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Movie Answer Man (11/01/1994)

Q. The casting of the original "Gone With the Wind" created a world-wide frenzy among movie fans. Who should star in "Scarlett," the TV miniseries? 

A. I hope they choose a real actress, and not one of the transparent TV beauties with a high Q rating. True, most of the top movie actresses refuse to work in TV, but given the high profile of this project and the $8 million already paid for the rights, this should be the sort of project designed to change their minds. I think Scarlett should be played by someone who is 40ish; glamorous in a quirky way; able to project a flighty, impetuous personality; possessed of a natural sense of humor, and able to work fluently with a Southern accent. In other words, Meryl Streep

Q. What about Rhett Butler? 

A. Somebody tall, dark and handsome, with a saturnine smile, sexual confidence, intelligence, and wit. In other words, Timothy Dalton

Q. Can you suggest any changes in the book? 

A. I would remind the purchasers that they own it and can do anything they like with it. An excellent starting-place would be to throw it out and start over. No, I haven't read the book; life is short, and when every single reviewer in the country says a novel is trash, I'm inclined to believe them. On the basis of what I've heard, I believe the novel's notion of Scarlett going to visit her ancestors in Ireland is a cop-out. The story should stay in the American South where it belongs. 

Q. What's the latest on the "director's cut" of "Blade Runner" (1982)? Will it open nationally? 

A. Film buff circles have been buzzing with news that the original version of Ridley Scott's 1982 futuristic epic was recently discovered in a Hollywood studio vault. The release version of the movie was re-cut, shortened, and supplied with a narration by Harrison Ford that was less than helpful. The rediscovered version is a longer 70-mm print, which was transferred to 35-mm for a wildly successful run in San Francisco. Encouraged by this reception, Scott announced that he would do a real "director's cut," including material that was removed even from the 70-mm version. This is now projected for a national re-release in the spring, followed by a relaunch on tapes and laserdiscs. 

Q. How do you feel about Disney's plans to "permanently retire" the original version of "Fantasia" after its current release in home video, and bring out a revised version? 

A. The studio claims it was "always Walt's original intention" that the original "Fantasia" be updated from time to time with different music and animation. Of course, in the 30 years after he made it, Walt somehow never acted on that original intention himself. On the other hand, "Fantasia" is a modular film in which each segment stands on its own, and some of them, notably "Ave Maria," are yawners. If they want to make a revised version, fine--as long as they preserve the original in their vaults. 

Q. I went to see "Highlander 2: The Quickening" before reading your review, and was shocked to see you gave it half a star. I would have rated it even lower. 

A. Half a star is the least a movie can get for simply being bad. To earn no stars, it must also be evil. 

Q. Why would a star like Sean Connery agree to appear in a movie like "Highlander 2: The Quickening?" 

A. Money. Lots of money. 

Q. You keep saying "Man in the Moon" is a great movie but it seems to have closed in my area. 

A. It is often the fate of great movies to close, in order to make room for other movies, such as "Highlander 2: The Quickening." "Man in the Moon" opened well and actually increased its box office in its second week, an extraordinary signal of public receptiveness. But it was released by the moribund MGM, which lacks the resources and clout to advertise and open a movie like this as carefully as it deserved. Audiences have loved the film. 

Q. Now that Orion Pictures is going through a reorganization, what will happen to all those Orion movies that are currently in limbo, like the new Woody Allen film? 

A. They will eventually be released, if not by Orion, then by another distributor. It's prudent of the studio to hold them for proper distribution rather than to dump them carelessly into the marketplace. 

Q. Any advance word on "Star Trek VI?" 

A. Here is a hopeful omen: Trekkers claim the even-numbered films in the series are the good ones. 

Q. Meryl Streep? Are you sure? 

A. The movie in which she was most Scarlett-like was "Postcards from the Edge." Forget the character and plot, look at the performance, and you'll see that the casting would be ideal. --30-

Q. The new "Jurassic Park" video has been shortened and edited to the point where it is not the same movie. The part where the ship left and had a raptor onboard was left out. I feel ripped off. (Dale Eldridge, Greenwood, MO)

A. "A number of so-called 'Jurassic Park' aficionados have been confusing the book with the film," says Evan Fong, from MCA/Universal Home Video. "Though some scenes from the book were so striking and visual that they may have seemed like they were in the movie, they weren't. The scene in which a raptor boards a boat at the end was not in the film."

