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Movie Answer Man (12/05/1999)

Q. In your review of "Sleepy Hollow," you refused to reveal the actor who plays the Hessian Horseman, but the billboards for the film boldly display the unmistakable (name deleted) alongside Johnny Depp. Do you think knowing too much about a movie ruins the film for the audience? I recently saw "Being John Malkovich" having read the script on the internet, and I was pleasantly surprised that the ending was different in the film. I am going to try harder to allow a film to work its magic on me without me being tainted by too much information. (Raul Borja, Los Angeles CA)

A. Tim Burton, the director, obviously thought it should be a small delight for the audience when it finally sees the Headless one's head. But the posters, TV ads and preview trailers all make his identity pretty obvious. Why are such spoilers so frequent? Because advertising and marketing people focus on their own job, which is to sell tickets, and will gladly give away the surprises, the ending or the whole store to lure more people into the theater.

Q. In "Sleepy Hollow," we see the manic Hessian's sharpened teeth and are told why he has them. Later, when we see his skull, it sports a normal and near-perfect set of choppers. The sharpened dentures don't come back until the H.H. is totally refleshed. Is this a glaring continuity error in a film which otherwise devoted lavish attention to almost every detail? (James Fineran, Salisbury MD)

A. Yes. Unless...(creepy music)...that was not really the Horseman's skull...

Q. I just saw "Dogma." If it is blasphemous, it is Catholic blasphemy and God is not angry. Kevin Smith makes (perhaps unintentionally) four important points about God: God is incomprehensible, absent, strange, and love. Very sound theology. Also, Catholic theology does work--or at least do the stories on which it is based. (Fr. Andrew Greeley, Chicago)

A. Not all films with Catholic themes are so knowledgable. I just saw "End Of Days," in which Arnold Schwarzenegger does combat with Satan. The theology is not sound, but the plot is certainly incomprehensible, absent and strange.

Q. In your review of "End Of Days," you wrote: "Let's see. Rome is seven hours ahead of New York. In other words, those clever monks said, 'The baby will be conceived between 6 and 7 a.m. on Jan. 1, Rome time, but that will be between 11 p.m. and 12 a.m. in a city that does not yet exist, on a continent we have no knowledge of, assuming the world is round, and there are different times in different places as it revolves around the sun, which of course it would be a heresy to suggest.' With headaches like this, no wonder they invented Gregorian chants to take the load off." Not that I expected the movie to have any of this right, but (1) The Gregorian Calendar was instituted during the papacy of Gregory XIII, in 1582--when America was well known, although New York wasn't around yet; (2) Gregorian Chant originated during the papacy of Gregory I (590-604); (3) Scholars have known the world was round since the time of Aristotle if not earlier; (4) Different times at different places on the Earth have nothing to do with its revolution around the sun, but rather its rotation on its axis - but you'll get the same effect if the sun goes around the earth every day, so it doesn't depend on your solar system model. Varying local time would have been well known to scholars by the 1580's, since this was well after circumnavigation of the globe; (5) Copernicanism was not declared heretical by the Catholic church until 1616. (Richard Rees, Westfield MA)

A. For my penance, I will see "End Of Days" again.

Q. I have noticed many actors and actresses wearing bands or diamond rings on the fourth finger of their right hands while portraying single characters. Is this meant to acknowledge real life marriages and engagements or just a sign that they love jewelry? This phenomenon puzzles me to no end. (Anne Naismith, Baltimore MD)

A. I referred your question to the director Allison Anders, whose current "Sugar Town" is a movie about Hollywood actors and musicians. She says it's just a fashion choice and doesn't symbolize anything. She added a postscript about a married TV personality she once had an affair with, who sometimes did not wear his wedding ring on TV, but I don't think that applies to your question.

Q. Do you think there is any way to stop or at least slow the digital behemoth? I've read in your column about MaxiVision 48 and visited their website ( What troubles me is that I've heard next to nothing about this system in the mainstream media, which seem to consider digital projection inevitable in theaters. They compare it to the coming of sound and color. (Sean Blake, Lawrence KS)

A. The crucial difference is that sound and color were perceived as improvements by the audience. Digital projection at best is seen as only "almost as good" or "about as good" as film. It is expensive, tricky, and if adopted will be perceived as no better than the high-def home TV in the consumer pipeline. Theaters have traditionally offered better pictures than TV, not the same. MaxiVision, on the other hand, uses existing film technology at 48 frames per second, plus a vibration-free projector, to project a picture estimated at 260 percent better than existing film or digital projection. It is much cheaper, and uses tested technology. Unlike 70mm (which it is superior to) it does not require wider film stock or expensive projectors. Common sense is entirely on the side of MaxiVision and against Texas Instruments' digital projection systems. The problem is that some of the top execs in Hollywood have little understanding of technology (they focus on production) and have jumped on the digital bandwagon because they mistakenly think anything "digital" must be better than film. A grass roots movement against digital and in favor of film is growing; Matthew Eggers and Mathew Jones document it on their Web site,

Q. Re your Answer Man item about the student whose teacher equated all Japanese anime with "Rape Man." "Rape Man" is not animated, but a Japanese live action series. The "Japanese Cinema Encyclopedia" by Thomas Weisser and Yuko Mihara Weisser describes it. I've never seen it but I understand that it played more as a comedy. (Mike Duncan, St. Louis Mo)

A. I heard from dozens of people about "Rape Man." Kris Gallimore of Thunder Bay, Ont., says it was mentioned as a comic book on a recent episode of the TV series "The Practice." Ken Chan of the CompuServe Showbiz Forum writes: "Perhaps the teacher in question is watching too much television: A few weeks ago, on the NBC series 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,' there was a short courtroom scene involving a Japanese adult comic book (manga) called 'Rape Man.' " Ed Slota of the same forum says the name was appropriated by Steve Albini, formerly of Big Black, for a new band name. And Cindy Mullens of Fairmont, W.Va., writes: "It was a comic book first. The targets of Rape Man were Japanese women who were adopting the lifestyles of Western women - career women besting men in the workplace, getting promotions and refusing to stay at home, cook and have lots of babies." My point remains: For the teacher to equate the wonders of Japanese anime with the obscure "Rape Man" is blatantly unfair.

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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