Holiday movie preview: No blockbusters, but lots of potential
In this year's Hollywood Christmas pie, moviegoers may be hard pressed to stick in their thumb and pull out the plum.
There's no "Narnia" this time around, no "King Kong," no "Lord of the Rings," no "Grinch" -- and the only "Potter" this year is Beatrix, the subject of Dec. 29's "Miss Potter." In short, no big "event" movie.
To be sure, there's "Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause," the latest installment of the reliable if unspectacular Tim Allen franchise.
And there are a few other familiar brands hitting the shelves: among them "National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj" (Dec. 1) and "Casino Royale" (Nov. 17), featuring a new James Bond, Daniel Craig, in an old vehicle ("Casino Royale" was filmed as a spoof back in 1967).
More literate kids may be looking forward to "Charlotte's Web" (Dec. 20), a children's film with a built-in audience from the popular E.B. White book, not to mention an earlier cartoon film version in 1973. And theater fans are buzzing about "Dreamgirls" (Dec. 15), which has the advantage of big names (Eddie Murphy, Beyonce Knowles, Jamie Foxx) and the disadvantage of being a stage musical adaptation ("Rent" and "The Producers" both bombed a year ago).
There may even be an audience out there for "Rocky Balboa" (Dec. 22), featuring Sylvester Stallone as the doddering palooka in an 11th-hour sequel that may do for his career what "Myra Breckinridge" did for the aging Mae West.
Certainly, there's no shortage of movies with holiday themes: "Deck the Halls" (Nov. 17), "The Nativity Story" (Dec. 1) and "The Holiday" (Dec. 8), not to mention the chiller "Black Christmas" (Dec. 25).
What there is not this year is an indisputably big, super-hyped holiday movie to anchor the season, the way a "name" department store anchors the two dozen boutiques in a shopping mall.
But before anyone sheds tears over what Santa forgot to deliver, consider the up side: a number of unknown quantities, any of which could turn out to be the surprise must-see of the holiday season.
Such as? "Night at the Museum" (Dec. 22), with Ben Stiller as the night watchman pursued by a pack of living dinosaur skeletons. Or "Eragon" (Dec. 15), a medieval saga about a dragon. Or "Apocalypto" (Dec. 8), the Mel Gibson saga of the ancient Mayan culture, filmed -- needless to say -- in ancient Mayan. Or "Pan's Labyrinth" (Dec. 29), about a lonely Spanish girl who creates a mythological fantasy world in her back yard.
Not to mention a couple of CG-cartoon characters that could well take off with the younger set: including the dancing penguins of "Happy Feet" (Nov. 17) and the toilet-traveling rat in "Flushed Away" (today), a premise so revolting that it's virtually guaranteed to appeal to kids of all ages.
So consider this movie season as less the standard Christmas cornucopia than a holiday treasure hunt. Not many big-ticket items under the tree -- but lots of cool little surprises if you look hard enough.
All dates are subject to change. Some movies will open in limited release, then expand to more theaters later in the season.