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'Wild' theory has merit

Q. I think you may be onto something with your critique of "The Wild," when you say the animals fall into the Uncanny Valley of being too realistic. I think it may extend beyond the lip-syncing. The day I saw the poster, I told one of my friends that it left me vaguely unsettled, because the animals looked simultaneously real and not real, which is, in essence, the basic idea behind the Uncanny Valley.

The look of the creatures (especially the lion, for some reason) creeped me out. I will be interested to see if other critics and people I know have a similar reaction to the film. Matthew Lingo, Bakersfield, Calif.

A. Most of my correspondents advised me to just shut up and review the movie, which I was under the impression I was doing with rare insight and breadth of knowledge, throwing in the Uncanny Valley theory as a bonus. I guess they don't want to read anything in a review they don't already know, but I am paid by the word and can't afford to write that concisely.

Q. I was surprised by "Silent Hill" director Christophe Gans' incendiary comments about you in this month's issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly, especially considering your positive review of his earlier work, "Brotherhood of the Wolf." Gans phrased his comments to indicate he wanted you to read them. David Seelig, Philadelphia

A. In the article, Gans praises video games as a form of art and says "The Legend of Zelda" was "a beautiful, poetic moment for me." Asked about my opinion that video games are not art, he said "F--- him. I will say to this guy that he only has to read the critiques against cinema at the beginning of the 20th century. It was seen as a degenerate version of live stage musicals. And this was a time when visionary directors like Griffith were working. That means that Ebert is wrong. It's simple. Most people who despise a new medium are simply afraid to die, so they express their arrogance and fear like this. He will realize that he is wrong on his deathbed. Human beings are stupid, and we often become a--holes when we get old. Each time a new medium appears, I feel that it's important to respect it, even if it appears primitive or naive at first, simply because some people are finding value in it. If you have one guy in the world who thinks that 'Silent Hill' or 'Zelda' is a beautiful, poetic work, then that game means something."

Ebert again. I am willing to agree that a video game could also be a serious work of art. It would become so by avoiding most of the things that make it a game, such as scoring, pointing and shooting, winning and losing, shallow characterizations, and action that is valued above motivation and ethical considerations. Oddly enough, when video games evolve far enough in that direction, they will not only be an art form, they will be the cinema.

A tip on the early cinema: No wonder it was seen as "a degenerate version of live stage musicals," since the talkies hadn't been invented yet, and there is nothing more degenerate than a musical without sound.

Your comments on age and the fear of death are thought-provoking. You know, Christophe, the older I get, the more prudent I become in how I spend my time. As David Bordwell has pointed out, it can take at least 100 hours to complete a video game. Do you really feel you have mastered the mature arts to such an extent that you have that kind of time to burn on a medium you think is primitive and naive?

On my deathbed, I doubt that I will spend any time realizing that I was wrong about video games. Your theory reminds me of my friend Gene Siskel, who observed that nobody on his deathbed ever thinks: "I'm glad I always flew tourist."

Q. In your review of "The Notorious Bettie Page," you state, "Bettie Page is still alive in her 80s, and corresponds with some of her faithful fans, also in their 80s." This gives the impression most of Bettie's fans are older. This is not the case. Bettie's fan base spans age, gender, sexual orientation and a number of subcultures ranging from rockabilly fans to fetishists. There are numerous books, comic books, T-shirts, trading cards, action figures and just about any other kind of merchandise you can think of, and grandpa isn't the only one buying this stuff. Bob Ignizio, Lakewood, Ohio

A. Bettie Page action figures! The mind boggles. Think of the possibilities for the video game.

Q. [Re: the comment made in the documentary "Sir! No Sir!" about soldiers being spit on as they returned from Vietnam through San Francisco.] It is claimed this cannot be true because they did not go through San Francisco airport. They most certainly did. I came back from Nam in June of 1968 and that was my first landing. A great percentage flew into San Francisco airport. John Doto, Wakefield, Mass.

A. Your comment refers to the movie's claim that the "hippie chicks" who spit on "wounded veterans" were in fact an urban legend, because no wounded came through San Francisco airport, and no documentary records exist of this ever having happened. After I wrote back, you clarified:

"All able-bodied returning from Nam were sent to San Francisco. Wounded went thru Andrews Air Force, Walter Reed or Bethesda Naval Hospital. All the military that went over with me came back at different times and flights thru San Francisco. I did have someone ask me where I was coming from and when I said Nam they immediately asked to have their seat changed. Which they did do as we did not have a full flight."

Ebert again. Since, as you say, you flew direct from Vietnam, why did the person in the next seat ask you where you were coming from?

Wayne LeClear of Mentor, Ohio, writes: "There is a book titled The Spitting Image by Jerry Lembcke. He tries to debunk the whole idea of a vet being spit on. But no matter how hard he tries, it will probably not happen. This has become such an embedded belief in our culture that it will never be eliminated. I am a Vietnam vet (drafted, not enlisted). If you are around vets for very long, you will invariably find someone who 'knew someone whose cousin was friends with someone who was spit on ...' Lembcke will never convince those people who want to hang onto this belief."

So I wrote Lembcke. He responded: "I've gotten challenged on this before and, like with the other facets of the spitting stories, I never say it didn't/couldn't have happened to someone, sometime. Travis AFB may have been fogged in and the plane diverted to SF but, in cases like that, how would the protesters have known ahead of time and rushed to the airport -- none of it makes sense. I always ask for additional documentation and have never gotten it."

Q. On reading your review of "Basic Instinct 2" I was reminded of a Siskel & Ebert show years ago titled "Guilty Pleasures." One of the films reviewed positively was "Emmanuelle." You knew what it was and why you were watching it, and for what it was, it was well enough done; we've all seen much worse.

I haven't yet seen "BI 2" but I will go into it knowing that Sharon Stone will at least have enjoyed wringing what she can out of the character that gave her stardom. John Sukovich, Newberry, S.C.

A. And that's not all she wrings.

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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