August 30, 2000
2001 Movies Highly
Anticipated, So Were This Year's Films
Everyone can pretty much agree that the summer of 2000 was a bust, movie-wise. Overhyped disappointments led to bad word-of-mouth which equaled steep second-week attendance falloffs and a general sense that Hollywood, more than unusual, didn't know what it was doing.
With nothing really exciting to go out there and see, then, we thought we'd get overly optimistic and whet your appetite with what the studios plan to unleash a year or so from now. Admittedly, 12 months ago "Hollow Man," "Loser" and "Titan A.E." sounded as good in theory as a lot of the big 2001 releases seem now, so we're not guaranteeing any quality in the titles we're about to list.
What we can give you an indication of, however, is the anticipation that's building for certain releases. Some of next year's films are getting more attention than others from the rabid film fans who attend conventions and religiously scroll such movie preview Internet sites as aint-it-cool-news.com, Coming Attractions (corona.bc.ca/films/"), comingsoon.net and darkhorizons.com, where every production hiccup and scrap of data about such anointed projects as Steven Spielberg's "A.I." is obsessively examined, debated and blown out of proportion.
Some more obsessively than others.
"There are three films slated for Christmas 2001 that are already making huge waves in the online community," notes Coming Attractions' content director Patrick Sauriol. "Sony's 'Spider-Man,' Warner Bros.' 'Harry Potter' and New Line's first 'Lord of the Rings' movie. Even if the movies themselves are lacking, all three of these are going to open huge, regardless. The buzz, even more than a year away from their release, is already building."
As of this moment in time, The odds-on winner of the 2001 popularity contest is "The Fellowship of the Ring," the first of three, simultaneously shot screen adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic "Lord of the Rings" fantasy trilogy. Filmed in New Zealand by director Peter Jackson ("Heavenly Creatures," "Dead Alive") and starring Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett and Ian McKellen, the effects spectacular has gotten high marks for casting and the look of its first trailer, which New Line Cinema put online (lordoftherings.net) to the greatest download response for such a thing in Web history.
"It's anticipated to do for fantasy films what 'Star Wars' did for sci fi," notes Harry Knowles, Ain't It Cool's founder and main movie maven.
"Peter Jackson's got the near-impossible task of translating the 20th century's best-loved fantasy series into three movies -- and from the early footage that New Line's shown, he's on the right track," Sauriol adds. "At conventions, on the Internet, across the Web, the early 'Rings' footage has really jump-started the positive buzz."
Of course, you'll recall that everyone got all psyched by the "Phantom Menace" trailer George Lucas released half a year prior to the movie's opening, but then everyone found fault with the actual picture. Whether the same fate awaits "Fellowship," it's almost inevitable when a property with a huge, built-in audience from a previous incarnation hits the big screen.
This will be a problem many of next year's most anxiously awaited blockbusters will have to surmount. There is optimism for some (widespread approval for the casting of Tobey Maguire as the geeky teen-turned-webslinger in the long-delayed "Spider-Man" movie, praise for the complex, intelligent script of another comic book-derived project, the Johnny Depp-starring Jack the Ripper gloss "From Hell"). There is pessimism for others (director Tim Burton is reportedly already clashing with Fox executives about his loose adaptation of "Planet of the Apes," "The Visitor," over the inclusion of an interspecies sex scene; general displeasure about the casting of Tea Leoni in "Jurassic Park 3").
But after only kinda/sorta liking "The X-Men," "Shaft" and "The Perfect Storm" this summer, fans are taking what might be termed a concerned wait-and-see attitude toward most of next year's derivatives.
Though judgment is being held on whether or not the ultra-expensive, computer-animated film version of the blockbuster video game "Final Fantasy" (finalfantasy.com) actually works as a narrative, there is pride in Geekdom that the film has apparently proven that virtually generated humans are now convincing enough to co-star in live-action movies, like the just-announced Al Pacino feature "Simone."
"Hannibal," the gory sequel to "The Silence of the Lambs," brings Anthony Hopkins back to his Oscar-winning role of genius man-eater Dr. Lecter. But Julianne Moore replaces Jodie Foster in the key position of FBI agent Clarice Starling, and that's not all that's going to be different from the lucrative, original Academy Awards darling.
"Clarice is really not the primary character here; she's not supporting, but it's his piece," notes Jeffrey Wells, who writes the Hollywood Confidential insider column for the reel.com Web site and visited the Ridley Scott-directed sequel's Italian location earlier this year. "And it's much darker, which I think makes it kind of cool. But don't tell the suits that."
And while everyone wants to see how "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (www.harrypotter.com) makes the transition from bestselling page to celluloid, few really trust superficial schlockmeister Chris Columbus ("Home Alone," "Stepmom," "Bicentennial Man") to properly plumb the novel's, um, deep inner meaning. And with Haley Joel Osment out of the running, there's angst over who'll be picked to play the junior wizard, too.
Speaking of the creepy "Sixth Sense" kid, he's the title Artificial Intelligence of "A.I." The top-secret production, which the late Stanley Kubrick developed for many years before Spielberg took over, is quite understandably next year's most anticipated feature of a relatively unknown quantity, not least because it's the respected filmmaker's first directing effort since the admired "Saving Private Ryan."
But Wells cautions that "A.I." may prove more familiar than the cloak of secrecy surrounding its production would indicate.
"It is 'Pinocchio,' basically, or even 'Bicentennial Kid,' " he reports.
And the other big "original" on the '01 horizon, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay's ultra-expensive "From Here to Eter ..." er, that is, "Titanic Goes Hawaiian" ... wait, we mean, "Pearl Harbor," is basically expected to be a slam-bang depiction of the World War II sneak attack with a sappy romantic triangle between Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale and Josh Hartnett woven through it. The only thing you can reasonably expect that you haven't seen before in this one from the "Armageddon" team is bigger battleship explosions. (An unofficial Web site devoted to the director -- michaelbay.com -- has pictures taken on the set.)
Other selections for films that might float some boats next year include: from AICN's Knowles, Pixar ("Toy Story") Animation's "Monsters Inc." and the Coen Brothers' untitled black-and-white barber movie starring Billy Bob Thornton; from Coming Attraction's Sauriol, DreamWorks' CGI animated ogre comedy "Shrek," Disney's traditionally animated Jules Verne-like "Atlantis" and the Farrelly Brothers' partially animated "Osmosis Jones," in which Chris Rock and David Hyde Pierce magically enter the bloodstream of a virus-infected Bill Murray; and Hollywood Confidential's Wells is looking forward to two adult-skewing crime dramas -- "The Mexican" with Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts and Martin Scorsese's 19th century-set "Gangs of New York" starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
As for me, I've learned through countless hours of dashed expectations that most movies don't come out as good as they sound on paper, and the best ones are more often than not complete surprises that few anticipated ("American Beauty," anyone?). So the only thing I'm promoting for 2001 at this point is "2001: A Space Odyssey," Kubrick's never surpassed, visionary sci fi parable, which Warners is thinking of reissuing around January.
I can confidently assure you that it will be one of the best movies you'll see next year.