MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
For months, box office news has been bad for Hollywood. The film industry has just 37 more days to lift the year out of a major attendance slump and they're banking on potential blockbusters and Oscar hopefuls to do that. We asked NPR's Bob Mondello for a selective preview of the offerings.
BOB MONDELLO reporting:
With "Lord of the Rings" fading into history and Harry Potter's saga more than half over, studios have been looking for the next book-to-screen phenomenon. Disney thinks it's going to be the C.S. Lewis series "The Chronicles of Narnia," of which the first film episode is "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."
(Soundbite of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe")
Unidentified Man #1: There is a prophecy that two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve will appear to defeat the White Witch and put an end to this hundred-year winter.
Unidentified Boy: I think you've made a mistake. We're not heroes.
Unidentified Man #1: There's no mistake. Aslan is on the move.
MONDELLO: The Narnia Chronicles are a little trickier to market than the Harry Potter books because the original novels were conceived as a Christian allegory, which will be a definite plus for some audiences, a potential minus for others. And marketing issues will dog other holiday issues too, like Ang Lee's so-called gay cowboy movie "Brokeback Mountain." The film has garnered raves at film festivals and is widely viewed as a likely Oscar contender for best picture. The question now is will audiences embrace a film about two men who form a lifetime attachment that they try hard not to acknowledge.
(Soundbite of "Brokeback Mountain")
Unidentified Man #2: ...(Unintelligible)?
Unidentified Man #3: Well, maybe not. Already said me and Alex(ph) is getting married in November. So we're trying to get something on a ranch, I guess. You?
Unidentified Man #2: I go up to my daddy's place and give him a hand through the winter. I might be back.
MONDELLO: Other pictures being talked up for Oscars include two by celebrated directors dealing with historical events. Steven Spielberg will take audiences back to the 1972 Munich Olympics to look at the clash of cultures and at clashes within cultures arising from the assassination of 11 Israeli athletes. The film is called "Munich."
(Soundbite of "Munich")
Unidentified Woman #1: Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values.
Unidentified Man #4: We want to ask you. Will you undertake a mission?
Unidentified Man #5: We have 11 Palestinian names. Each had a hand in planning Munich. You're going to kill them one by one.
MONDELLO: Written by Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner, "Munich" is already the subject of considerable controversy. And another respected director, Terence Malick, looks back at a 17th century clash of cultures in "The New World," the one that began the nation's history.
(Soundbite of "The New World")
Unidentified Man #6: We must live in peace with these people. Our survival depends upon it.
MONDELLO: Virginia 1607. Soldier John Smith meets a young woman named Pocahontas.
(Soundbite of "The New World")
Unidentified Man #7: Had she not fed us, we would have starved.
Unidentified Man #8: ...(Unintelligible).
Unidentified Man #9: I beg you. Let not America go wrong in the first hour.
MONDELLO: A more recent historical period, the late 1930s, will be fictionalized in three major films. Two of them involve exquisite young women who chafe at being put on display in the Far East in Japan in "Memoirs of a Geisha."
(Soundbite of "Memoirs of a Geisha")
Unidentified Woman #2: What is he to think? He safeguarded your life.
Unidentified Woman #3: So he owns it?
Unidentified Woman #2: Sayuri, I know what it is like to try and scrape by without a daima(ph).
Unidentified Woman #3: I want a life that is mine.
MONDELLO: And while Sayuri is dreaming of a better Japanese life, an impoverished Russian aristocrat will be doing much the same thing in China in "The White Countess." It's an opulent epic in which Natasha Richardson's countess gets hired by a blind Rafe Fiennes to captivate his nightclub guests. He asks nothing more of her, but she sort of wishes he would.
(Soundbite of "The White Countess")
Mr. RAFE FIENNES: I thought that we'd get on best if we confined our friendship to within these walls.
Ms. NATASHA RICHARDSON: And for you to hear about my life beyond this place--I suppose it spoils your picture of me.
