This year's film release calendar is heavily populated with sequels, remakes and franchise films. Nothing new there: the most successful films at the UK box office in 2004 (and previous years for that matter) were sequels. Where big budgets are involved, producers continue to play safe, chasing big names whether that be on the screen, behind the camera, or in choosing the story. Continuing advances in computer generated filmmaking have also been offering filmmakers some exciting possibilities for reworking old stories. And this year will offer frequent opportunities to see how filmmakers are balancing the opportunities for CGI creativity with storytelling, with some high profile releases.
Much anticipated unofficial sequel to In The Mood For Love, especially for those of us in Edinburgh, after director Wong Kar Wai pulled the film at the last minute from its opening slot at the film festival in August. A novelist (Tony Leung) in Sixties Hong Kong writes a novel called 2046, set in a futuristic city where his doppelganger has an affair with a gorgeous android. Early reviews describe the film as aesthetically ravishing, although the storyline can be confused.
A bored psychiatrist's wife (Natasha Richardson) falls under the spell of a dangerous but charismatic sculptor at a maximum-security hospital for the criminally insane in this tale of erotic obsession and madness. Based on a novel written by Spider writer Patrick McGrath the story, set in 1957, is told through the eyes of another psychiatrist played by Ian McKellen (Gandalf from LOTR). David Mackenzie, who burst to the fore of the British filmmaking scene with his raw Scottish film noir Young Adam, directs. The film premieres at the Berlin film festival.
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (June)
It's a surprise that Douglas Adams's wonderfully bizarre comedy has taken so long to come to the big screen. The cult novel, the first in a five part series, starts with protagonist Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) waking up to find his home is going to be destroyed by a freeway. Then he learns from a friend Ford Prefect (Moss Def) that the earth is about to be destroyed by an intergalactic freeway and so begins the galaxy-trotting adventures.
War of the Worlds (July)
Orson Welles's famous Mercury Theater radio play was so evocative that for some this reworking of HG Wells 1898 classic tale of alien invasion will come like an unwelcome infection of the imagination. With Stephen Spielberg at the helm, visuals like the tripod attack vehicles that zap anything in their path are sure to be well done in the computer suite, and maybe he can assuage the doubters that this will be a smarter adaptation than Hollywood is renowned for? Tom Cruise, whose production company is behind the movie, stars.
Fantastic Four (July)
Another Marvel Comics invention gets the live action treatment. The fantasic four are astronauts who acquire superpowers from cosmic radiation exposure when a space mission goes awry. The four must do battle with those that threaten earth's peace and, as famous superheroes, cope with the problems of celebrity. Other comic strip adaptations coming out this year include Sin City (April), based on Frank Miller's hard-edged graphic novels, and DC Comics caped superhero returns in Batman Begins (June).
Wallace and Gromit : The Curse of the Wererabbit (October)
In what creator Nick Park has dubbed "a vegetarian horror movie," Wallace and his canine friend Gromit, investigate a mysterious creature that is attacking a village's vegetable patches just as the locals are preparing for a big contest. Can Aardman Animations, clay animation supremos, come up with something as brilliant as Chicken Run?
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (July)
Under normal circumstances, you would say why mess with a classic. But then this remake, sans musical element of the original choco factory film, is by Tim Burton - the mind that brought us The Nightmare Before Christmas and Sleepy Hollow. His strange imaginings for this story are a tantalising prospect, especially when combined with mercurial talent of Johnny Depp, who in his latest in a line of fantastic eccentrics, plays Willy Wonka. Wonka runs the chocolate factory along with his Oompa-loompa pygmies. The Charlie of the title is an impoverished boy whose wildest dreams come true when he wins a tour around the factory for himself and his beloved grandpa. Charlie discovers that all is not sweetness and light though.
Halloween 9 (October)
It's only at nine? Seems longer. The ability of the franchise to stay is amazing.
Brothers Grimm (November)
It's been seven years since Python member and director of Brazil Terry Gilliam has given us a film (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). Now he's got two in the pipeline. Gilliam recently completed filming on the low-budget Tideland, an Alice in Wonderland type story, which was shot in Regina, Saskatchewan. In Brothers Grimm, Heath Ledger and Matt Damon play two brothers and collectors of folklore in Napoleonic France who pretend to rid villages of enchanted creatures. However, when they encounter a genuine fairy-tale curse their bogus exorcisms are no substitute for genuine courage.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe (December)
C.S. Lewis classic fantasy tale about four children's adventures in Narnia gets the Disney treatment. Directed by Andrew Adamson, this is a live-action feature with British talents Tilda Swinton as Jadis: the White Witch, and Rupert Everett and Dawn French doing voices for Fox and Mrs. Beaver respectively.
King Kong (December)
How do you follow up The Lord of the Rings? We'll find out if director Peter Jackson has any more tricks up his sleeve when this biggie stomps out into cinemas. In this remake of the depression-era flick, Naomi Watts stars as Ann Darrow, the beautiful woman that the 25 foot ape falls for. Jack Black plays the leader of an expedition to a long-lost prehistoric land in Sumatra and Adrien Brody a dashing pilot. How well will the adaptation of Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace's novel, about men's foolish ideas about capturing and exhibiting the big ape, carry over to modern audiences? There may be a pent-up demand for such a man-versus-nature fable in this era of mass extinctions, especially with wizard PJ at the helm.
Release dates may be subject to change.