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SNEAKS 2000: A Look at 10 Must See Pix for Y2K

Eric Huelsman profiles the animation/CGI films of 2000that animation fans should not miss.

My editor gave me what I thought was a no-brainer assignment "Just write an article on 10 of the hot CG/animation movies in the coming year." Like any aging rocker I thought, "Right. This'll be a piece of cake. Let's grab a beer and get to work."Little did I know what a difficult assignment it would turn out to be.First of all, there are over fifty CG/FX/animation flicks slated for release in 2000 that I am interested in seeing. So I whittled down the list to 10 films that are coming out in the first half of the year that should prove to be the most interesting from the POV of AWN's most faithful...that being you, dear readers. An alternate list of 10 other films not covered here but of definite interest are the Y2K releases of Battlefield Earth, Tomb Raider, Mission Impossible 2, The Flintstones Viva in Las Vegas, X Men, Kingdom in the Sun, Shrek, Rules of Engagement and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

Tom Cruise in New Line's Magnolia. © New Line Productions,Inc.

Magnolia - New Line Cinema If you, like I, are a techno-animation-CG-special effects freak but still find off-beat "small" films your most worthwhile intellectual enterprise, then you'll be pleased to know that Magnolia has the redeeming quality of being quirky-smart with the added delight of employing some very interesting visual effects. Written, directed and produced by Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights), the film stars Jeremy Blackman, Tom Cruise, Melinda Dillon, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Jason Robards and Melora Walters, among others, and weaves a mosaic of American life through a series of comic and poignant vignettes. With nine independent plot lines as a palette to work from, Magnolia production designers Mark Bridges and William Arnold and cinematographer Robert Elswit worked closely with Paul Thomas Anderson to achieve the film's look -- bringing personal intensity into a cusp-of-the-millennium milieu. "We looked at films with really, really close, tight palettes, films that were warm and beautiful and tried to analyze what made them so and visually tried to do that with Magnolia," explains Bridges. "It was about real control with colors and shadows, letting the textures get richer and richer as the characters deepen throughout the film." In addition to the designs for 1999, Bridges and Arnold also designed the three segments for Magnolia's prologue, jumping between a 1911 prison yard, a 1958 tenement and the early 1980s. Anderson further made the experience authentic by using a hand-cranked Pathé camera to give the film a genuine 1911 period look. The special effects I alluded to? ILM was the principal here and provided the shots necessary for "the frog sequence." This is all I am sworn to New Line to reveal about the effects as Paul Thomas Anderson is adamant on not revealing anything about this picture until everyone's had a chance to see it. But let me put it to you this way: Once you hear about it, you'll be hopping to a nearby theater just to catch what all the croaking's about. Magnolia will be released nationwide January 7, 2000.

Supernova. ©MGM.

Supernova - MGM When a guy like me sees who's actually behind a film like this, he begins to get excited. Not because it's a story fussed over by the likes of director Walter Hill and the cavalry-riding-producer-cum-script-doc Francis Ford Coppola. Not because the visual effects are being supervised by no less than Mark Stetson (The Fifth Element) and the crew at Digital Domain. And it's not even because of its interesting cast, though if there's a chance of seeing tawny beauty Angela Bassett in a form-fitting spacesuit I must admit I would be more than tempted to fork out eight bucks. Nope. None of it. It's simply the idea that someone will attempt for the umpteenth time to retell 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as Kubrick and Shepperton Studios did. I wanna see if they pull it off. This time. No other picture has to date in my opinion. Not The Black Hole, not Alien, not Event Horizon, not Star Trek V, and not even Titan A.E. as far as I know (read more about that one later, dear reader).

