The Hobbit is safe, for now.

Variety has updated the story I linked to in my previous post a few times now. The current version says this, among other things:

The colorful 40-year run of New Line is coming to an abrupt end, costing the jobs of most of the company’s 600 staffers.

The company — home to “The Lord of the Rings,” “Austin Powers,” “Friday the 13th,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Rush Hour,” “The Mask” and “Boogie Nights” — will be folded into Warner Bros. as a small genre arm.

But toppers Bob Shaye, who founded the company in his New York apartment, and Michael Lynne will not be part of the package.

No exact numbers have been divulged for how many of New Line’s staffers will stay but the surviving entity will be a shell of its former self, refocusing on the horror, comedy and urban genre pics that helped put it on the map decades ago. . . .

The Hobbit” has Guillermo Del Toro in talks to direct, and the picture will be unaffected by the ouster of Shaye and Lynne. Though the films won’t be scripted until a director is hired, and Jackson wraps “The Lovely Bones,” the expectation is that the films will be ready for release for Christmas 2011 and 2012. Harry Potter will have wound down at WB by then, and the corporation will surely welcome another fantasy franchise that has an eager global audience waiting. New Line will distribute domestically, while MGM has international rights. . . .

Incidentally, it occurs to me that the sequels to The Golden Compass might not be completely out of the question yet. If the first film continues to be a success overseas, and if the new arrangement allows Warner to distribute the sequels directly overseas instead of pre-selling the foreign-distribution rights, then Warner could decide that there is enough money to be made in the franchise worldwide to warrant a continuation of the trilogy. I don’t expect that Warner will decide to continue the trilogy — with two Harry Potter movies and two Hobbit movies to put out over the next four years, they’ve got more than enough fantasy tentpoles to worry about for the next little while — but it is, at least, a possibility that I would not yet dismiss.

It’s official: Warner has “gobbled up” New Line.

Variety has the scoop. More details later.

UPDATE: Nikki Finke has the official press release.

Mel Gibson’s inspiration becomes a movie.

The Passion of the Christ has inspired all sorts of cinematic spin-offs and follow-ups: documentaries such as Sister Rose’s Passion and The Big Question, would-be sequels such as The Final Inquiry, hopeful imitators such as The Nativity Story, sort-of remakes such as the BBC’s The Passion, re-issues of older movies such as Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and so forth, and so on.

So, do you think there’s any chance Mel Gibson’s film, which was based in part on the visions of Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich, inspired this other new movie? It’s based on a novel that came out two years ago, and for all I know the novel may have been in the works when Gibson was still making his film, but certainly the success of Gibson’s film must have made the subject matter more appealing to whoever ended up financing this movie.

At any rate, here’s what Eddie Cockrell of Variety has to say about it:

A double-edged 1970s vibe permeates “The Pledge,” a dramatization of a real-life 1818 rural encounter between a stigmatic nun and the devout writer sent to document her beliefs in a book that eventually became the inspiration for Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” That footnote may gain the pic fest invites, with smallscreen sales and faith-driven ancillary to follow.

“Reformed libertines are usually boring,” someone observes of philistine-turned-devout-Catholic Clemens Brentano (Misel Maticevic). Poet has been dispatched to westernmost Germany to transcribe ecstatic visions of Christ’s life by Anna Katharina Emmerich, who refers to him as “Pilgrim.” Their encounter proves tempestuous. Stilted delivery style may have been deliberate on the part of helmer Dominik Graf, but the strategy wears thin over time. Tech package is more successfully evocative of 1970s stylistic flourishes, from lenser Michael Wiesweg’s slow zooms to the weird electronic score by Sven Rossenbach and Florian van Volxem, half of experimental band “Victory of the Better Man.” Pic was shot entirely in the North Rhine-Westphalia region. (Berlin fest documentation lists the title as “The Vow,” though “The Pledge” is what appears on the print).