Q. We were just reading your book of movie reviews, and about "The Verdict" you wrote: "...(it) has a lot of truth in it, right down to a great final scene in which Newman, still drinking, finds that if you wash it down with booze, victory tastes a lot like defeat." We agree it's a great final scene. But the only problem is, Newman isn't still drinking. He's sitting in his office drinking coffee." (Paul Kornacki, Cheektowaga, NY)

A. What's in the coffee cup? Booze, or java? This controversy has surfaced before in the Movie Answer Man. Now we have the final word, from Paul Newman himself, who told me: "Coffee. Otherwise, what would the point of the movie be?" I could write an essay on why I thought it was booze, but let's just say I was wrong.

Q. You have frequently expressed your impatience with young movie characters who say "Yesssss!" when something goes right. Did you know that Marv Albert is credited with creating the phrase "Yesssss!"? (Harris Allsworth, Chicago)

A. So Sun-Times columnist Jeffrey Zaslow reported in a recent column. But I do not understand why Marv Albert takes the credit, instead of accepting the blame.

Q. I pretty much agree with your assessment on "Fresh," but find no reason at all to justify the dog's death. (Jerry Reilly, Chicago)

A. Fresh thought the dog had to die for a number of reasons; (1) It only knew how to kill, (2) its master was gone and there was no one to care for it, (3) he was displaying grief and anger, (4) he was steeling himself for the more difficult tasks ahead.

Q. At the end of "The Shawshank Redemption," there was a line "In Memory of Alan Greene." Can you tell me who this was? (Kenny Corber, Cote Saint-Luc, Quebec)

A. Greene was the literary agent of Frank Darabont, who wrote and directed the film. "He was instrumental in gaining the rights, and worked with me until the last days before his death," Darabont says. "He was not only an agent but a close friend."

Q. I have just read your review of "Exit To Eden," where you questioned the casting choice of Rosie O'Donnell. The original choice for her character was Sharon Stone. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in the studio that day. (Michael Zey, Austin, TX)

A. Better on the wall than on the floor.

Q. There was a reference in an earlier Movie Answer Man column to a scene supposedly cut from later releases of Fantasia, of a stereotypical black centaur of the shoeshine-boy variety. Is this possibly true? He is supposed to have spoken some grotesque dialogue such as "Lawsy me, etc". There was no dialogue in 'Fantasia,' except between musical selections. Why would Disney have ruined the effect of Beethoven's 6th Symphony with cheap racial humor? (Robert Forman, San Francisco)

A. David R. Smith, who is the archivist for the Disney company, tells me: "There was originally a black centaurette in 'Fantasia' which was helping one of the other centaurettes with her toilette. In later years, the character was edited out of the film. What was acceptable in the 1940s is not 'politically correct' in the 1990s. There was no dialog in the scene, as there is none in any of the 'Fantasia' segments."

Q. Every Christmas my family and I watch "It's a Wonderful Life" and wonder if Jim Henson paid tribute to this classic by naming his characters "Bert & Ernie" after the cop and taxi driver. (Liz Taylor, Houston)

A. "No, it's just a coincidence," says Jill Silverman of Jim Henson Productions.

Q. The opening tracking shot in "Ed Wood" (1994), which takes us from a miniature of the Hollywood sign during a storm to a live-action shot in front of a theater, pays respects to the famous tracking shot through the skylight in "Citizen Kane." I assume this was intentional since Ed Wood in the film worships Welles, whose character makes an appearance late in the story. (Larry Gross, St. Louis)

A. I think you're right. The movie's opening is an astonishing display of visual confidence by director Tim Burton.

Q. The one thing I disliked about "Ed Wood" was the movie's cheap shot at Charlton Heston, in the scene with "Orson Welles," who is shown complaining that the studio wants him to use Heston in "Touch of Evil." Heston was one of the true friends and supporters of Welles, and without his clout Welles would never have been able to make that film. (Tim Ennis, Chatham Township, NJ

A. Scott Alexander, one of the writers of "Ed Wood," has been quoted as saying that the scene with Welles is the only one in the movie that's completely fictional.

