The Shape of Things to Come

With 2004 nearly over, and fewer opportunities to be disappointed by awful films that promise much yet deliver little this year, I thought I’d have a look ahead to see what’s in store.

Here’s a few that have caught my eye recently.

The Polar Express

(Watch the trailer)

With the absence of any Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter films this year, we’re presented with The Polar Express as ‘The Christmas Film’. Based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg, this is about a boy who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. Late on Christmas Eve, a steam train appears outside, and he’s invited on a trip to the North Pole, blah blah blah.

As is the done thing these days, it’s shot entirely with CGI, and some gob-smackingly good CGI as well. Mostly, anyway; as noted elsewhere, the faces for the characters are unsettling and emotionless with poor lip sync and expressions. Just watching the trailer unnerved me, and having Tom Hanks as voice actor for 6 parts doesn’t help. I doubt that I’ll see this one — I’m not really much of a Christmas person, and those faces just make me shudder.

Star Wars Episode 3

(Watch the trailer)

Well, it’s going to be terrible. There’s no point in pretending otherwise, but I’ll see it nonetheless, as I do still want to see how Lucas’ goes from Episode III to Episode IV, and whether or not certain puzzles will be explained, such as why Luke Skywalker was hidden on Anakin’s home planet, with the family that bought Anakin’s mother as a slave, or why C-3P0 or R2-D2 never bothered mentioning their history with Anakin to anybody, or how the Clone army went from being under the command of General Yoda in Episode II to wiping out Jedi knights. I’m also holding out hope that Lucas will replace the Wookie colony seen in the trailer with more Ewoks at the last minute — that would be hilarious, and I would have nothing but the utmost respect for him if he did.

If you’re interested in some high-quality Star Wars bashing (and who isn’t?), I suggest the collected articles of David Brin as a good starting point:

War of the Worlds

(Watch the trailer)

Not much to see here yet, but this is a remake of the 1953 Byron Haskin classic, so the invading aliens will be in modern-day America and not early-20th Century England. Directed by Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise, this may be awful. Why can’t they make one set in the same period as the H.G.Wells novel? That would be wonderful.

Batman Begins

(Watch the trailer)

Oh, come on. It’s directed by Chris Nolan, who also directed Insomnia and Memento. It’s written by David Goyer, who wrote Dark City. It has the always-excellent Christian Bale as Batman, and a supporting cast including Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and Gary Oldman. It’s based upon a comic series by Frank Miller. Come on. How can this not be wonderful?

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

(Watch the trailer)

Though I love Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, I’m not sure about this remake. Depp appears to be basing his portrayal of Willy Wonka on his earlier portrayal of Ed Wood. He has a horribly sinister smile — a sort of fixed grin that shows all his teeth — and none of the charm of Gene Wilder. No sign of the Oompa-Loompas in the trailer either. Hmm.

The Merchant of Venice

(Watch the trailer)

I’m not all about the kids films and pulp SF, you know, I like a bit of occasional culture. Al Pacino takes the role of Shylock, with Jeremy Irons as Antonio and Joseph Fiennes as Bassanio. It looks pretty good, but I’m not sure about Pacino’s performance in the trailer — seems a bit stilted, a bit uneasy.

The Life & Death of Peter Sellers

(Watch the trailer)

This looks excellent. Geoffrey Rush plays Peter Sellers in an adaptation of Roger Lewis’ book about the actor, and his performance is spot on. I’ve always liked Rush — Quills, Shine, Pirates of the Caribbean, Les Miserable — he’s never acted badly, as far as I’m concerned. Joining Rush are Charlize Theron as Britt Ekland (mmm…Britt Ekland…), and appearances by John Lithgow, Emily Watson, Stephen Fry and, marvellously, Ed Tudor-Pole as Spike Milligan.

So, place your bets — how many of these films will I be complaining about in the months to come? And did I miss anything else that looks good?