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Movie Answer Man (09/08/1996)

Q. I saw the French film "The Visitors" and enjoyed it a great deal. Much of the humor was based on the dialogue. It really isn't fair to critique a film (a two star rating, no less) when one doesn't understand all the nuances of the language. (Eileen Blum, New York, N.Y.)

A. Then it isn't fair to sell $8 tickets to an audience and give them a subtitled film. Obviously, the film should have been shown only in French, and tickets sold only to French speakers. But since the majority of the people seeing this film in America are depending on the English subtitles, it wouldn't have been fair to review it any other way.

Q. I saw something disturbing today. One of those ads plugging "The Spitfire Grill" splashed several unattributed quotes on the screen. Phrases like "Oscar-caliber performances," "Four Stars," "the feel-good movie of the summer," and the like. Mixed in with these--as if to add legitimacy--were quotes from some of those critics who seem to love everything from "Schindler's List" to "Jury Duty." You know who. But since when are studios using unattributed quotes? "An incredible experience?" Sez who? (Bruce Maiman, Monterey, Calif)

A. That's a common practice in TV ads, where they hope the words will flash by so quickly that viewers won't check for the attribution. Any film ad that uses unattributed quotes of praise is highly suspect. For example, if an ad says "Four stars!" but does not attribute the stars, that is another way of saying, "We could not find a single critic anywhere in the world who gave this movie four stars."

Q. Just saw the movie "Chain Reaction" and agreed with your assessment. You didn't mention some of the amusing "gaffes" in the script, however, which a good Chicagoan such as yourself must have noticed. For example, Keanu Reeves meets Morgan Freeman in the Field Museum and then leads a band of bad guys on a chase down a hall and into the Museum of Science and Industry. I guess when the director decided to move those two museums to Washington, D.C., he saw fit to join them together. Slick move. (Martin Densch, Janesville, Wis.)

A. At least the chase didn't continue in the Smithsonian.

Q. In last week's Answer Man you say, "Most agents charge a reading fee, because they cannot afford to subsidize the reading of the thousands of freelance screenplays produced every year." Actually, reading fees are verboten for Writers Guild signatory agents! They'd be bounced from the biz for charging reading fees! There ARE a lot of fly-by-night agents who charge reading fees, but any agent who would charge you such a fee you wouldn't want representing you! Every year there are over 30,000 scripts registered with Writers Guild Of America, west. Every year there are about 150-200 theatrical features made, and 300-350 direct to video or cable features made. Probably half of all films are assignments or based on novels, plays, or other copyrighted material, and NOT registered with the WGA--making the odds about 120 to one that a WGA-registered original script will be made into a movie! Good advice to new screenwriters: Keep writing! Don't show your scripts too soon. It may take writing 10 scripts before you finally get a handle on the form. Don't burn a bridge in front of you by sending your work out before it's up to professional standards. I've written 12 produced features and still have no agent. (W.C. Martell, Studio City, Ca.)

A. Thanks for clearing up the Writers' Guild policies for me. I still believe it's true, however, that unproduced writers with no connections have a hard job getting established agents to read unsolicited screenplays. At some point, some kind of networking is helpful.

Q. Enjoyed your recent article about Ridefilm, the process that, as you wrote, "encloses you in a space with about 18 other people. It shows you a high-quality movie image on a wraparound screen. And it straps you to a seat and a platform that makes more than 200 movements a second, creating the illusion that you are participating in the action on the screen." Do you have any idea why Sony-IMAX doesn't combine their 3-D headsets with their Ridefilm? It seems to me that, combined, it would TOP either experience alone. Maybe they're afraid the expensive headset will fly off and break, eh? ...but hey, this is exactly the kind of situation that Gulliver Q. Chinstrap invented his famous headgear accessory for! (Steven D. Souza, Honolulu)

A. One little technical problem with the giant-screen processes, Omnimax and IMAX, is that the illusion is so real that quick cutting can cause motion sickness, vertigo and even nausea in the audience. That's why they usually use slow dissolves between long shots of largely static natural scenes. Combining the "max" process with a "Ridefilm" would require the inventions not just of Gulliver Q. Chinstrap but also of Ichabod Z. Barfbag.

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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