Joe Does the Movies: Accessible movie reviews in Toronto

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Seen: 2002.03.23   ¶   Reviewed: 2002.04.06

Well, I totally TOOK ONE FOR THE TEAM by schlepping out to Yonge & Eg to put up with the mawkish exercise in hubris that is the rerelease of E.T., a movie I have studiously boycotted for its entire 20-year blight on the cinematic landscape. It has something to do with the film’s function as an index of infantile regression – 60-year-old women swooning like a moron in a sanatarium (sic – I “rerelease” the 1920s vernacular here) at this trite, syrupy pæan to liberal pieties.

Just think of it this way: If E.T. himself were replaced by, say, the Viet Cong or rank and file of rifle-bearing blonds in brown shirts, or merely by Tories, would we be quite so chuffed they showed up? Not every visitor is welcome. And frankly, Mars Attacks (a gruesome horror movie masquerading as hipster comedy) is a more likely scenario of alien visitation.

But – but – the deal is that I see every frigging accessible movie, no matter how violent its affront to my personal convictions (and, you know, I’m all about convictions), so off I went.

First indication my hubris theory may have some legs: Primo Saturday-night showing was one-fifth full. So much for Spielberg’s magic. We can spot a turkey when it’s lugged out of the crypt and popped in the microwave 20 years after its sell-by date.

And of course the excitement of the evening came a half-hour or so into the opus when descriptions stopped cold and then started repeating themselves in a manner reminiscent of HAL 9000. After this kept on for a while, I enjoyed the rare pleasure of walking out of E.T. to report it. I found the chick “playa” who had handed me my equipment.

The descriptions are broken, I tells her. Oh, they’re skipping? Right. They didn’t tell you? she replies. Um, no, I say. It is then explained that they know about the problem; it has to do with loading the CD onto the hard drive; and they’re waiting for the CD to arrive from the other cinema.

And I’m like, WTF? For n equipped cinemas, there should be n CDs of captions and descriptions, and after you load the data onto the (occasionally troublesome) DTS-CSS hard disc, just stick the disc in a drawer somewhere. No. No, that would be too logical. It’s important for multi-billion-dollar movie cartels to save a dollar on blank CD costs. Or maybe DTS charges per CD, and Famous are simply cheating. In any event, this is no way to run a railroad.

I am told by various playas that the descriptions resync themselves after about 15 minutes. While this condemns me to watch that many more minutes of E.T., it at least shows the problem isn’t permanent. (It wasn’t.)

But it was apparently widespread: The same thing happened somewhere else. I don’t think that’s coïncidence. We’re looking at a mastering problem here. I’ve found that WGBH is never in a hurry to fix problems like this (like reading the title of Harry Potter correctly). Once the MoPix discs are in the field, they are considered immutable. (“Our work is done here.”)

The single redeeming feature of the film: Mike the teenager swears and hates everything. I kept thinking the actor was like Robert Reed on The Brady Bunch – troubled, profane, gonna grow up to keep boys and die of AIDS-related liver cancer. (He may have. He certainly didn’t have much of an acting career. That’s what swearing in a Spielberg family product will get you! Mofos!)

And Drew Barrymore. I mean, yes, very cute. But big deal. In retrospect, Boo in Monsters, Inc. was totally channelling her.

Caption quality

Another major flub of extended quotation-within-quotation. The rules are very simple, to reiterate: All captions save for last one get opening double quote and no others; last caption gets closing double quote and no others. The rule is recursive: Quotations within quotations follow the same logic no matter what combination of single and double quotes sits next to each other.

This convention was invented by the Caption Center in the 1970s. I have been watching it for 25 years. Get it right, for heaven’s sake.

“Grab that fuzzbuster” needs a capital: A Fuzzbuster is a 1970s-era device that jams highway radar. It’s an actual product. I guess the captioneer was too young. Still, research, people! (Actually, the things still seem to be available, like burnt-orange paint or love beads. Look at “the webs best site for radar detectors and related equipment about fuzzbuster radar!” [sic].)

“He is too smart!” is hard to write without italics, because is too means “really is, despite your claim.” (Getting the title of a movie right is too important!) “He is, too, smart” sure as hell ain’t the right way to render it. Sounds a bit twee, that. Richard E. Grant in a costume drama.

“Lots of people you can check upon” is in fact “check up on,” but my notes are unreliable here.

Can I mention the problem of taking notes? I don’t know how the film critics manage it. I tend to write one line over another. This will come back to haunt me.

Description quality

Well, they completely broke down. (You realize this makes two complete system failures in only seven films?) Miles Neff read the descriptions, as perennially.

The boys mime firing “laser weapons” at one point. Actually, it’s an obvious Star Wars reference (contemporaneous with the action in the film, plus the sound effects were the same). Pace Obi-wan Kenobi, “laser weapons” were known as blasters a long time ago.

Fine. I got that the hell over with. Sheesh. Next up on the Cringe-Inducing Accessible Film Roster: Stallion: Spirit of Cimarron, which sounds at once like gay porn and an obscure reference to the Cadillac J-car (about which there are no interesting Web resources – the car is that unloved and unmissed).

Exit interview

I chatted up the manageress about the sync problem. The only real news is that the theatre now has “more” than 17 reflectors and headsets, whatever that means.

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