The Golden Compass — still newsworthy!

Variety has yet another story on The Golden Compass and the question of whether Warner Brothers will go ahead with the rest of the His Dark Materials franchise, which began under the now-defunct team at New Line. The gist of it is that the franchise needs the overseas market to stay afloat, but the distributors who bought the overseas rights to the first film might have dibs on the sequels, too — and Warner doesn’t want to distribute any movies, but especially these ones, through any distributor other than Warner’s own overseas branches. The story doesn’t address whether, let alone how, the fate of this franchise might be affected by Warner’s recent decision to add an extra movie to the Harry Potter franchise or by the two-part adaptation of The Hobbit that may or may not get made; between those two franchises alone, Warner would be churning out five new big-budget fantasy flicks over the next four and a half years, and might not be interested in putting up the cash for even more high-priced effects-laden tentpoles — especially when the original film in this particular franchise was an iffier box-office performer than expected.

Hypatia movie gets a title, start date

Last month, I linked to a story about Alejandro Amenábar’s next movie, about religious turmoil in 4th-century Alexandria. Today, Variety reports that the movie starts shooting in Malta on Monday, and it finally has a definite title:

Rachel Weisz and Max Minghella will star in ancient Egyptian epic “Agora,” the next film by Alejandro Amenabar and the first production from Fernando Bovaira’s new Madrid-based banner Mod Prods. . . .

“Agora,” Amenabar’s second English-language film after Nicole Kidman starrer “The Others,” is set in Roman Egypt in the fourth century A.D. Weisz plays astrologer-philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria, who fights to save the collected wisdom of the ancient world. Her slave Davus (Minghella) is torn between his love for his mistress and the possibility of gaining his freedom by joining the rising tide of Christianity. . . .

Or, as the Hollywood Reporter puts it:

Set in Roman Egypt in the fourth century, “Agora” tells the story of the legendary astronomer Hypatia (Weisz), trapped in the legendary Library of Alexandria, and her fight to save the old world’s wisdom from the religious riots sweeping the streets of Alexandria. Her slave Davus (Minghella) wrestles with his yearning for freedom and his professed love for his mistress.

To quote Wikipedia, the word “agora” refers to “an open ‘place of assembly’ in ancient Greek city-states” which served as “the center of . . . commercial and political life throughout ancient times.”

And yes, it does look like St. Cyril will be part of this story; the IMDb says an actor named Sami Samir will be playing a character of that name.

It’s official: Brad Bird will direct 1906.

One year ago, I mentioned that Brad Bird — the Oscar-winning director of The Iron Giant (1999), The Incredibles (2004) and Ratatouille (2007) — was thinking of making his live-action debut, and Pixar’s, with a movie about the San Francisco earthquake called 1906. Today, the Hollywood Reporter says the movie is a go — and it will be co-produced by Disney/Pixar and Warner Brothers:

The story centers on a college student who begins to investigate the murder of his father, uncovering a web of deceit that has left the city vulnerable to the sort of fire that breaks out when the Great Earthquake of 1906 hits San Francisco.

The historical San Francisco earthquake (or at least its aftermath) was one of the first major natural disasters to be caught on film; the video below shows footage that was taken from a streetcar shortly before and after the earthquake took place:

YouTube Preview Image
Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

A dramatization of the earthquake also formed the special-effects centrepiece of the Clark Gable movie San Francisco (1936) — produced only 30 years after the real thing (reportedly, survivors of the earthquake got sick and left the theatre during this sequence):

YouTube Preview Image
Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

The slightly earlier film Frisco Jenny (1932) concerns a survivor who goes on to live in a “bawdy house”, and reportedly has an impressive special-effects sequence of its own, too.

Harry Potter — seven books, eight movies

After months of rumours, the news became official today: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be divided into two movies. So the seven-book franchise will now be an eight-movie franchise, with the final installment arriving in theatres in May 2011, only six months before the 10th anniversary of the first movie — and only six or seven months before the currently anticipated release date of The Hobbit, which would be distributed by the same studio, assuming it gets made at all. The Los Angeles Times says the filmmakers won’t bother to come up with an eighth subject for the eighth title, and will instead call the two films, simply, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II. Oh, and director David Yates, who took the reins of the franchise with last year’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, will be seeing it through to the end.

Wall-E — the third trailer is now up!

Click here for the newest trailer for Pixar’s WALL-E. The graphics look fantastic, of course, but the story — more of which is revealed here than in any previous trailer — remains something of a mystery.

Incidentally, the bit with the bra reminds me of something I read in Entertainment Weekly — way, way back in 1992 — about the making of Disney’s Aladdin, and the improv that Robin Williams did there:

Williams was especially fertile extemporizing as still another character, the narrator whose comic sales pitch (“Look combination hookah and coffeemaker!”) opens the movie. “We brought Robin in, pulled the sheet off a bunch of props and let him go to town,” says Goldberg. Sometimes he went a few towns too far. “He pulls up a bra and comes out with, ‘Look at this, a double slingshot!’ Then he looks at it kind of pensively and says, ‘I should have called her.’ We almost used it.”

One wonders if that would have been going “too far” nowadays!

MAR 13 UPDATE: Jim Hill looks at how this trailer downplays “the more controversial aspects” of the movie’s “social satire”.

MAR 14 UPDATE: Chris Thilk finds “Judeo-Christian overtones” in this trailer that, I must admit, never occurred to me — though I have previously noted the character named EVE and the implicitly spiritual, even theological, distinction made in an earlier trailer between what WALL-E was “built” for and what he was “meant” for.

Yet another movie not screened for critics.

My sources tell me that Doomsday — the latest film from Neil Marshall, writer-director of The Descent (2005) — will be opening this Friday without being screened for critics in advance. That would seem to be backed up by the fact that there are currently no reviews of the film at Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes, both of which would usually have something to link to by now.