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With century's end imminent, studios are grabbing the concept with the release of . . . : Movies for the Millennium

September 04, 1998|AMY WALLACE | For The Times

At the turn of the millennium, Satan will decide to destroy the world--or so goes the plot to "End of Days," a supernatural thriller now in production at Beacon Pictures. Only one man can stop the Prince of Darkness and, luckily for the planet, he's being played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Another movie planned for a late 1999 release is "Duke Nukem." Based on the computer game of the same name and produced by Threshold Entertainment (the makers of the "Mortal Kombat" franchise), Duke is being billed as the most politically incorrect action hero ever--a drinking, smoking womanizer whose motto is "A man for whom the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is a convenience store."

Then there's "The Sky Is Falling," now in development at New Line Cinema. In this scenario, the world's religions have unified into one huge church that controls the world. New Line production chief Mike De Luca calls the film a "classic end-of-the-world movie" that follows two priests who discover proof that God is dead. But if "Sky" doesn't come together before the end of next year, De Luca says, it won't get made at all.

"Once people cross the barrier of the millennium, anxiety about the end of the world is probably going to calm down a lot," De Luca said. After that, "it's probably a good idea to have a lot of comedies in the pipeline for 2001 and 2002. Hopefully, we'll have another Adam Sandler movie. They always work."

Studio executives and movie producers are always trying to read the future--to put movies into production now that they hope will click with the public's imagination a year or more later. In the waning days of the 20th century, that already imprecise science has gotten even more squishy. Will moviegoers be in a different mood in 2000 and beyond? Some people think so. For industry insiders who routinely try to tap into the Zeitgeist, the millennium has become a factor to consider.

"You hear it crop up now in development-speak," said David Friendly, a veteran producer ("Dr. Dolittle"). Friendly said he recently pitched to a creative executive at 20th Century Fox a book he wanted the studio to option about a 40-year-old woman who dies and comes back in the body of a 22-year-old.

"The book asks: Do we exist in just one body for our entire existence? It ties in to the whole issue of reincarnation and the afterlife," Friendly said. "The exec said, 'This feels like an interesting concept for the millennium.' I just nodded. I didn't know what he was talking about. But hey, if it helps. . . ."

Apparently, it did: The book--"This Body," a first novel by Laurel Dowd--got optioned last month for a six-figure sum.

Indeed, if there is one thing that many studio executives agree will have large appeal in the 21st century, it is spiritually themed films--a genre that one producer dubbed "wouldn't-it-be-wonderful-if movies."

"There's a noticeable shift in the appetite of the moviegoing audience," said John Goldwyn, president of Paramount Motion Pictures. "I can't tell you if it's related to the millennium, but people want warmer stories . . . and are looking toward spiritual values in films. They're contemplating the idea that there are forces greater than [those that] exist in the temporal world."

Movies Exploit Both Hope, Fear for Future

Goldwyn offered a few examples. In another time, he speculated, "City of Angels," this year's Meg Ryan-Nicolas Cage film about an angel who falls in love with a mortal woman, "could have struck audiences as very hokey. But I think people are prepared to embrace ideas like that today. And if 'Ghost' were to come out today it would be an even bigger hit than when it came out [in 1990]. And it was huge."

Producers Stephen Simon and Barnet Bain agree, which is why they founded Metafilmics, a production company devoted to creating "visionary" movies. "What Dreams May Come," the company's first film, which opens this October, stars Robin Williams as a man who dies and goes first to heaven and then to hell in the hopes of reuniting with his wife and kids. Other Metafilmics projects include "Between Lives," a comedy with a very New Age conceit: that the recently deceased get to choose who their parents will be in the next life.

"Millennium consciousness is generally negative and fear-based. That's why you see movies about a destroyed future," said Simon, who said his goal was to offer an "antidote" to that. "People are really looking for some hope and empowerment that can lift them beyond their fears. That's what we think is coming for the millennium."

David Vogel, president of Buena Vista Motion Pictures, says the impending change in the calendar has definitely been on his mind as he decides which movies to green light--not just for release around New Year's Eve 1999 but for several years to come.

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