Supernova stars James Spader, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Lou Diamond Phillips and goes as follows: A medical rescue vessel called the Nightingale and its crew of space paramedics hear a distress signal and go to help. A mysterious young stranger who happens along, promptly causes things to go haywire aboard the Nightingale and the crew must now try to get out of there and back home before a giant star, whose gavity field is pulling them in, can explode. Filmed on five sound stages at Raleigh Studios and an LAX hangar, and using models up to twenty feet in length, the effects themselves will probably be amazing. I have seen a few shots (although I am committed to secrecy as to how), and they definitely are first rate. Visual FX house Digital Domain has pulled out all the stops on this one with a total of 250 shots, some of which are in the 1600 to 1700 frame category. There is some incredible CG work going on in this picture, too. Not since 2001 have I been this impressed with a space epic's look. Now let's see if the story has the big bang of the 1969 epic or is just another bloated giant. Supernova will be released domestically on January 14, 2000. Final Destination New Line Cinema What looks to be the end-all of plane crash sequences is what you can expect from New Line's live-action thriller Final Destination. Directed by James Wong, the script was co-written by Glen Morgan and Jeffrey Reddick from a story by Reddick whose premise is cheating Death, and features, among other things, a hellishly personal look at plane crashes. "We want to do for planes and air travel what Jaws did for sharks and swimming," quips Wong. Using innovative set design and camera techniques the producers claim that this will probably be the first motion picture in which the audience experiences the entirety of the crash from the perspective of a person sitting in the cabin. Without the visual relief of cutaways or other filmic devices, the intent is to make the experience very claustrophobic and very real With such a subjective POV of a plane crash, it's likely that a lot more of us will be taking the train. Spooking audiences with special effects is nothing new to those making the picture. Among their many credits, Morgan and Wong were the creators of the cult series Space: Above and Beyond. They were also Co-Executive Producers for two seasons on the Emmy nominated and Golden Globe Award winning series The X-Files. Another challenge, as explained by the producers, is to make a movie with such over-the-top effects alternatively subtle and unnerving. Their wish is that Final Destination will "present something that is creepy and off-putting -- that makes you feel strange -- but that you can't quite put your finger on. Rather than going for the obvious -- odd camera angles, strange lighting, dark colors -- we elected to do very subtle things. Forced perspective, corners that don't meet at 90 degrees as they should, objects that feel vaguely out of place -- these are some of the techniques we're using." Come fly with me, anyone? The ETA for Final Destination is March 17, 2000.

A sword duel from DreamWorks' Road to El Dorado. © DreamWorks, LLC.

The Road to El Dorado - DreamWorks SKG DreamWorks takes us back to the days of the Spanish exploration of the New World in a new animated feature that once again proves DreamWorks' commitment to using somewhat, ahem, unexplored subject matter for its pictures. In the tradition of the classic buddy movies, The Road to El Dorado is being touted as a comedic tale of friendship and adventure. Tulio (Kevin Kline) and Miguel (Kenneth Branagh), a pair of two-bit con men, believe they have found their path to fortune and glory when they win a map to El Dorado, the legendary City of Gold. After a daring escape from the Spanish explorer Cortes -- with the help of a clever war horse named Altivo -- they find their way to El Dorado, only to find their troubles are just beginning. Proclaimed as gods by the High Priest (Armand Assante), who is using their arrival to take control of the city, Tulio and Miguel have to sustain the ruse with the aid of the beautiful native Chel (Rosie Perez), who matches them con-for-con. But even as they fulfill their dreams of gold, their friendship -- and the very fate of El Dorado -- hang in the balance. The animated adventure reunites the Oscar®-winning musical team from The Lion King: songwriters Elton John and Tim Rice and composer Hans Zimmer. The all-star, all Academy recognized voice cast includes: Academy Award® winner Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda), Oscar® nominee Kenneth Branagh (Henry V), Oscar® nominee Rosie Perez (Fearless), Emmy winner Armand Assante (Gotti) and Oscar® nominee Edward James Olmos (Stand and Deliver). The film is directed by Eric "Bibo" Bergeron and Don Paul, with Bonne Radford and Brooke Breton producing from a screenplay by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio (Aladdin). Theaterwide release for The Road to El Dorado

is March 31, 2000.

