24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Science Fiction

James Franco's 'Rise of the Apes' will now mutate on Thanksgiving

January 14, 2011 |  7:12 pm

The apes won't rise this summer after all.

Fox said this afternoon that it's moving "Rise of the Apes" back five months, taking its "Planet of the Apes" prequel out of its planned summer date of June 24 and slotting it for Nov. 23. (Filmgoers will get a different animal in June, with the studio saying concurrently that it has moved up the Jim Carrey family film "Mr. Popper's Penguins" from its August release date to June 17.)

The move slows momentum on the quickly moving "Rise of the Apes," in which James Franco stars in a new version of the science-fiction classic. (He plays the scientist who discovers the apes mutating; Andy Serkis plays the chimp who leads the revolt.)

The studio announced in May that a reboot would be set for June 2011, saying that British director Rupert Wyatt would be offering a  "completely new take on one of the studio’s most beloved and successful franchises." The cast was rounded out soon after, with production getting underway in the summer. (Pierre Boulle's novel, of course, spawned the 1968 Charlton Heston classic, which was followed by four sequels as well as a Tim Burton reimagining in 2001.)

The film is using photorealistic apes from Peter Jackson's Weta Digital effects company, and a Fox spokesman said that the November date will allow for increased postproduction time, and also steers the film to a place on the calendar with fewer big-budget action movies. This coming June-July period will see a number of effects-driven blockbuster hopefuls such as "X-Men: First Class," "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" and the final film in the Harry Potter franchise.

Moving a film out of summer can sometimes set off alarm bells in Hollywood, but it doesn't necessarily bode ill for a movie; current comedy sequel "Little Fockers" was pushed back from July to Christmas and has wound up performing respectably over the holidays.

--Steven Zeitchik


 Photo: James Franco at the GQ Men of the Year party. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Hollywood's new space race

November 18, 2010 |  1:48 pm

NASA may be facing serious cutbacks, but don't tell people in Hollywood: They’re planning a trip to the moon.

Maybe several trips, even.

Multiple movie studios are scrambling to make a film set on the lunar surface. And in a manner reminiscent of the U.S.-Soviet space race of the 20th century, it's a competition rife with egos, insecurities and the belief that whoever gets there second may as well not get there at all.

The Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov (“Wanted”) is producing a movie titled “Apollo 18” that Harvey and Bob Weinstein this month made a deal to finance and distribute. The movie -- which will employ supposedly found-footage in the manner of “Paranormal Activity” -- plays off conspiracy theories that the scrapped mission of the title actually reached the moon after all, and that the astronauts arrived on Earth's nearest neighbor to find a hostile alien awaiting them.

"When we search for other life, the first place we look is the moon," said Bob Weinstein in an interview. "There's a definite allure there. And then you get to the Apollo mission and all the conspiracy theories about it, and it's fascinating."

A second planned film, “Dark Moon,” is also a found-footage thriller set on Earth’s largest satellite. But after being scrapped by its studio, Warner Bros., in the wake of the “Apollo” news, the genre production company Dark Castle -- whose senior executive, Andrew Rona, once worked for the Weinsteins -- acquired the project. Rona may need to push it out quickly, though: The two films are believed to be too similar to co-exist in theaters.

Meanwhile, the director Doug Liman (“Mr. & Mrs. Smith”) has long been working on his own movie about lunar colonization. Although the project has been in development for several years, Liman said recently he’d still like to make it, and one person familiar with the film said that line producers had just been hired, suggesting that a launch may not be far off.

Like any good space race, there's plenty of misdirection and secrecy in Hollywood's rush to explore the stars. Bob Weinstein said that the plan is to have their movie in theaters by March. "We love that date, and come hell or high water, we'll have the movie then," he said, also outlining a strategy that included a trailer in December and a possible Super Bowl ad.

But with shooting yet to begin and a director (the up-and-comer Gonzalo Gallego Lopez, who joins writer Cory Goodman, known for the upcoming vampire movie "Priest,") just hired, competitors believe that the March date is simply a matter of moguls, well, planting a flag.

