One thing is immediately striking about this year’s film releases: a lack of original concepts. The cinematic calendar promises sequels galore, portraits of historical warriors, film adaptations of popular television shows and a smattering of book to movie translations. Surprisingly, this doesn’t mean we’re in for a bland 12 months.
“It is as it was,” is the Pope’s simple response to the angry furore and accusations of antiSemitism surrounding Mel Gibson’s The Passion (which is due to be released on March 26, a month after its Ash Wednesday release in the States). In filmic terms, this is definitely a diary date for Catholics. Gibson’s account of Christ’s suffering is graphic, believable, unapologetic and not for the faint-hearted – deviating starkly from sanitised earlier depictions. The Passion will leave an indelible mark, regardless of religious persuasion, as it drags us to the very centre of Christ’s torment. Gibson’s aim is to force the audience to take part and respond to events on-screen, although it does remain to be seen whether secular audiences will go as far as to reflect on eschatological questions and their own mortality. One response he shouldn’t get is indifference.
Another film set to cause a stir among Catholic cinemagoers is Exorcist: The Beginning scheduled for release in October. It is doubtful that the prequel will generate the same fuss as the 1973 original, having been diluted by two further films; but let’s hope the film benefits from a credible plot rather than simply facilitating the annual cash-in on religious irreverence.
Prize for the most bizarre title goes to Sex Lives of the Potato Men, a Brit-com starring Johnny Vegas and The Office’s Mackenzie Crook (to be screened in February). One of the smaller parts is billed as: bored bloke in porn shop – draw your own conclusions. A more interesting British offering is King Arthur. By all accounts, this will be a historically accurate version. Flavour of the moment Keira Knightley stars alongside Clive Owen and Ray Winstone (all Brit flicks need a burly, cockney geezer). Producer Jerry Bruckheimer enthuses how Arthur is Roman and the legendary knights are expert Russian horsemen. Commendable
research, although I’m not sure the annals are brimming with wizards called Merlin.
Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy, based on Homer’s poem The Illiad, is another to look forward to. Cynics may see the Trojan War as merely a good excuse to dress Brad Pitt up in Greek leather boots to play the warrior Achilles. Set in 1193 BC, this film is going to be a real
crowd-pleaser and boasts some heavyweight back up in Brian Cox, Peter O’Toole and Orlando Bloom.
Here come the sequels. In 2004, we can look forward to Spiderman 2, Shrek 2, Harry Potter and the Trousers of Death (may not be the actual title but I’m not paying attention anymore) and another instalment of Bridget Jones (this time teetering on The Edge of Reason). In May, Patrick Swayze returns as Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, conceding the lead to Mexican actor Diego Luna in this Cuban-waiter-meets-poshAmerican-girl-with-disapproving-parents dancefest.
Television enthusiasts are well catered for by a number of small to big screen productions. Garfield, Thunderbirds and the pick of the bunch Starsky and Hutch will all hit cinemas this year. But by far the most intriguing news is generated by the great Alexander face-off. Not one, but two biopics of ferocious conquistador Alexander the Great are due for release in November. In the red corner, weighing in at $100m is Oliver Stone’s Alexander, starring Colin Farrell as the King of Macedonia. The film is rumoured to have stolen a march on Baz Luhrman’s Alexander the Great, which has Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role and Martin Scorsese on the production team but may not be released until 2005.
If you feel inspired to get down to your local cinema, Gus van Sant’s Elephant and Sylvia – a sombre look at the relationship between poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath – are both released this month. Elephant tells the story of an American High School shooting and, despite winning the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, has received a mixed bag of reviews.
Others that deserve consideration are Alex Proyas’s version of I, Robot by Isaac Asimov and M Night Shyamalan’s The Village. But set aside some time for the independents. Osama and Lost in Translation (now screening) are well worth a look. Treat yourself to rectangular eyes in 2004.
A full release schedule can be found at: www.launchingfilms.com