MONDELLO: Richardson's real-life mother and aunt, Vanessa Redgrave and Lynn Redgrave, also star in "The White Countess," the first time the three of them have appeared together on screen. Meanwhile, their friend Judi Dench will also be immersing herself in the 1930s for a comedy set half a world away. "Mrs. Henderson Presents" is about a wealthy widow who buys a London theater and finds a very un-British way to fill it.
(Soundbite of "Mrs. Henderson Presents")
Dame JUDI DENCH: The Windmill Theater will open with the most revolutionary program ever seen in England.
Unidentified Man #10: All right, ladies. Off you go.
MONDELLO: Mrs. Henderson's revolutionary program involves nudity.
(Soundbite of "Mrs. Henderson Presents")
Unidentified Woman #4: Well, it doesn't seem fair for them to be dressed when we're not.
Unidentified Man #11: Warfare is fair.
Unidentified Man #12: Come out.
Unidentified Woman #4: You too, Mr. Van Damm.
Unidentified Man #13: Don't you ...(unintelligible).
MONDELLO: Now like the other films I've mentioned, "Mrs. Henderson Presents" has Oscar hopes, but even during Oscar season Hollywood doesn't put all its box-office eggs in one basket. Comedies of a less exalted sort are a big part of the holiday mix and this year's include an eccentric romance called "Rumor Has It," in which Jennifer Aniston overhears a secret that rocks her world.
(Soundbite of "Rumor Has It")
Unidentified Woman #5: Get me a copy of "The Graduate."
Unidentified Woman #6: My family ...(unintelligible). We are the Robinsons.
Unidentified Woman #5: Why has no one ever told me about this?
Unidentified Man #14: And most of all you have to hide it from the kids, Cuckoo.
Unidentified Woman #7: You're Mrs. Robinson.
MONDELLO: While we're talking about films that reference other films, we can hardly leave out Mel Brooks' "The Producers," a story of Broadwayites who discover they can make more money with a theatrical flop than with a hit. It started out as a movie, morphed into a Broadway musical and is now coming back to the screen as a movie musical.
(Soundbite of "The Producers")
Unidentified Man #15: What is it? You found the flop?
Unidentified Man #16: Touch it. Kiss it.
Unidentified Man #15: Is it?
Unidentified Man #16: It's the motherload.
Unidentified Chorus: (Singing) Springtime for Hitler and Germany.
MONDELLO: "The Producers" is in a sense a remake, something it has in common with the presumed megablockbuster that you'd call the season's 800-pound gorilla, if its star didn't weigh so much more than that. Call him an eight-ton gorilla or just call him King Kong.
(Soundbite of "King Kong")
Unidentified Man #17: So you are ready for this voyage, Astero(ph)?
Unidentified Woman #8: Sure.
Unidentified Man #17: Nervous?
Unidentified Woman #8: Nervous? No. Should I be?
MONDELLO: Oh, yes. And so are producers, who've been moving their pictures out of Kong's way for the better part of two years. Still, there will be other stories out there, many of them changes of pace for the talents involved. Actor Tommy Lee Jones will add director to his resume with a bilingual western called "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada." And see if you can tell which famous American director made this dark romantic thriller about a social-climbing tennis pro.
(Soundbite of "Match Point")
Unidentified Man #18: So you're threatening me?
Unidentified Man #19: If I don't do what you say you're going to get my wife.
Unidentified Woman #9: Hello? Who keeps calling?
Unidentified Man #19: You have to protect me. My family, my marriage is at stake.
MONDELLO: British accents, introspective drama, intense emotions--obviously this is a film by Woody Allen. Really? It's called "Match Point." It's gotten good reviews and it will open on the final weekend of 2005 just in time for Oscar consideration, after which we can all start thinking ahead to next summer's superhero battles when "Spider-Man 3" meets "X-Men 3" meets "Superman Returns." Can you wait?
I'm Bob Mondello.
NORRIS: This is NPR, National Public Radio.