Given that so, so much of the controversy over The Passion was devoted to the anti-Semitism that Gibson supposedly inherited from Emmerich, it will be interesting to see if this film deals with that in any way. (For what it’s worth, as Mark Goodacre has noted, Gibson actually turns some of Emmerich’s anti-Semitism on its head, notably in his portrayal of Simon of Cyrene; in Emmerich’s visions, Simon is a pagan who is offended by how the Jewish Pharisees are treating Jesus, but in Gibson’s film, Simon is a Jew who is offended by how the pagan Romans are treating Jesus.)

I am also curious to see whether this film visualizes any of Emmerich’s visions as Brentano is transcribing them, and thus whether this film dramatizes some of the very same episodes that Gibson has already committed to celluloid. If so, then, at a minimum, we can add this film to that long list of films that have portrayed episodes from the life of Jesus; and who knows, it might be interesting to see how this film’s interpretation of those episodes resembles or deviates from Gibson’s interpretation.

For the Princess Bride fan in all of us.

(Hat tip to my friend Andrew in New Zealand.)

Newsbites: Oscars! Trek! Caspian! Antichrist! Bond! Justice! Driving! Xiao’er! Ghoulishly! etc.!

Time to unload some more notes that I’ve been sitting on.

1. My favorite comment on the recent awards season, including the Oscars, comes from‘s Andrew O’Hehir:

It’s no surprise that “No Country for Old Men” swept the three biggest prizes, but here’s how odd the year was: The academy showers its laurels on a film that has made about $63 million in domestic box office, while the big winner at the supposedly independent Spirit Awards has grossed double that amount. Maybe the two organizations should just switch names, dates and locations. I mean, would anybody notice?

2. reports that 12-year-old Jacob Kogan, who recently starred as the creepy title character in Joshua, has been hired to play the young Spock in Star Trek XI — the release date of which has been moved from Christmas 2008 to May 2009. (You mean we have to wait over a year before we can see this movie?) The website says Kogan will share at least one scene with Winona Ryder, who is playing Spock’s mother, and it notes that we have seen the young Spock before, in Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1974) and in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984).

3. When the first Narnia movie came out three years ago, some of us complained about the way it felt like a pale imitation of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, among other things. So imagine how we are reacting, now that Gregory Ellwood of MSN Movies has sneak-peeked the second movie and says it “should win over some moviegoers who wanted more ‘Lord of the Rings’-style scope to the ‘Narnia’ franchise.” Question for the filmmakers: After you’ve finished pumping lots of battle sequences into the first two movies, what are you going to do with Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is supposed to be all about a mystical sea voyage?

4. Lars von Trier has been talking about making a movie called Antichrist for a few years now — and until now, all I knew about it was that it would be “based on the theory that it was Satan, not God, who created the world”. But now the Daily Telegraph adds a detail or two, as part of a broader profile of von Trier himself:

Instead, his next feature is Antichrist, a “psychological thriller that evolves into a horror film”. It features one man and one woman, yet to be cast, will be shot in Germany and in English this summer and deals with the favourite Von Trier topic of cruelty between the sexes: “You have to guess who is the Antichrist,” says its producer, Meta Louise Foldager, mischievously. Von Trier is testing ways of manipulating the image in it.

5. MTV Movies Blog reports that Paul Haggis, who finished the final draft of the next James Bond movie mere hours before the writers’ strike began, has “no idea” why the filmmakers gave it the title Quantum of Solace nearly three months later. Asked what he thought of the title, “he just sighed and said: ‘No comment.’”

6. Now that the strike is over, Variety says Warner Brothers is hoping to get that lame-sounding Justice League movie into production in time for a release sometime in 2009. Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald says the production may bolt Australia in favour of Canada due to “a dispute over whether it is eligible for the Federal Government’s new incentive for film production.”

7. The Hollywood Reporter says Max Thieriot, who just played the young Hayden Christensen in Jumper, will star in a movie called Driving Lessons as “the religious, right-wing teenage son of Bunnie (Hope Davis), a woman given a second chance at her unhappy marriage to Jack (Dermot Mulroney) after losing her memory. It conveniently helps her forget an interracial affair with her burly next-door neighbor Simon [Chi McBride].”

