- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2005

The movie industry squandered any semblance of curiosity about its departing summer season. Reputedly, theaters were full of blockbusters that somehow added up to disappointing box-office totals weekend after weekend. A feeble finger of blame indicted the public while this business model was belabored to death. The audience somehow is supposed to feel ashamed for failing to make every new summer release a hit of historic proportions.

At this stage of cost inflation for both movie production and consumption, it’s difficult to believe anything is as demonstrably popular as, say, “Jaws” or “Star Wars” back in the 1970s. Saturation advertising and celebrity worship stifle freshness and discovery. Could anyone approach “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” with expectations of seeing a good movie? Not a chance, but genuine elements of surprise and novelty are reawakened by the occasional sleeper. “The March of the Penguins” was the prize example this summer.

Disincentives abound at the typical first-run multiplex, where every new picture is a mere advertising platform, held hostage to trailers for concessions, television shows, video games and other leisure-time pursuits, not to mention countless trailers for features whose content may not harmonize with the movie you came to see.

By the time the feature starts, you have been given ample excuse to leave prematurely. The only thing that would justify the stupefying tackiness of current theater presentation is a drastic reduction in ticket prices.

With that off my chest, what pictures might justify a bit of patience and esteem in the season ahead?Perhaps new adaptations of famous novels.

The first appears Sept. 30: a Roman Polanski remake of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” starring Ben Kingsley as Fagin. The Thanksgiving assortment begins on Nov. 18 with a period remake of Jane Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice” that stars Keira Knightley as heroine Elizabeth Bennet.

The Christmas batch includes a new edition of Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men,” updated somewhat to the 1950s by writer-director Steve Zaillian and starring Sean Penn as Louisiana political boss Willie Stark, a fictionalized character study of the Depression-era demagogue Huey Long.

Two of these sources already have Oscar pedigrees: Robert Rossen’s version of “King’s Men” dominated the Academy Awards of 1949; the musical “Oliver!” won best picture of 1968.

It promises to be an auspicious season for prestige juvenile fiction. The fourth of the Harry Potter films, derived from J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” is also on the Thanksgiving calendar. C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” gets a new realization in both live-action and digital imagery with a film version of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” at Christmas.

Directed in New Zealand by Andrew Adamson, a native who enjoyed huge Hollywood success with “Shrek,” this Lewis revival could be the start of a cycle as ambitious as Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which anchored the Christmas season for three years in a row.Mr. Jackson also returns this Christmas with his subsequent dream project, a remake of “King Kong.”

The literary material of recent vintage includes “Everything Is Illuminated,” a first feature from actor Liev Schreiber, with Elijah Wood as the alter ego of novelist Jonathan Safran Foer during a pilgrimage to the Ukraine.

Steven Spielberg abandoned “Memoirs of a Geisha,” but the book has rebounded to Rob Marshall, who made a triumphant film debut with “Chicago.” His cast includes a trio of Asian film goddesses: Ziyi Zhang and Michelle Yeoh of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and Gong Li of the Zhang Yimou classics of the early 1990s.

Mr. Spielberg remains one of the co-producers for both “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “The Legend of Zorro,” a welcome sequel that reunites many of the collaborators on “The Mask of Zorro,” one of the happiest surprises of the late 1990s.

Mr. Spielberg may also have “Munich,” his account of the terrorist victimization of the 1972 Olympic Games, finished in time for an Oscar run. The time frame stretches beyond that calamity, with Eric Bana as an Israeli agent dedicated to avenging the athletes taken captive by Palestinian terrorists.

The director of “Crouching Tiger,” Ang Lee, will attempt to finesse an Annie Proulx novel “Brokeback Mountain,” adapted by Larry McMurtry and matching Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger as cowboys who meet in 1963 and sustain a special friendship over the years.

It’s a busy season for both young actors. Mr. Gyllehhaal has the lead in Sam Mendes’ version of the Marine combat memoir “Jarhead,” set during Desert Storm. Mr. Ledger takes a crack at “Casanova,” allegedly a lighthearted biographical portrait from director Lasse Hallstrom.

Notorious literary figures highlight the biographical subjects. Truman Capote is portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Capote,” which depicts the writer during the period he was researching “In Cold Blood.” Johnny Depp has been cast as the notorious John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, in “The Libertine,” which co-stars John Malkovich as his royal nemesis, Charles II. There’s no firm Washington date as yet.

The marital team of Johnny Cash and June Carter are reincarnated by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in “Walk the Line.” Terrence Mallick harks back to the dawn of European settlement in Virginia with “The New World,” which casts Colin Farrell as John Smith and Christian Bale as John Rolfe while introducing a Peruvian teenager, Q’Orianka Kilcher, as Pocahontas.

The Aardman Studio finally has completed its eagerly awaited feature “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” which should brighten the prospects for families at an early date, Oct. 7.

Improbably, there are two movie versions of recent Broadway musicals: Chris Columbus’ production of “Rent,” which co-stars Rosario Dawson and Taye Diggs, and Susan Stroman’s production of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers,” which reunites Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick while adding Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman.

It looks as if some fun could be had during the new movie season. Arguably, there are titles worth anticipating. Following through on the impulse would be easier if the squalid side of actually going to the movies could be eliminated.


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