Q. In your review of "Timecop," why didn't you mention the cheeziest depiction of a futuristic automobile since something my mother hung on the refrigerator when I was 4 years old? This movie is set only 10 years into the future. Why do all the automobiles look the same, and like they were assembled from scrap parts on a Doctor Who set? (John Kelly)

A. Maybe the art director traveled back in time to your mother's refrigerator?

Q. Bruce Willis's character in "Color of Night" may have a PhD, but he couldn't figure out that it would be quite difficult for Jane March to nail both of her hands to a chair. He should have kept an eye out for someone else in the building. (Mark Perry, Richton Park, IL)

A. The just-published Ebert's Little Movie Glossary covers this phenomenon under the entry "Third Hand": An invisible appendage used, for example, by Rambo, in the scene where he hides from the enemy by completely plastering himself inside a mud bank. Since it is impossible to cover yourself with mud without at least one hand free to do the job, Rambo must have had a third, invisible, hand.

Q. What will make American audiences accept animation as a form of serious storytelling?  The Disney formula has drummed into us that cute animals are the criteria for good animation. Why not take a well-known novel and animate it.  For instance, Stephen King's The Talisman has been sitting at Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment for a long time now. It could be done with half the budget of a live-action version, and with more verve and imagination. (Dimitri M. LaBarge, Nashville)

A. Spielberg recently linked up with David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg--mastermind of Disney's recent animated hits--to form a new studio. Katzenberg tells me that in addition to making animated films for the family, he would also like to experiment with more mature animated themes--possibly including versions of Broadway musicals.

Q. I recently bought a new laser disc of "Slap Shot" to replace a flawed one from the early 80's, and I noticed that the music in the movie has been changed. I liked the original music much better and this new music changes the "feel" of the movie for me. Why would the music have been changed, and has this been done in other movies? (Brad Grube, Bowie, MD)

A. David Wise of the CompuServe ShowBiz Forum writes, "The music was changed in 'Slap Shot' because the film was made before the advent of home video, and thus the studio failed to obtain the home video rights for use of the songs. Renegotiating such rights (especially with heavy hitters like Elton John and Fleetwood Mac) would devour the profits of the film's home video release, and therefore "soundalikes" were used. An earlier home video release of the film was done before the studio was even aware that it didn't own the home video-use rights! It took a few lawsuits (on other films) before MCA wised up to the problem."

Q. I enjoyed "Forrest Gump," but had it been a male seducing a mildly retarded female, instead of the other way around, it would have been a rape scene, even though there was consent. My question is, Have I been a Social Worker for too long? (Jim Sinsky, Milwaukee)

A. Not long enough, apparently, if you can still ask the question.

Q. Do you believe "Forrest Gump" represents a politically conservative fable? Is the movie making a statement about integrity, Christian values, self-reliance, and traditional family structures? Rush Limbaugh entertained these thoughts to his 20 million listeners. Most callers believed the popularity of the movie was, in part, due to this appeal to the conservative values in America. (Tim O'Connor, Cleveland, OH)

A. "Forrest Gump" can be read as liberal or conservative, depending on your personal prejudices, but it makes a point of avoiding political ideology. Limbaugh often tries to hijack nonpolitical but popular subjects in order to bask in their glow.

Q. In a recent Movie Answer Man, one Guenveur Burnell of Kent, Ohio complained that Tom Hanks used an inaccurate accent in "Forrest Gump." Had Ms. Burnell watched a recent HBO special about the making of 'Forrest Gump' then she would know that Tom Hanks learned to say 'Forrest' and other words from one Michael Humphreys, who played young Forrest in the film. Humphreys has lived his life in small town Mississippi and certainly should be capable of speaking in a southern accent correctly. Or maybe Ms. Burnell imagines some uniform southern accent which is promoted in Kent, Ohio. (Chris Morton, Edwardsville, IL)

A. For you, bubba, that's "Kay-yent, Ohiya."

Q. I just saw your Answer Man complaint by David Geary about "the Kentucky license plate on the front of the car" in the film "Kalifornia," and I'd object for another reason: We don't have front license plates in Kentucky! (Ed Ellers, Louisville, Ky.)

