Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Robot boys, bombs and magic rings

The other day I went to see a movie in a regular old suburban multiplex for the first time seemingly in ages. (A strange turn of events for someone purporting to publish a movie web site, but then again maybe not.) As usual, they showed a lot of stuff before the feature presentation (which happened to be The Tailor of Panama), and all of it was very exciting.

First, there was a public service announcement by Jennifer Love Hewitt, and that got me excited. That is, until I remembered that I haven’t been a pimply-faced, adolescent boy for years, and then I snapped out of it.

Then they showed that trailer for A.I. again. They must be showing it a lot because I think I remember seeing it months ago. And they don’t seem to have changed it. Thankfully, it doesn’t give away the whole doggoned story because that would really be annoying (cf. my previous rant on movie trailers). But the trailer tells us enough so that we know that the film (the initials in the title stand for Artificial Intelligence) is about a boy who isn’t human. Sounds a bit like the 1985 film D.A.R.Y.L. by Simon Wincer, whose other credits included Phar Lap and Free Willy. A.I. is directed by none other than Steven Spielberg, and the last time he made a movie whose title consisted of two initials (E.T., in case you’re not keeping up with me) it also dealt with children and turned out to be an excellent piece of film work as well as a real heart-warmer and, not incidentally, a big moneymaker. We can almost feel our tear ducts welling up now, just from watching the trailer. We can expect a modern-day Pinocchio story about a child learning about humanity. The fact that it stars Haley Joel Osment of The Sixth Sense only heightens the expectations.

But what really makes this movie potentially interesting is that it was something that the late director Stanley Kubrick had been working for some time, and it was reportedly going to be his next project after he completed Eyes Wide Shut. Now there’s a mind game for you. When you watch Spielberg’s version of A.I., try to imagine what Kubrick’s would have been like. I mean, if Spielberg had made 2001: A Space Odyssey, would it have turned out to be Close Encounters of the Third Kind? If he made Paths of Glory, would it have turned out to be Saving Private Ryan? It boggles the mind.

The next thing I saw was one of the trailers for Pearl Harbor. (There seems to be more than one out there.) My first thought was, do we really need this movie? Didn’t Hollywood already make (and remake) From Here to Eternity as well as Tora! Tora! Tora!? But then I saw a fabulous shot of a bomb leaving a Japanese aircraft, following it all the way down to the U.S. ship below. If the rest of the movie is as breathtaking as that one shot, this could be quite a movie. Since the producer/director team is Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay, who gave us non-stop, rock’em sock’em action and a dash of military jingoism in The Rock, it probably won’t be Saving Private Ryan, but it won’t be boring either.

But the most exciting thing I saw before the movie was another trailer. You may well have seen it yourself, if not at your local cinema then perhaps on the Internet. I merely had to hear the first few words: “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them…” That was all I (and legions of other fans of the writer J.R.R. Tolkien) needed for have my heart leap into my throat. The Lord of the Rings is the granddaddy of modern epic fantasy. Because of its scope and fantastic elements, no one has attempted a live action movie version before. (Animator Ralph Bakshi did a fairly impressive partial version in 1978, and there were animated versions of The Hobbit and Return of the King on TV a bit later.)

The man attempting the definitive film version is New Zealander Peter Jackson, whose directing credits basically consist of Dead Alive, Heavenly Creatures, The Frighteners and the very funny parody Forgotten Silver. The cast sounds wonderful: Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Christopher Lee as Saruman, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Brad Dourif as Wormtongue, to name a few. Certainly, everyone who has ever read this classic trilogy has created their own Middle Earth in his or her imagination, and that will be something very difficult to live up to in a film version. But I have a good feeling that Jackson just might pull it off. We’ll know for sure when The Fellowship of the Ring is released next Christmas.

-S.L., 5 April 2001

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