8. It’s definitely too late to take part in this now, and I’m nowhere near New York to begin with, but still, a heads-up for future reference: The Revealer recently hosted a screening of two movies that touch on the growth of Christianity in China:

The Cross & The Camera: the films of Gan Xiao’er
In the post-Mao era, religious life rarely appears in China’s new independent films. Gan’s feature Raised From Dust portrays the troubles of a rural Christian family whose father is dying. The documentary Church Cinema shows Christian audiences’ reactions to his feature.

9. Variety reports that horror-and-comedy veteran John Landis is attached to direct Ghoulishly Yours, William M. Gaines, “a biopic based on the life of the publisher of EC Comics and Mad magazine.”

10. Variety reports that The Golden Compass is a hit in Japan, where it just opened, and the film could add as much as $51 million to its worldwide take in that country alone. It’s too bad the struggling studio won’t get to enjoy the extra profits, since it pre-sold the foreign-distribution rights way back when.

11. I haven’t seen the original Starship Troopers (1997) since it first came out, but, ridiculous as it was, I remember loving the satire and the special effects and thinking it was a really good guilty pleasure. I haven’t seen the second film, which went straight to video, but now the third film is upon us, and it reportedly gets into religious matters. io9 reports from WonderCon:

Starship Troopers III is much truer to the original Heinlein book than the first two movies, Van Dien and Neumeier both stressed. We might actually get to see the power suits that Heinlein talks about in the book. “I feel a great debt to the fans of the novel,” said Neumeier. “I adore the novel. I read it when i was 13.”

Neumeier sees the Troopers trilogy as a sort of history of war movies. The first Starship Troopers is sort of a riff on World War II movies, partly motivated by Verhoeven’s desire to deal with the experience of Germans in the mid-1930s, when the Nazis were rising to power. The second Troopers is more of a Korean war movie. And the third one is much more of a Vietnam war film, dealing with issues of religion and politics. It’s also about “how the state can use religion both badly, and for good.”

Gabriel McKee at SF Gospel comments:

I’m not entirely sure what the connection is between Vietnam War movies and religion, just as I’m not sure what the connection is between Heinlein’s novel and church-state relations. It sounds like it will be as satirical as the first film, containing more fake TV news and commercials. But considering that my approach to the first film has always been that it is, specifically, a satire of Heinlein himself, I have to question the wisdom of making the film more faithful to its source material.

For what it’s worth, this is the currently available trailer:

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

This sounds like my kind of thriller.

I have a special interest in movies about memory, amnesia, and so on, so I have to say I am intrigued by Variety critic Jay Weissberg’s review of the French film Cortex:

A high-ranking retired cop with Alzheimer’s suspects there’s a killer loose in his nursing home in Nicolas Boukhrief’s unusual, cerebral thriller “Cortex.” In “Memento,” the protag’s brain is wiped clean every few minutes; here, the detective’s senility floats in and out, leaving auds guessing whether he’s deliberately fooling the staff or simply heading swiftly toward oblivion. Fascinating concept is occasionally crowded out by unnecessary characters, though Andre Dussollier’s complex performance keeps sympathy in the plus column. Late January opening in France has seen modest returns.

Dussollier plays Charles Boyer — a detective, not the star of yesteryear — who knows his memory is deteriorating and doesn’t object to moving into “the Residence.” The surprise death of a patient puts Charles back in investigator mode, though the staff assures him it was a natural death. But when fellow resident Carole (Marthe Keller, reuniting with Dussollier 34 years after Claude Lelouch’s “And Now My Love”) follows suit after a night together with Charles, he’s convinced nature isn’t to blame.

Part of pic’s cleverness is that auds don’t know if Charles is simply suffering from Alzheimer’s-related dementia or if he’s really on to something. The staffers are certainly a grumbly bunch, caught up in their own petty jealousies, but only at the finale is it clear whether someone’s really offing the residents. . . .

It sounds like the film has its share of flaws, but hey, the concept is so interesting, I’d be willing to give it a look.