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When darkness falls

Q. I just saw "Batman Begins" and thought it was OK. There were children at the show, however, and I felt sorry for them because the movie contained nothing that might appeal to 8 years and younger. Why have filmmakers decided to ignore young audiences? Aren't comic books at heart really meant for children?

I'm not saying the movie should have catered to young minds exclusively, but I find it more than a little cruel that the film offers nothing to the age group that made "Batman" a success in the first place. What would the young Roger Ebert have thought of the movie? I think the 8-year-old me would have found it visually confusing and disturbing. Cameron Moneo, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

A. Trying to appeal to every possible age group is one of Hollywood's fatal errors. Batman is the darkest of the superheroes, and the recent graphic novels about his life have been intended for teenagers and adults.

One of the reasons the movie is so good is because it deals with the darker side of the character's early life and isn't dumbed down with too many special effects or the clowning of the villains. The young Roger Ebert would, of course, have agreed.

Q. News item: "An Associated Press-AOL poll last week found that 73 percent of adults prefer watching movies on DVD, videotape or pay-per-view rather than going to the theater."

As much is it pains me to agree, increasingly I find myself irritated by the theater experience. For example, I saw "Batman Begins" last week; the picture was dark, and there was a row of drugged-out hippies laughing and talking during the whole movie.

Do you think the AP-AOL poll is an accurate reflection of people's views, or is their sample skewed? What impact do you think this will have on movies released theatrically? The box office returns ARE at their lowest point since 1985, after all. Matt Wolf, Burnsville, Minn.

A. Movie exhibitors have reached a moment of truth. It is time to create and enforce a superior viewing environment in theaters, or accept the consequences. Ushers should have ejected the annoying patrons, but I am just as disturbed by your comment that the picture was dark.

"Batman Begins" is a dark movie, set mostly at night, but if it is properly projected, it is dark in a clear and atmospheric way. It is possible, however, that the theater you attended is one that practices the idiotic economy of turning down the power on the projector bulb for "savings" -- on electricity, bulbs, who knows? The life-span of a projector bulb is not shortened by using it at the correct setting.

Q. Re your unhappiness with "The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D" in the inferior red/cyan anaglyph format: It was shown via Digital Light Processing (DLP) in full color polarized (clear glasses) 3-D at the film's premiere in Austin, Texas. Quite a different experience.

"Sharkboy" is only the fourth major film to ever be released in anaglyph format, following "The Mask" (1961), "Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare" (1991) and "Spy Kids 3-D" (2003). That's because Hollywood was smart enough to realize that looking through colored glasses is not an acceptable way to view a major film. The vast majority of all 3-D movies, including all 51 which Hollywood churned out in 1952-55 and most since then, have been released in polarized clear-glasses form.

I've seen nearly 40 of the 1950s films in the original dual projector polarized form in a controlled environment in recent years and frankly, many of the films were breathtakingly good. Full color, full brightness, no headache, no distraction. IMAX 3-D can work, but often, the films are shot in such a way that all the action takes place in front of your face, which causes eyestrain. "Polar Express" was great, but many of the others recently, such as "Wild Safari," are intolerable.

Bottom line: Red/blue isn't, and never has been, the standard. I suspect "Sharkboy" will be the last time Hollywood tries it. Digital DLP via polarized glasses is the wave of the future. Steve Phillips, Las Vegas

A. Digital Light Processing is state-of-the-art digital projection. What surprises me is that "Sharkboy" director Robert Rodriguez, who is a big-time gizmo freak and a pioneer of filming on digital, chose an inferior format for his movie. It would have been a perfectly entertaining movie for kids in 2-D, but the box office fell off quickly in 3-D because audiences hated watching it. The DVD should find a wider market.

Q. I was fascinated by the portrayal of Max Baer in "Cinderella Man" as a bit of a bastard. Whenever I see an actual historical person portrayed negatively, two questions always pop into my head: (1) Is that an accurate portrayal? and (2) What do their families think about it? Now I'm wondering if there is counseling for descendants of people who come off badly in movies. I smell a potential industry. Myeck Waters, Cliffwood Beach, N.J.

A. Relatives of Max Baer and boxing historians have complained that he was unfairly depicted in "Cinderella Man." Apparently, he killed only one man in the ring, not two, and was considered to be a gentleman by the man who defeated him for the title, Joe Louis. My own feeling is that we go to print for facts and to movies for emotions. Even when movies are "based on" real stories, I assume they are essentially fictions.

Q. Fans of the Richard Donner's "Superman" film have launched a multiphase project to restore his "Superman II," incorporating elements that Donner shot concurrently with the first film but were thrown out by the studio when he was replaced.

Phase 1 was to locate copies of as many of Donner's original elements as possible. Most of these lost scenes were included in a special extended cut of "Superman II" that was aired on TV once, and only once, in 1984.

But sure enough, there were plenty of fans out there who'd videotaped that broadcast and who'd held on to the tapes. The highest-quality elements from all of these tapes (that is, the one copy of a certain shot that didn't suffer from static or jitter or a promo for "Dukes of Hazzard") were assembled into a restored "director's cut," which was released as a bootleg. In Phase 2, the Phase 1 release was color-corrected and enhanced, resulting in much higher-quality video. And now the "Superman" fans have moved on to Phase 3: they're trying to upgrade all of the wonky '70s-era special effects with modern digital techniques. Phase 3 is still in progress.

Naturally, releasing these cuts is entirely illegal. If you want a copy, you have to post a message on a certain message board at a certain time, and at some point to be determined later, a DVD magically appears in your mailbox. Download the cover art, print it, slide the disc and the art into a case, and presto. Partly, they're doing this just to put Donner's original vision out there, but I think the real goal is to convince the studio to go into their vaults, dig out the negatives, and do it for real. Talk about activism! Andy Ihnatko, Westwood, Mass.

A. The amazing thing is that Warner Bros. doesn't see the commercial potential in this lost film and simply release it on DVD, as they did with Paul Schrader's original version of the "Exorcist" prequel.

Q. I have a friend who buys DVDs just to have them. He was lured into buying a cheap movie for an even cheaper price. Until I looked at it closer, I refused to acknowledge it. But I realized it was "The Man Who Knew Too Much" and it was "directed by Alfred Hitchcock." The problem was that Peter Lorre starred in it. I watched it and it was trash. Did Hitchcock direct two versions of the film? Collin Welch, Madison, Ind.

A. Yes, and in the second one, Doris Day sings "Que Sera, Sera." If Peter Lorre had sung it in the first version, now that would be a DVD worth owning.

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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