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Movie Answer Man (08/24/1997)

Q. I saw "Dumb and Dumber" with my older brother, and I've never laughed harder or more continuously in a movie before or since. He saw it with his wife on video and was embarrassed. I saw "Hot Shots" with my dad in an almost empty theater, and felt I'd wasted $5. My friends saw the same movie in a large group of peers and thought that it was hysterical. I watched "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" three times in one week and each time different lines got different laughs, and one night, hardly anyone laughed (the theater was equally filled each night). The same movie watched with my brother and sister-in-law evoked only a few forced chuckles. A lot of this depends on who you are with and how full the theater is (or how good the sound). For these reasons, I refuse to re-watch many films on video, such as "Schindler's List." Just for grins, you ought to let your readers know about the context of your experience. Sometimes I wonder, did you see it in a packed theater on opening night, or on a pre-release in a private studio? (Bart McNeely, Fort Worth, TX)

A. The chemistry of the viewing experience is a mystery that filmmakers would love to solve. Some of them, like Stanley Kubrick, go so far as to keep files on every individual theater where their films are playing. As for myself, I know that perfect viewing conditions--as at the Cannes Film Festival, for example--can only enhance an experience. But movies can create their own moods (that's what they're for) and I have seen movies under lousy conditions and still loved them. I think you're right that some movies just don't translate well to video, and need to be shared with an audience.

Q. I was troubled by your response to the reader who asked about the crud on the screen. You blamed the "lazy oaf projectionist." I have been a union projectionist for over 20 years and have even shown you a movie or two. Not all the problems on the screen are the fault of the projectionist. I operate theaters in Naperville and Aurora and am proud of the service I perform. Most new releases are printed on film stock that sheds small particles which, by static, cling to the print. There are products on the market to help reduce this condition. These items cost money--money the theater chains will not part with. If you complain about the print, they blame the projectionist and give you a pass for a later date. You return and dish out more dollars at the candy counter and watch the same or maybe worse-contaminated movie. This can go on forever. They love to give out passes. It's money in the bank. As for the Filthy Attic Projection Booth, theater chains have decided this is an ideal place to store everything from candy to marquee letters to cleaning supplies. I would like you to visit a 10-plex or 20-plex or soon a 30-plex and keep pace with what a projectionist must endure. (Al Cimino Jr., Lombard, IL).

A. My answer about projectionists also inspired impassioned responses from Alan R. Melzer of Crestwood, Susan Dethlefsen of Carol Stream, and Kent Dickinson of Hazel Crest, Ill. All argued that projectionists do the best they can, while trying to monitor many different screens at the same time under trying work conditions. I am sure this is true, and regret my crack about "lazy oafs." I was particularly amused by Cimino's observation that a free pass means another opportunity to sell more candy and popcorn.

Q. Rush Limbaugh said on the radio that "Air Force One," depicting the president as a hero, is a subtle plug for President Clinton. Limbaugh also said "Siskel & Ebert" would trip all over themselves to give top ratings to a movie depicting Braveheart Clinton. (Baxter Wolfe, Arlington Heights, IL)

A. Funny, but I gave "Air Force One" only two and a half stars, or thumbs down, and it never occurred to me that the Harrison Ford character was supposed to represent Bill Clinton. Limbaugh and Michael Medved have made a cottage industry out of attacking Hollywood liberalism, but even when Hollywood creates a conservative president (such as the Ford character in "AF1") they find a hidden pro-Clinton message. I agree that Hollywood movies tend toward the liberal agenda, because artistic and creative types in general tend to be liberal. Here are two questions for Limbaugh and Medved: (1) Why aren't conservatives more drawn to the arts? and (2) Why have Hollywood's conservatives avoided making political movies?

Q. The total muddle of the script of "Air Force One" was highlighted in a recent interview of one of the supporting actors (the one who threw himself into the bullet in the big fight scene). He described the bad guys as "right wing"--yet we heard the General marching out of prison to the strains of the "Internationale." (Jay Walker, Nashville, Tenn.)

A. What? Left-wing villains? Plus a conservative president? Don't tell Limbaugh and Medved.

Q. Is it just me, or have trailers of late all started to conform to a nifty little formula started by "Twister" last year? Remember that one? Clips of the most spectacular special effects and action sequences of the movie are shown with pounding music blearing over the soundtrack. Finally, credits are shown as the music jolts to silence. As the audience is catching its breath - BOOM! An additional shot of a falling tractor scares the life outta ya. The first time I saw it, I thought: pretty cool. But I have noticed it in DOZENS of trailers since! "Double Team," "Dante's Peak" and "Air Force One" (Harrison Ford hitting someone with a stool), have all used this structure. (Mike Spearns, St. John's, Newfoundland)

A. When a trailer finds a gimmick that works, it's instantly copied all over town--especially since many studios farm out their trailers to a handful of specialty ad shops. Another trick: trailers will recycle music from similar movies that were hits, in order to subtly associate themselves with it.

Q. The end credits for "Greedy" inform us that Michael J. Fox had three assistants. How much bottled water did this man require? (Greg Brown, Chicago, IL)

A. Nanci Ryder, Fox's publicist, replies: "Michael J. Fox had two assistants while working on the 1994 film "Greedy," one on the west coast, another on the east coast. They were employed by Michael. In addition, as with most films, the studio hired a personal assistant for Michael while filming." In other words, Fox required no more bottled water than the average movie star. He is not known in the industry for making unreasonable demands.

Q. I happened to read the screenplay for "My Best Friend's Wedding." The movie follows the script closely, except for a greatly expanded scene between Julia Roberts' character and a hotel bellboy. In that scene, the two smoke a cigarette and revel in the pleasure of it. The dialogue and filming are bold--the bellboy blows smoke in our face--and you could feel the surprise in the audience at the screening I attended. Marlboro's products are featured elsewhere in the film. Would you know if the company paid to have this scene added? (I realize the male lead tells Julia to "stop smoking this s---, it'll kill you," but that's just equivalent to the surgeon general's warning.) (Carl Marziali, Chicago)

A. A Columbia spokesperson says there was no product placement of any kind in "My Best Friend's Wedding."

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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