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Unreality Bites

July 17, 1994

Regarding "Reality Bites Back," David Kronke's interview with "Forrest Gump" director Robert Zemeckis (July 3):

It was intriguing to discover Zemeckis' dubiety about the ethics of image manipulation. Although he enjoys the growing vocabulary of illusion it affords him for telling his film stories, his conscience nags him to equivocate: "These techniques are gonna be used to do wonderful things, and they'll probably be used to do abusive things. I think you just have to be a smart enough person to not take everything at face value. We don't take everything in the newspaper at face value, and now you can't look at television images and think they're absolutely true, either."

Unfortunately, Mr. Zemeckis, our society has become a totally mediated, image-dominated landscape where the "smart enough person" is essentially the most cynical. Is this what we must become to survive in today's world? In the name of art and commerce, we rush headlong to devise technology that undermines the senses and casts doubt upon what most of us agree to as "reality." This process renders nature irrelevant and trivial, facilitating its transformation into commodity.

With every pseudo-event, special effect and "thrilling" simulation, we distance ourselves from the planet upon which we live, as well as our very humanity--a conditioning that threatens our civilized evolution as a species. At the rate we are going, we soon will develop into rabid consumers desperately tearing through catalogues of addictive "realities," making us ripe for manipulation, or perhaps we will simply become overwhelmingly confused, impotent, unable to make sense of anything at all.

To see either scenario as far-fetched is to buy the ultimate illusion.

CRAIG FLEMING

Huntington Beach

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You story asks whether the technology in "Forrest Gump," in which the main character appears to convincingly interact with historical figures, could be used in unscrupulous ways to make people appear to say things they didn't actually say.

This type of plot was already used in an episode of the 1987 ABC series "Max Headroom," in which computer technology is used to alter the words of the mayor. This series predicted the rise of tabloid TV, the obsession with media issues over political and social ones and what the "information superhighway" could be like.

Once again, with your article, I was able to say, "That's so 'Max Headroom.' "

TAMMY SMITH

Santee

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Although flattered by your reference to me as the designer of the illusion wheelchair in "Forrest Gump" (Film Clips, July 10), I would be remiss if I did not set the record straight. Projects like this are often the result of teamwork.

Two extremely talented people also worked on this illusion: my partner Michael Weber (we have a consulting firm called Deceptive Practices), who implemented the effect for Bob Zemeckis and saw it through on location with actor Gary Sinise, and John Gaughan, the well-known illusion builder, who constructed the chair with us in his shop in Los Angeles.

RICKY JAY

Los Angeles

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