Summer Releases Look Hot This Year
Wednesday, April 25th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ It's same-old, same-old time in Hollywood. Predictably, summer blockbuster season is bursting with sequels, remakes, the odd adaptation of a video game and the latest Julia Roberts romantic comedy.
Yet somehow, the same-old, same-old has a fresher feel this year, offering a solid mix of the tried-and-true and some interesting newcomers.
Unlike last summer, which began with a bang but took a box-office dive come August, likely hits appear to be spread throughout the season right to Labor Day.
``There's big films straight through,'' said Bruce Snyder, head of distribution for 20th Century Fox, whose summer lineup includes ``Planet of the Apes.'' ``Trying to find a place to put a movie is impossible. This summer is loaded.''
And though studios may have long-term trouble with potential dual strikes by writers and actors unions, the industry's short-term health looks great.
``This will be the biggest summer in history, no doubt,'' said Joe Roth, former Disney studio chief who recently formed Revolution Studios and is directing Roberts' romance ``America's Sweethearts.'' ``I can identify at least 10 movies off the top of my head that will gross over $100 million.''
Among those, ``Pearl Harbor,'' which blows into theaters over Memorial Day weekend. Directed by Michael Bay and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer _ whose explosive collaborations include ``Armageddon'' and ``The Rock'' _ ``Pearl Harbor'' could well be the war spectacle to end all war spectacles.
``It's an enormously exciting drama,'' Bruckheimer said. ``I think it captures the chaos, the pathos, the heroism experienced by the men and women who lived through it.''
The movie traces the romance and friendship involving two pilots (Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett) and a Navy nurse (Kate Beckinsale). After fighting with an American squadron in the Battle of Britain, Affleck's character arrives in Honolulu the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor, where Hartnett and Beckinsale's characters are stationed.
Other big films include ``A.I. Artificial Intelligence,'' Steven Spielberg's return to science fiction; the World War II romance ``Captain Corelli's Mandolin,'' with Nicolas Cage; Disney's animated saga ``Atlantis: The Lost Empire,'' featuring the voice of Michael J. Fox; Mariah Carey's lead-actress debut in ``All That Glitters''; a new version of ``Rollerball''; the computer-animated fable ``Shrek,'' with the voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy; John Singleton's inner-city drama ``Baby Boy''; the video-game adaptations ``Tomb Raider,'' with Angelina Jolie, and ``Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within,'' the first full-length film using semi-realistic human characters created by computer; and Ivan (``Ghostbusters'') Reitman's ``Evolution,'' a space-invaders comedy starring David Duchovny and Julianne Moore.
``Evolution'' revolves around alien spores that land in Arizona on a meteor and quickly evolve into primates that threaten to conquer Earth. Duchovny plays a junior-college biology professor who leads the fight against the invaders, though he said it's a far cry from his droll, alien-obsessed character on ``The X-Files.''
``Like that `Ghostbusters' vein, even though we are the experts, we're still kind of goofy. We're dimwitted at times and brilliant at other times. But brilliant in a dimwitted way,'' Duchovny said.
Two films combining live action and animation offer intriguing comic premises. ``Cats & Dogs'' features Jeff Goldblum and the voices of Alec Baldwin and Susan Sarandon in a war of household pets created by computer animation. The Farrelly brothers' ``Osmosis Jones'' stars Bill Murray as a man whose body is host for an animated battle between a white blood cell (the voice of Chris Rock) and a lethal virus (the voice of Laurence Fishburne).
Sequelitis _ the Hollywood disease that resulted in ``Babe: Pig in the City,'' ``Look Who's Talking Too'' and way too many ``Police Academy'' movies _ seems less acute than in some years. Studios appear to have chosen follow-ups for film franchises that still feel reasonably fresh and appealing.
``I wouldn't have done this sequel if I didn't think we could make a bigger and better movie,'' said Stephen Sommers, writer-director of the 1999 hit ``The Mummy'' and its sequel, ``The Mummy Returns,'' the season's first major release on May 4. ``On sequels, audiences can almost smell when you're trying to be cheap about it or trying just to do a knockoff of the first one.''
Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz and other key cast members return for the sequel, set eight years after the first movie. Professional wrestler The Rock co-stars as a new villain, the Scorpion King, who battles the resurrected mummy Imhotep.
Other big sequels include ``Jurassic Park III,'' minus Spielberg in the director's chair but with Sam Neill reprising his role from the original film; Eddie Murphy returning in ``Doctor Dolittle 2''; a Wayans brothers reunion on the horror spoof ``Scary Movie 2''; another serving of gross-out comedy with ``American Pie 2''; and Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker teaming up again for ``Rush Hour 2.''