Frequency - New Line CinemaFrom director Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear) comes an original science-fiction thriller starring Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel. In Frequency, a stellar phenomenon enables a police officer to communicate back to 1969 with his dead father. Through these unique conversations between a long lost father and son, the son attempts to prevent his father's death and track down his mother's killer.Written by Toby Emmerich, the film is produced by Howard "Hawk" Koch, Gregory Hoblit and Toby Emmerich, and, judging by the pre-release info from New Line, promises to be an interesting visual treat that will make use of a different posit on going back to the past. Instead of using super high-tech time machines or spacecraft warping past the speed of light, the producers have chosen to use the plausible (well, almost anyway) science of electronic wave theory (you know, radio, TV) to make conversations between a long-dead father and his son possible. The effects, therefore, will combine what we know know technologically with what was happening technologically in 1969.Personally speaking, though my reason for going back to 1969 would involve heavy psychedelics and taking the Magic Bus to Woodstock (not to mention a deep need to cheat physics), from what I understand a similar, but low-tech experience can be had simply by hyperventilating into a paper sack and watching Soul Train.Stay tuned for Frequency April 28, 2000.Dinosaur- Walt Disney PicturesWith the possible exception of Fantasia/2000, Dinosaur proves to be the most ambitious entry for Disney in the coming year. Combining state-of-the-art computer character animation with digitally-enhanced live-action backgrounds, this newest from the folks at Feature Animation will transport moviegoers back to prehistoric times for an adventure involving a three-ton iguanadon named Aladar, who has been raised from an egg by a clan of lemurs (yep, them's mammals), and is eventually reunited with his own kind.Though they are being very tight-lipped about what's happening with the production, Disney did let me know that major advances in computer animation can be expected, with much of the effects being done by Vision Crew Unlimited. It should also be noted that Disney's elite, the crew at Imagineering, is very involved in this project. Don't worry about missing this one, it's not much of a stretch to imagine all the marketing that will go along with its release, to say nothing of the coming ride at Disneyland, the special merchandise, the Happy Meals, etc.Dinosaur is due to be hatched in May, 2000.

Digging to freedom in Chicken Run. © DreamWorks, LLC.

Chicken Run -

DreamWorksSKG Would you believe Mel Gibson and the creators of Wallace and Gromit joining forces to produce a stop-motion animation action adventure with chickens in the leading roles? DreamWorks debuts its latest in a series of animation firsts with its release of Chicken Run, which marks its first full-length stop-motion animation feature made by England-based Aardman Animations, the Academy Award®-winning team behind the popular "Wallace and Gromit" shorts. Mel Gibson (Braveheart), Julia Sawalha (Absolutely Fabulous) and Miranda Richardson (Sleepy Hollow) head the voice cast, which also includes Jane Horrocks (Little Voice), Imelda Staunton (Shakespeare in Love), Benjamin Whitrow, Lynn Ferguson, Tony Haygarth, Timothy Spall and Phil Daniels. The story goes that our chicken heroes, Rocky, Ginger, Bunty, Babs and Fowler are trapped behind barbed wire, fearing for their very lives. Our fine feathered friends hatch a desperate plan to fly the coop in an action-packed story that DreamWorks publicity refers to as "poultry in motion..." At Tweedy's Chicken Farm, where any chicken who doesn't make her egg quota can meet a "fowl" fate, Ginger and her fellow flock are determined to break out before they can be fried, filleted or fricasseed. Sounds egg-citing, doesn't it? The film is being created with Aardman's distinctive brand of clay animation. A co-production with Pathé, Chicken Run is directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park, and produced by David Sproxton from a screenplay by Karey Kirkpatrick and Jack Rosenthal. Jake Eberts and Michael Rose are the executive producers. Chicken Run is in incubation until June 23, 2000.

The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle - UniversalPicturesEver gone through over 50 pages of production notes? Jee-ZUS, I just have. They were for Universal's upcoming release of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, a live-action/animated extravaganza starring Jason Alexander, Rene Russo and (can you believe this?)Robert De Niro as three of the most terrifying villains in the history of children's television -- Boris Badenov, Natasha Fatale and FearlessLeader, respectively, and in that order. Other big names include Randy Quaid and Janeane Garofalo. Newcomer Piper Perabo co-stars as Karen Sympathy, an eager and delicate F.B.I. agent, who unites with the gallant Moose and Squirrel to avert the fiendish plans of the animated antagonists who now exist in human form. Returning as voice talent for Rocket J. Squirrel is none other than June Foray, the original voice of Rocky for the `60s television series.