Moon movies have in recent years been seen as too expensive for cost-conscious studios (although one of the biggest hits in history, “Avatar,” was of course set on a distant planet). The most recent lunar film was Duncan Jones' “Moon,” a 2009 low-budget hit in which Sam Rockwell played an astronaut trying to get back to Earth.

But despite all of Hollywood’s interest in the big light in the sky, some are deciding to stay here on Earth. Shortly after news of “Apollo 18” surfaced, the director Roland Emmerich took a low-budget outer-space movie he was planning called “The Zone” and aborted the mission.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Buzz Aldrin on the moon in July 1969. Credit: Neil Armstrong/Associated Press


Can 'Gravity' get off the ground? Studio says yes, but doubts persist

October 29, 2010 |  3:55 pm

"Gravity" is one of the most anticipated films on the Hollywood drawing board. But the science-fiction film about a woman marooned in outer space is enduring more than its share of launch troubles.

When details about the film began to circulate several months ago, "Gravity" looked like the kind of project many believe Hollywood studios do best: employ a muscular budget in the service of a grand vision, creating memorable effects and hitting emotional beats. And serious talent was involved: Alfonso Cuaron, the "Children of Men" auteur, was writing and directing the movie, and Angelina Jolie was set to star.

Fan sites were gushing immediately. "Anyone know when filming is supposed to begin because I can't wait for this. If there's any director who could potentially match what [Christopher] Nolan is doing with 'Inception,' it's Cuaron," was one typical fan-site comment.

But the movie that many saw in their mind's eye may never make it to the screen.

Jolie bowed out of the film three weeks ago, and Natalie Portman had discussions with Cuaron to replace her but opted out as well, according to several trade-news outlets. Robert Downey Jr., who was to play a supporting role, now looks likely to exit. ("Scheduling issues" are acknowledged by Warner Bros. executives, who say they have not entirely given up hope that the actor will take the part.) Sandra Bullock, who came on to the film after talks with Portman didn't materialize, remains in — for now.

Over the last few days, the talk in Hollywood circles has been that all the casting issues, as well as budgetary concerns for the effects-heavy movie, were causing Warner Bros. to put the film on hold. One person who had been briefed on the project but asked not to be identified because the conversations were private said that studio officials had told him the project was headed to the shelf.

Reached by phone, the Warner Bros. executive in charge of production said that, despite the casting issues and the other talk, the film remains on track. "We love this movie, and we're going to find a way to make it,"  Lynn Harris, executive vice president of production, told 24 Frames.

Harris said there were "four or five scenarios" for how to make the movie but said none involved cutting the budget or replacing Bullock. Harris did not disclose the budget, but Hollywood observers estimate it to be in the ballpark of $75 million.

To some in the movie business, "Gravity" has been a question mark from the start: It's coming at a time when studios rarely make expensive character-driven movies. It also lacks an obvious commercial hook, and there are artistic touches that include a reported 20-minute single take to open the movie.

Some have likened "Gravity" to "Cast Away," but even if the comparison holds, times have changed in the decade since the Tom Hanks film came out. These days, most movies of this kind are left in independent-film hands. The premise of "Gravity" is similar to that of 2008's "Moon," Duncan Jones' story of a man on the lunar surface struggling to get back to his family — which was made for a small budget outside the studio system.

Warner Bros. executives say they wouldn't want to make "Gravity" with anyone other than Bullock. The question for many in Hollywood is whether they will make the movie at all.

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Cuaron's 'Children of Men.' Credit: Universal Pictures

Gavin Hood looks to play 'Ender's Game'

September 20, 2010 |  6:25 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Fans of Orson Scott Card and his seminal science-fiction work "Ender's Game" were despondent last year when the author revealed that he thought the movie could be hitting the rocks.

But the project about a boy hero is now back in active development, sources say, as independent production company Odd Lot Entertainment pushes forward on a movie version of the Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel.

Most interesting, sources  say there's now a big-name filmmaker involved with the project -- Gavin Hood, who directed the Oscar-winning "Tsotsi" and last year's comic book franchise "X Men Origins: Wolverine." Hood has done a rewrite of Card's most recent script and is developing the project as a director.

That level of involvement doesn't mean a filmmaker  will wind up directing a film, of course. But for a project that's struggled as much as this one, it's a start.

