to have stars -- particularly those appealing to teen-agers and preteen-agers as "adult role models" -- smoke onscreen? Seems to me this topic has been treated in a "hands off" fashion when it comes to reviews and coverage, as nobody wants to let out the dirty little secret of how all that money is moving around in the movie industry. From what I've heard among friends in the business, however, this is the most effective strategy the tobacco industry has undertaken in decades, and is largely responsible for the recent explosion in teen smoking. Your thoughts? -- Thom Hartmann, Marietta, Ga.

A. Product placement is commonplace in movies, and Sylvester Stallone has recently denied reports that he accepted $500,000 to smoke Brown & Williamson products in his movies. However, has the practice of smoking ITSELF been included in movies after payments by the tobacco industry? Such a practice, while not illegal, would certainly reflect badly on any studios or stars who took the money.

Q. Disney has recently said they will release a letterboxed version of "Pulp Fiction," due to consumer demand. I work part-time at Blockbuster Video and am trying to convince the store to purchase a few copies. I am sure that there are many others who, like me, would much rather see the 2.35:1 width rather than the square television image. We have received a panned-and-scanned demo copy of "PF," and it is revolting. My problem is that the averagevideo consumer is so ignorant of the filmmaking process that he has no idea that there is any difference between the two versions. When I try to explain about aspect ratios etc., the customers have either refused to listen or angrily told me that they will not pay for "half a picture!" My reply was, "You already are." My question is: What is a good, concise way to explain the concept of letterboxing to the average Blockbuster customer? -- Yancey Martin, Huntsville, Ala.

A. In the case of "Pulp Fiction," which has such fanatic fans, I'm surprised your store wouldn't leap to stock the letterboxed version, since no one who loves the movie could possibly view the cropped version without anguish. Just ask customers this question: "Would you rather see the whole movie, or this version we have that is missing one-third of the movie?" When they say "the whole movie," explain that movie screens are not the same shape as TV screens (this will come as news to some people), and that letterboxing is the only way the entire picture area can be seen on a TV screen. If a little social pressure seems called for, quietly add, "People who don't demand letterboxing are revealing that they don't know or care much about movies."

Q. I read that Paramount is re-releasing the movie "Braveheart" on Sept. 15 for a limited time in about 1,000 theaters nationwide. Is this a new precedent for a motion picture which had its premiere just 2 1/2 months ago? I personally bombarded Paramount with fax after fax telling them that they severely "mismarketed" this brilliant motion picture ... I guess they finally got my message. What was their mistake? They neglected to promote the film to women. At ALL of the showings of "Braveheart" that I've attended (and there have been many), it has been WOMEN who have been profoundly affected by its message. Overseas, where the movie was distributed by Fox, it was marketed as a "romance." I expect some profound marketing changes with "Braveheart's" re-release by Paramount. -- Sue Ritchie, Phoenix

A. In my opinion, "Braveheart" rather surprised Paramount, and many others in the movie business, by being as good as it was. They expected a swashbuckler, and got a sensational action and romance picture, directed by Mel Gibson with real style and vision. Although the movie is already a success, the September re-release is intended to "reintroduce" it as part of a campaign to position it for Academy Award nominations. The ads will portray it as a classier, "Lawrence of Arabia"-type epic, rather than just an adventure.

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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