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Movie Answer Man (09/07/1997)

Q. In your review for "The Conspiracy Theory," you go into a long speculation about how the script was probably great to begin with, but got screwed up as they catered to the audiences. Another production injustice has taken place with the script of the new "Superman." A script was written by the great writer-director Kevin Smith, who knows all there is to know about comic books. Supposedly the script was much darker, and based on the Death of Superman comic book series. Unfortunately, the studio turned down this script, because they felt it wasn't "audience friendly" enough. I feel that this is a travesty. When are the studios going to realize that most good films don't have to cater to the lame-brained tastes of the public? (Mark Van Hook, New Providence, NJ)

A. Without having read Kevin Smith's script, I cannot of course assume anything about it. But Smith (whose films include "Clerks" and a wonderful recent film about two comic book artists, "Chasing Amy") is one of the most talented writers in the movies today. Hollywood seems to have few top executives who understand comic books at all--especially the big emerging audience for new styles of graphic novels. You can see that in the overall failure of the "Batman" series. If they make "Superman" in the image of the comic books of 30 years ago, they risk alienating its potential audience today.

Q. I'm a 12-year-old movie lover. Sometimes I go to the Internet Movie DataBase ( and look at movie stuff. One day I found a list of the top 250 movies of all time, as voted by DataBase visitors. Here are the top ten movies on the list: 10. "Kolya;" 9. "Shine;" 8. "Casablanca;" 7. "Beautiful Thing;" 6. "Sling Blade;" 5. "The Wrong Trousers;" 4. "The Usual Suspects;" 3. "A Close Shave;" 2. "The Shawshank Redemption;" 1. "Star Wars." What do you think? (Adam Hakari, Barron, Wisconsin)

A. The top movies list changes every week on the IMDb, but is always good for a smile, because it isn't scientific and can be skewed by a few fans voting repeatedly for their favorite movies. I will say, however, that this list shows imagination and generally good taste, even if only one of the titles deserves to be on a list of the 10 greatest films. It's obvious, isn't it, which one?

Q. Re your discussion of the picture quality of satellite and DVD images: The #1 rule of watching digital TV signals (DSS or DVD), according to video guru Joe Kane, is: Turn down the sharpness on your TV set! Contrary to popular opinion, turning up the sharpness does not increase the clarity of the picture. It creates a harsh picture and will exaggerate the effect of digital and NTSC artifacts. (Rich Gallagher, Fishkill, N.Y.)

A. I have tried this, and you and Joe Kane are correct. After a lifetime of turning up the sharpness, I now get a better picture by setting it toward the middle.

Q. In preparation for viewing my new "Scream" laserdisc, I watched the Criterion Collection "Halloween" laserdisc and had a curious idea: Could it be that the overused jumping-into-frame gag was inspired not by imitating movies like "Halloween" (which doesn't use it, unless you count the sheriff, who I believe the characters wouldn't have seen), but by imitating the pan&scan home video and TV versions of them? Could it be that besides blowing shot composition, panning and scanning has made a cheap gimmick even worse? (Allen Braunsdorf, Purdue, West Lafayette, IN)

A. In other words, in the wide-screen letterbox version of "Halloween," you can see people sneaking up, but in the panned and scanned version, you can't? Here's how to test this fascinating theory: The giveaway for a true Jump-into-Frame is a loud, discordant musical chord on the sound track. What breaks me up is that the loud chord is also heard during false alarms, such as the obligatory "Wow, It Was Only a Cat" sequence that always precedes the real entrance of the slasher. It's like the chord doesn't know any better.

Q. I recently saw the previews of a movie called "Lorca" about the Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca. Is there a particular reason why the movie is called "Lorca?" What kind of credibility do the filmmakers expect to have if they don't even know the name of the subject of the film? The Spanish and Latin American tradition is to use two last names. The first one (Garcia) is the one of the father and the second one (Lorca) is the one of the mother. This way the mother's name survives one more generation. If, for some reason, only one last name is used, it is the father's one, just like in the United States. Referring to someone by their second last name shows ignorance regarding the Spanish custom. No one would refer to Garcia Marquez as Mr. Marquez, for example. Is there an explanation for the title? (Alberto Bernabe-Riefkohl, Chicago)

A. The trailer you saw did indeed use the title "Lorca," but you will be relieved to learn that, according to a Triumph Films spokesperson, the movie will be released later this month under the title "The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca."

Q. I am tired of seeing every movie with streets covered with water at night. Why use this effect repeatedly in every film? It doesn't rain all the time. It virtually never rains in Las Vegas. I am beginning to think I live in Seattle. I don't need to see reflections of street lamps. Show some imagination out there and put this trick to rest! (Arthur M. Yollin, Las Vegas)

A. Wetting the streets for night photography is an ancient cameraman's trick, because it makes the streets more dramatic and visible, and exploits the reflections of lights and signs. It is used routinely in movies and on TV, and will be dropped the moment a director asks his cinematographer, "Is there something you can do to make this shot less interesting?"

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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