Sci-fi novelist and Mormon activist Card garnered significant acclaim with his 1985 novel "Ender's Game." Based on his own short story, Card's book tells of a world in which humans face a serious threat from an alien race known as the Formics and begin training elite military units in response. Against this backdrop comes Andrew Wiggin, also known as Ender, a child who becomes a top-flight solider and helps to save Earth (by fighting simulations that turn out to be real).

The book gained acclaim for its dystopian militarism and also generated controversy for what critics said was the justification of extreme violence, as well as the use of child soldiers. Card wrote several sequels depicting the character as as a teenager and an adult, and the property spun off comic book editions as well. Card returned in 2009 with the novel "Ender in Exile," in which the character -- Spoiler alert: Skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to find out more about the book --  is sent to a distant planet after fighting off another alien wave because he is too ruthless even for those who trained him.

There have been numerous attempts to get a film project of "Ender's Game" going over the years; at one point, Wolfgang Petersen was said to be mulling it as a director. In this "Call of Duty," war-in-the-Middle-East age, there's a timeliness to a story of simulated battle and young people in far-flung death struggles. But studios have found it tricky to take on the story, which, with its large-scale battles,  they deemed as requiring a significant budget and a sophisticated visual aesthetic.

At the same time, Card himself has insisted that a movie not go effects-heavy; he told The Times last year that he envisioned a film "where the human relationships are absolutely essential -- an honest presentation of the story."

In that sense, Hood may be the best of both worlds. The South African's shantytown racial drama "Tsotsi" was a film rife with human emotion (it centers on a thug who finds an orphaned baby). But with "Wolverine," he's also worked on a large-scale production, one with big budgets, big stars and big studio politics. (He dealt with reshoots, rumors about producer Richard Donner calling the shots and then, to top if all off, a piracy scandal.) Tackling ferocious alien races, after all that, may be child's play.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Ender's Game Comic. Credit: Marvel Comics

Kenneth Turan's film pick of the week: '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' & Stephin Merritt

July 8, 2010 |  7:59 am


Though the executives at Disney who quashed a recent remake attempt may not think so, there is something eternally appealing about Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," and Sunday night offers an opportunity to see the 1916 silent version in a really special way.

Providing the live musical accompaniment at the Cinefamily at 611 North Fairfax is the gifted Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields. Merritt, whose music enlivened the indie hit "Pieces of April," starring Katie Holmes and Derek Luke, will be working from a score commissioned by the San Francisco Film Society.

I've personally never seen this rare 1916 version, complete with then-state-of-the-art underwater photography, but I do have the movie tie-in edition of the novel dating from when the film came out, and it makes this "20,000 Leagues" look truly exciting. "Special Submarine Edition" it says right on the cover, with the words "Actually Photographed Under the Sea" appearing on the spine.

The tickets are expensive -- $35 apiece -- but this event, happening at both 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. is worth it.

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: A scene from the 1916 film "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." Credit: Courtesy of Cinefamily

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Is Hollywood headed to mars?

June 24, 2010 | 12:40 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Humans fled Earth to colonize a distant planet in "Avatar," and now they could be do it again in "The Martian Chronicles."

Martia Sources say that John Davis, the Fox-based producer behind such science-fiction hits as "Alien vs. Predator" and "I, Robot," has optioned film rights to the Ray Bradbury classic, in which humans land on Mars after a cataclysmic disaster and interact/clash with the natives in a series of interlinked adventures.

Bradbury's 1950 short-story collection has made it to the screen before, in a 1980 television miniseries that starred Rock Hudson and Bernadette Peters. But 30 years later, there's plenty more that technology (and 3-D?) could bring to the tales.

There's certainly ample narrative material in the book, which chronicle much of the action from humans' point of view, with some philosophical inquiry layered atop the pulp stories. One thing that may need to change, however, is the timing: Bradbury's original book set a chunk of the stories in the distant future -- in 2000 and 2005.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "The Martian Chronicles." Credit: Doubleday Dell


Hollywood hopes for a game-changer in 'Avatar'

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Ray Bradbury brings his dark carnival to Santa Monica

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