Sci-Fi, fantasy blockbusters coming your way soon
Spider-Man, Harry Potter and Shrek 2 are all back and there's more, says David Germain in Hollywood
May 4, 2004
LOS ANGELES — A boy wizard, a student superhero and a newlywed ogre walk into
a movie theater ...
No matter the punch line, Hollywood studios hope to laugh all the way to the ticket counter on the strength of those characters, lead players in the summer movie season's big three: Harry Potter
and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Spider-Man 2 and Shrek 2.
The computer-animated follow-up to 2001's blockbuster Shrek reunites the voice talents of Mike Myers as the lovable ogre, Cameron Diaz as his newly ogrified bride and Eddie Murphy as their motormouth donkey pal. The sequel debuts at the end of May.
Arriving a couple of weeks later is the third Harry Potter flick, with Daniel Radcliffe returning as the young sorcerer, this time sought by a murderous wizard who escapes from a prison for conjurers.
And for Fourth of July weekend comes Spider-Man 2, the film that has the best chance of catching The Passion of the Christ as 2004's biggest moneymaker. Spider-Man shattered box-office records with a $114.8 million opening weekend in 2002 and went to
become the year's top movie with $404 million.
The sequel pits Spider-Man against villain Doc Ock (Alfred Molina). Complicating matters, while moonlighting as a superhero, Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker is coping with life as a frazzled
college kid, working two jobs and pining over girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst).
"He's a relatable superhero. He's a normal kid or human being who happens to be bitten by a spider," said Maguire of the gawky teen whose encounter with an irradiated arachnid gives him awesome powers. "He's a kid who goes through the usual stuff. Girl problems. ... His own selfish desires versus a greater responsibility. Questions we might all ask ourselves if we were in
The summer season gets rolling in early May with Van Helsing, the latest from writer-director Stephen Sommers, who scored hits in the same release date with 1999's The Mummy and its 2001 sequel The Mummy Returns.
Sommers again borrows from the classic Universal horror tales of the 1930s, this time setting Bram Stoker's vampire hunter Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) and a beautiful ally (Kate Beckinsale)
against Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's monster.
While sticking to movie-monster iconography (Frankenstein's creation still has a flat head and bolts in his neck, for example), Sommers sought to add human dimensions to each creature.
So Dracula's an immortal longing to father a true heir, Frankenstein's monster is a brutish outcast akin to Lenny from Of Mice and Men, and the Wolf Man's "very much like an alcoholic or drug addict. He could be your best friend or neighbor, very noble and upright during the day, but at night ...," Sommers said.
"Anybody could make a movie about Van Helsing taking on the three monsters and killing them one at a time," Sommers said. "But I think we came up with a really fun story going beyond that and
interweaving all the characters."
Shrek 2 interweaves some new fairy-tale characters, including Puss-in-Boots (voiced by Antonio Banderas) and the ogre's disapproving in-laws (Julie Andrews and John Cleese) - parents to
Diaz's Princess Fiona.
"The parents' expectation is that Fiona would have met a handsome prince and stayed beautiful and lived happily ever after, so they are understandably a bit shocked when they meet Shrek,"
said Andrew Adamson, a director on both Shrek movies. "It's
almost like a Shakespearean farce."
The third Harry Potter reunites key cast members, including Radcliffe as the title wizard and Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as his chums at Hogwarts School. Michael Gambon signs on as school
patriarch Dumbledore, inheriting the role from the late Richard Harris, while Gary Oldman plays the escaped wizard.
Alfonso Cuaron took over as director from Chris Columbus, who oversaw the first two movies and remained a producer on the third.
At two hours and 15 minutes, Prisoner of Azkaban is by far the shortest yet in the series, troubling news to young fans who want every stitch of action from J.K. Rowling's books translated to the screen.
With the first two films setting the stage, though, Cuaron was able to leap right into the action for the third, Columbus said.
"It's always a double-edged sword. Every kid who saw the movies wanted them to be longer and almost every adult wanted them shorter," Columbus said. "But I think this movie is so good that I
don't think you'll get a lot of gripes."
Other action adventures for summer include Troy, a tale of the ancient siege starring Brad Pitt as Greek warrior Achilles; the global-disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow, with Dennis Quaid; Halle Berry's Catwoman, featuring the DC Comics' character; an
update of The Manchurian Candidate, starring Denzel Washington; Collateral, with Tom Cruise in the story of a hit man on a killing spree; Jackie Chan's Around the World in 80 Days, a reprise of the Jules Verne classic, featuring a bit part by Arnold
Schwarzenegger; and I, Robot, with Will Smith in an adaptation of Isaac Asimov's tales.
Smith plays a detective in 2035, when robots have taken over trash-collecting, working mines and other grunt jobs to free humanity for higher pursuits. A man who mistrusts technology,
Smith's character is on the trail of a robot he thinks committed a murder, an impossibility under Asimov's robot rules.
"We took the basic gist of the stories, that there are three laws of behavior that prevent robots from injuring human beings or allowing human beings to be injured," Smith said. "Because my
character's had a bad experience with robots, he doesn't trust the three laws. Something intuitively in his mind tells him that the three laws don't work."
While I, Robot depicts a world moving toward technological perfection, The Day After Tomorrow presents a planet wracked by global warming, which causes cyclones, deep freezes, squalls and other catastrophes.
"This is the ultimate disaster movie," said Quaid, who plays a climatologist trying to save the world. "It's got everything. Tornadoes, floods, tidal waves, blizzards, hail storms with hail
the size of bowling balls."
Also coming this summer: King Arthur, starring Clive Owen as the legendary English ruler and Keira Knightley as Guinevere; The Village, the latest creepfest from M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Signs), starring Joaquin Phoenix, Sigourney Weaver,
Adrien Brody and William Hurt; the monster smackdown "Alien Vs.
Predator," featuring the two extraterrestrial beasts; The Chronicles of Riddick, with Vin Diesel back as the sci-fi anti-hero from Pitch Black; Thunderbirds, starring Bill Paxton in a live-action update of the cult TV puppet series about future rescue pilots; and The Bourne Supremacy, with Matt Damon returning as the amnesiac spy from The Bourne Identity.
Damon's Jason Bourne this time is framed for murder and on the run, and though his memories remain cloudy, he continues to find he possesses just the right skills to get out of any scrape. –More/rjt