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Fall film magic

Brian Doxtader | Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (Tim Burton, Sept. 23)

Its wide-release just around the corner, Tim Burton’s second film of the year is also his second collaboration of the year with Johnny Depp and his second foray into stop-motion animation.

“The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993) was directed by Henry Selick, but the fingerprints of writer/producer Burton are all over the final product. Burton, along with Mike Johnson, helms this film, which is probably a good thing.

Longtime musical collaborator Danny Elfman is once again onboard – definitely a plus, as Elfman’s songs were one of the best aspects of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Early buzz on “The Corpse Bride” is positive, as it looks to replicate the success of “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Unlike “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” which was average at best, “Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride” looks to have more personality, though it should be equally stylized.

Hopefully, it has the elements of the best of Burton’s films: a little bit charming, a little bit creepy, a little bit brilliant.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Mike Newell, Nov. 18)

Another Harry Potter film, another director. The hiring of Mike Newell as director seems like a retreat on the part of Warner Bros. after the mixed reaction to the artsier, more cinematic tendencies of Alfonso Cuaron.

Newell is a questionable fit for the latest entry in the series, as “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” is darker and more sinister than its predecessors, and the director’s previous credits include “Enchanted April,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Mona Lisa Smile.”

Nearly all of the key actors are returning, including Danielle Radcliff as Harry Potter himself. Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort should be brilliant, as the mere mention of the name and the role evoke shuddering memories of the Nazi Goeth from “Schindler’s List.”

The film follows Harry’s fourth year at Hogwarts (the school for wizards) and his participation in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. The book marks the turning point in the series, so the film should follow suit and serve the same function.

Steve Kloves once again returns as screenwriter, though this is allegedly his last Harry Potter film. By now, Kloves should have a good feel for how to write a Harry Potter film, and since the previous three got steadily better, it is likely “The Goblet of Fire” will be a greater improvement still.

Yet Kloves and Newell definitely had their work cut out for them, compressing 734 pages into a mere 150 minutes.

It remains to be seen whether or not “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” will be a great film, but Rowling’s book series is so well-written and popular that it’s impossible to think the film translation will be a complete failure.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (Andrew Adamson, Dec. 9)

“The Chronicles of Narnia” is setting itself up to be “The Lord of the Rings” for families. Based on C.S. Lewis’ perennial book series, Andrew Adamson (“Shrek”) looks to bring a strong directorial sense to his first live-action film.

The former visual effects supervisor balances a young, inexperienced cast with seasoned support (Liam Neeson and Tilda Swinton), which should keep the film afloat.

The film follows a group of children who crawl through a wardrobe into an alternate world, which pits the evil White Witch (Swinton) against the heroically mythical lion Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson). As it is the first in the series, it sets up much of the action that occurs in later episodes.

The big-budget fantasy film kick-starts the “Chronicles of Narnia” franchise, which means several more films in the same vein should be forthcoming.

Like “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” was shot mostly in New Zealand, but whether or not it can replicate that series’ staggering worldwide success is another question.

Will “The Chronicles of Narnia” resonate as mythically as “The Lord of the Rings” or “Star Wars?” It’s difficult to say for certain, but opening against “Harry Potter” should be a good litmus test for the success of the series. While the film will undoubtedly look good, its ability to make the story seem grand rather than silly remains to be seen.

The New World (Terrence Malick, Dec. 25)

Any new material from reclusive auteur Terrence Malick is a cause for celebration, as “The New World,” his first film in seven years, marks only the writer/director’s fourth film since 1973. For those counting, that’s less than a film a decade over the course of 32 years. Alfred Hitchcock, by comparison, made 48 films in the same span of time (between 1927 and 1959).

While Malick’s reputation rests largely on the strength of his first two films, 1973’s “Badlands” and 1978’s “Days of Heaven” (perhaps the most beautiful film ever shot), his skills as a visual poet remain peerless. He looks to bring that vision to “The New World.”

Even “The Thin Red Line,” which was inconsistent and unfocused, had moments of genius scattered throughout.

“The New World” follows John Smith (Colin Farrell) and his settlers as they land in America. Similarities to Disney’s “Pocahontas” abound, but Malick seems to approach his material with seriousness and reverence – a good decision, as the film avoids the treacly pitfalls of its animated predecessor.

Apprehension about Colin Farrell in the lead role may prove unfounded, though the actor’s previous foray into the winter season (Oliver Stone’s abysmal “Alexander”) demonstrated that he has difficulty carrying a film.

Hopefully, Malick’s skills as a writer and director will overcome any shortcomings.

At the very least, audiences can expect more visual beauty from one of the most aesthetically competent directors of all time.