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

by Eric Huelsman

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.

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