A. Nor is California spelled with a "K."

Q. I've often wondered why there isn't an award ceremony for some really great acting by the child stars of the movies. (Judy Benton, Akron, Ohio)

A. Just the thought of such a program boggles the mind. The Jean Hersholt Award for humanitarian lifetime service could go to an old-timer like Brooke Shields.

Q. As it's been very hot this week in the warehouse where I work, many of the men have taken to working shirtless. This practice was accepted until a couple of the women decided it would be OK to remove their shirts and work in their bras. Needless to say the topless women have created a controversy. Why can men get away with toplessness in the workplace and women can't? Has anything like this ever happened at the newspaper where you work? (James D. Frey, Oakland, CA)

A. Not here at the Sun-Times, although I understand it's quite a problem over at the Tribune.

Q. Regarding your comment that any well-informed adult should have seen "Citizen Kane," I did an informal poll among people in my office. Of 10 people, six had not seen 'Citizen Kane!' Several of them remarked that they don't bother with movies made before they were born, unless they are "cool like James Bond." My office, incidentally, is a bunch of computer analysts, all college educated, but I have noticed before that you can't really talk to them about books either. (Diana MacDonald. Columbia, MO)

A. What sets man apart from the beasts is his interest in things that took place before he was born, or will take place after he dies. Tell your office mates they belong out in the barn.

Q. In your review of "The Lion King" you say the friend of the warthog is a "meerkat." I cannot find this animal in dict. or ency. Was this a misprint or a made-up name by Disney? (Wayne Wendelsdorf, Louisville, KY)

A. Funny, it's in both my dict. and ency.

Q. Regarding your discussion about Turner Broadcasting's use of time compression to squeeze movies into shorter time slots: I spent a dozen years as a broadcast engineer, and can tell you what to look for. Digital compression throws away one frame of the picture for every few frames it shows. If you want to see this effect, wait for a character to do a "crossing move" at a moderate speed and watch to see if they seem to jump slightly ahead every so often. This is an absolute giveaway. A little harder to see, but just as reliable, is to look for a horizontal line in the frame, and put your finger right at the line. Now count how often you see the line bounce up and down. Each bounce is one frame lost. Count the number of bounces in one minute and use this formula: Percent of compression equals bounces per minute divided by 36. Knowing this, they will never be able to fool you again. (Bill Becwar, Wauwatosa, WI)

A. This is going to make me the life of the party.

Q. There is a trivia connection between O. J. Simpson and the movie "Clear and Present Danger." In a scene in South America where the characters are getting shot while driving white vans, one of the agents shown with Harrison Ford is played by the senior negotiator who brought in O. J. Simpson. His name is Peter Weireter, and he is also a stunt performer. (Kathy Casey, Chicago)

A. Is everybody in California an actor?

Q. You have said "The Third Man" is one of your favorite movies. I too love this film. But weren't you really annoyed by the outrageous zither music that played throughout the entire movie? (Rob Barrett, Eugene, OR)

A. You are referring, sir, to the most atmospheric, effective and memorable score in the history of the cinema.

Q. Much attention is given to the "colorization" of black and white movies. But I have seen movies that totally lost their meaning through editing. A case in point is "Cabaret." On network TV, they cut out the entire scene where he tells her that he is gay. Therefore, the movie made no sense at all. It wasn't until I talked to someone whom had seen the movie in the theater that I understood it. While you may disagree, I have never felt that the meaning of any movie has been violated by colorization. Yet I saw a parade of my favorite stars protesting to Congress about colorization. Why aren't those same celebrities as outraged about what the TV networks do to the integrity of movies? (Janice Hargrove)

A. Actually, many of them are, and the various Hollywood guilds are engaged in a struggle over "artists' rights" in which filmmakers would be able to prevent or discourage such wholesale scissoring.

Q. What's in the briefcase in "Pulp Fiction" (1994)? The one John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson guard so carefully? (Ashley St. Ives, Chicago)

A. "That's for you to decide," says Quentin Tarantino, the film's director. As a student of old movies, he may have been inspired by a famous scene in Luis Bunuel's "Belle de Jour" (1967), which stars Catherine Deneuve as a housewife who works in a fancy brothel some afternoons. A client opens a little box, shows her what's inside, and whispers a proposition. She rejects it. What's in the box?

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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