In launching their search for the right movie magicians to animate the top-billed characters, two of R&B's producers, Jane Rosenthal and Tiffany Ward, looked to the industry's finest FX experts, Industrial Light & Magic, to conceive the TV icons in an entirely new realm. Adds co-star Jason Alexander, "If what I heard was correct, there's as many effects shots in this film as there was in the new Star Wars, which is kind of staggering." A key element as to how the characters Rocky and Bullwinkle are going to look will be very much like they did in the `60s animated show, "...But we wanted to give them dimension," states producer Ward. "When we walked into ILM, that meeting was sensational," she enthuses. "...They've actually created what we call 2 1/2-D. They (the animated characters) look slightly different, only because they've now got dimension." The contributions of visual stylists Dave Andrews (animation supervisor) and Roger Guyett (co-visual effects supervisor) transcended the original show's somewhat crude drawings which were all completed in Mexico City. Andrews, a five-year ILM vet who supervised the animation on Small Soldiers and Mars Attacks! and was a computer graphics animator on Jumanji and Casper, says, "You can't have limited animation like the original show.It just won't hold up to the live-action plate. You could compare this film to Roger Rabbit, but that still looks like a drawing,too. This will have more of a 3D form to it." Hmmm....sounds like we have to go just to see what they are talkingabout! 2 1/2-D? I can't even imagine. Universal will release The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle summer of '00. Titan A.E.- 20th Century Fox Titan A.E. is one of those films that just won't die for want of being made. Saved several times from the scrap heap under the previous title Planet Ice, Titan producers Don Bluth and Gary Goldman have pulled out all the stops to create the ultimate fully animated space opera. Set in the future, Earth has been destroyed by the dreaded Orej, leaving earthlings like our reluctant boy hero Cale to fend forthemselves in a hostile galaxy dominated by ruthless aliens. A rebellious teenager, Cale is stuck on a third-rate asteroid. But not for long. Cale soon learns that the ring his father left him holds a map tothe legendary Titan, which holds the secret to salvation for what remains of the human race. With the aid of the starship Valkyrie's ragtag crew, Cale embarks on a heroic adventure through deep space. With voice talent from the likes of Matt Damon (Cale), Bill Pullman (Captain Korso) and John Leguizamo (Gune, the Valkyrie Navigator), and an alternative rock musical score by the legendary Glen Ballard, Alanis Morrisette's producer, this promises to be a Gen X cult classic. I'm buying my Milk Duds before I get to the theater... I wanna seat right down front! Titan A.E.'s launch date is summer 2000.

Val Kilmer walks upon the Red Planet. © 2000 Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow Film Limited.

Red Planet - Warner Bros. and, in selected territories, Village Roadshow Well, based on Red Planet's two leads, it is going to be a beautiful film. Starring that hunky Val Kilmer (Batman Forever) and sexy Carrie-Anne Moss (Matrix), Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan), Benjamin Bratt (Law & Order), Simon Baker-Denny (L.A. Confidential) and Terence Stamp (The Limey) are just icing on the cake. Directed by television commercial director Antony Hoffman and produced by heavyweights Mark Canton, Bruce Berman and Jorge Saralegui, Red Planet follows a teamof American astronauts making the first manned expedition to Mars, in this tale penned by Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin. When the earth becomes a dying planet, our heroes visit Mars on a mission to start a new colony as man's last hope. Of course, thereare complications and when their equipment suffers life-threatening damage, the crew must depend on one another for survival on the hostile Mars surface. However, from what I've read, Red Planet is trying to be more than an Armeggedon-like romp. While,as usual, the astronauts struggle to overcome personality differences based on their backgrounds and ideologies, the defining elements of their fate promises to hinge on their doubts, fears and questions about God, man's destiny and the irrefutable nature of the universe.Not your usual bubblegum fair! Once again mum is the word in regards to the effects, but with DigitalDomain in the mix, we can expect some pretty exciting shots. What'smore with principal photography shot in Jordan and Australia, the filmmakers have gone all out to find some unusual landscapes to call Mars -- add visual effects to that and Carrie-Anne Moss in a form-fitting spacesuit... and, once again, you've got my eight bucks! Red Planet will land summer 2000.

Eric Huelsman is the over-paid, underworked er -- that's underpaid, over-worked -- guy in charge of the Friedman 3D computer animation program.