``Jurassic Park III'' director Joe Johnston had the unenviable task of following Spielberg's two blockbuster dinosaur flicks. But the project had full support from Spielberg, who is executive producer on the new sequel and hand-picked Johnston to direct.
``No one can come along and make a Steven Spielberg movie except Steven Spielberg,'' said Johnston, whose directing credits include ``Jumanji'' and ``October Sky.'' ``He didn't hire me to make a Steven Spielberg movie. He hired me to make my own.''
This time out, Neill's paleontologist ends up stranded on that second dinosaur island introduced in ``The Lost World: Jurassic Park.'' Laura Dern also returns, and the cast includes William H. Macy, Tea Leoni and a host of new dinosaur creations.
``I think you do have to sort of ratchet up the intensity of these films as you get into sequel after sequel. You have to keep offering the audience more,'' Johnston said.
Advances in makeup and special effects _ plus the distinct visual style of director Tim Burton _ guarantee a wildly different take on ``Planet of the Apes'' than the 1968 adaptation.
Unlike the original movie, which stranded human astronauts on our own planet in a future ruled by apes, Burton's movie begins with the same premise as Pierre Boulle's novel _ that the space travelers have landed on another world.
The cast includes Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan and Kris Kristofferson.
``Rollerball'' stars Chris Klein, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and LL Cool J as teammates in a brutal skating and motorcycle sport played in a fictionalized central Asian country that was once part of the Soviet Union.
``This movie really does question the commercialization of sports,'' Klein said. ``But it also questions the integrity of viewers watching the sport. With violence, are we just giving them what they want?''
While the original movie was perceived as an indictment of athletic violence, the new ``Rollerball'' is more a statement about business forces that ``figure they'll up their take if they get some blood on the track every week,'' said director John McTiernan (``Die Hard''). ``The movie is a story about economic criminals.''
As for video-game adaptations, who isn't interested in seeing Jolie take on adventurer Lara Croft's persona in ``Tomb Raider''?
``I honestly didn't accept me in that persona at first,'' Jolie said. ``I was one of those people who rolled my eyes every time I saw a picture of her and was irritated at the fascination over her.''
``Tomb Raider'' director Simon West said he could not ``think of anyone else who was suitable for the part. She had to fit the requirements, be gorgeous and physical but be sort of tomboyish about it. And she had to be a terrific actress.
``Our Lara is darker than most people perceive her. That's why we cast Angelina. A lot of people perceive her as quite a dark character in real life, and the characters she's chosen to play have been kind of dark.''
What helped win Jolie over was a poll of ``Tomb Raider'' game fans, who gave a thumbs-up to the eccentric actress as Lara.
``I identified with the part because she's different,'' Jolie said. ``She is a bit nuts, which is part of the appeal. Lara, she's a bit out of her mind.''
An added bonus: Jolie's father, Jon Voight, co-stars as Lara's dad.
Shot in remote locations that include Iceland and Cambodia, ``Tomb Raider'' pits Lara against a shadowy cabal awaiting a planetary alignment that will allow them to steal God's powers.
Duplicating human powers is the focus of ``A.I.,'' a film Spielberg inherited from Stanley Kubrick. In the early 1990s, Kubrick began discussing the project with Spielberg, and the two considered collaborating on it, said Bonnie Curtis, a producer on ``A.I.'' and a longtime Spielberg associate.
After Kubrick died, his family turned ``A.I.'' over to Spielberg, who wrote the screenplay, his first time as writer-director since ``Close Encounters of the Third Kind'' from 1977.
Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law and Frances O'Connor star in ``A.I.'', a futuristic Pinocchio tale of a robot boy programmed with emotions who is rejected by his human ``parents.''
Spielberg relied on years' worth of Kubrick's storyboards, story treatments and the conversations the two had about the project.
``With Steven, you're looking at one of the all-time greatest Kubrick fans. Steven would say very conscientiously during filming, `Oh, Stanley would have liked this, he would have liked that,''' Curtis said. ``I do believe the final result is a Kubrick-Spielberg collaboration.''
For ``America's Sweethearts,'' Roberts offers a reversal of the movie star role she played in ``Notting Hill.'' This time she's seen as a lowly personal assistant to a top celebrity (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The film co-stars Billy Crystal, who co-wrote the script, and John Cusack.
Audiences seem to like Roberts in almost any part these days, so director Roth is not worried about whether moviegoers will accept the twist on her superstar status.
``I think they will, when you have someone as glamorous as Catherine Zeta-Jones playing the movie star,'' Roth said. ``And Julia's a great actress. She gets to play the one normal person in this turned-around, crazy world of entertainment.''