December 26, 2000
A Feast of Film
Jan. 2001 After last years inconsequential lineup of movies, some Hollywood executives are starting to sound like football coaches justifying dismal records. Next season well aim higher. Execute better. Surprise the naysayers.
Yet beyond every empty show-business pledge hides a tiny truth. A year after 1999s American Beauty proved you can be audacious, profitable and win oodles of Oscars, Hollywood is assembling a slateincluding the first movie installment in the Harry Potter child-wizard seriesthat in its better moments may remind us that moviegoing need not be as inane as Battlefield Earth. Baz Lurhmann (William Shakespeares Romeo + Juliet) has constructed Moulin Rouge, a mind-bending musical set in the 1899 Paris nightclub.
Filmmaker Neil LaBute, who surveyed contemporary coupling in Your Friends & Neighbors, turns his focus on the love lives of academics studying 19th-century poets in an adaptation of the novel Possession. And Sam Mendes, the Academy Award-winning director of American Beauty, is collaborating with Tom Hanks in a movie version of the violent novel Road to Perdition, in which the good-guy actor plays a Chicago gangster avenging the murder of his favorite son. Its about the secret world your parents inhabit that you never really know, Mendes says.
The final test of whether Hollywood delivers on its word
comes next December. Thats the debut date of the first episode of the Lord of the
Rings trilogy, the most ambitious and expensive undertaking in recent entertainment
history. Made at a stunning cost of $270 million and filmed over more than a year, the
production comprises three separate movies, to be released one a year through 2003. Each
film is based on one of the books in J.R.R. Tolkiens classic sword-and-sorcery
trilogy. Director Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures) faces the difficult task of
satisfying legions of Hobbitheads while creating an accessible story for those who
dont know the difference between the dragon Smaug and the evil Sauron.
Youre not making The Lord of the Rings if you make less than three
movies, at least in a faithful version, says Jackson, who spent two years planning
the production, featuring Elijah
Wood, Ian McKellen
and Cate Blanchett.
If Scott faced hurdles in adapting Hannibal, LaBute had to climb a literary mountain bringing A. S. Byatts Possession to the screen. It was a challenge that stumped ear-lier directors Sydney Pollack (Random Hearts) and Gillian Armstrong (Little Women). The 555-page novel traces complex literary themes, evoking poets Robert Browning and Christina Rossetti. And the plot defies Hollywood categorization: a pair of modern-day academics (Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart) explore the secret epistolary love between the two Victorian writers (Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle). LaBute finds the tale surprisingly contemporary. We think of [Victorian poets] in a quaint way, he says, but they have real passions. They are taking risks that characters in the present wouldnt dream of.
Director Michael Mann (The Insider) has similarly been drawn to risk takers, and his new film about Muhammad Ali is no exception. Will Smith, who trained for six months and bulked up to 218 pounds, plays the title role. Manns film will follow Alis womanizing, his punishment for opposing Vietnam and his association with the Nation of Islam. He was the peoples champion. He embodied the aspiration of people rising from below, Mann says of Ali.
The summer season literally opens with a bang, with the Memorial Day debut of Pearl Harbor from director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Assisted by special effects that fill the Hawaiian skies with 180 computer-animated Japanese planes, Bay is making both a 1941 war drama and a love story (this is Hollywood, after all). My mandate was to be real, Bay says.
Writer-director Wes Anderson graduates from the offbeat, low-budget comedy Rushmore to the far more elaborate The Royal Tenenbaums, with a big-league cast: Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Gene Hackman, Danny Glover and Bill Murray. The film tells the story of a family of brilliant misfits who peaked early and now live under one roof. It surprised me that Disney wanted to do this movie, Anderson says. It didnt resemble anything on the docket. Which of course is why audiences might like it.
Finally, no fewer than three new animated movies will try again to expand the genres narrow demographics. The entrants include Disneys Atlantis, an old- fashioned adventure story about the mythical lost city, from animation producer Don Hahn (The Lion King); Osmosis Jones, an edgy comedy about a nasty virus (Laurence Fishburne) who battles a trash-talking white blood cell (Chris Rock), and Monkeybone, which is set inside the mind of a coma victim (Brendan Fraser). All told, it looks like it could be a very good year indeed. But soon the movies and audiences will speak for themselves.