You’d think there isn’t an original idea left in Hollywood with all the sequels, spinoffs and remakes crowding the 2004 movie lineup.
Yet fans are not likely to complain, considering the savory characters featured in this year’s many retreads, which include about two dozen sequels and prequels and at least a dozen updates of old movies or TV shows.
The three heavy hitters arrive in quick succession during the busy summer season:
“Shrek 2” premieres just before Memorial Day, as the animated ogre with the Scottish brogue (again voiced by Mike Myers) accompanies his princess bride Fiona (Cameron Diaz) to meet her parents, with their pal Donkey (Eddie Murphy) along for the ride. Julie Andrews and John Cleese join the voice cast as Shrek’s disapproving in-laws, and Antonio Banderas provides the voice of crafty cat Puss-in-Boots.
“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” debuts in June, with author J.K. Rowling’s boy sorcerer (Daniel Radcliffe) and his chums (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) in their third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This time, the gang faces an escaped convict (Gary Oldman) who’s coming after Harry for mysterious reasons. Michael Gambon replaces the late Richard Harris as wise headmaster Dumbledore.
“Spider-Man 2,” opening over Fourth of July weekend, reunites director Sam Raimi with Marvel Comics’ anxious-teen-turned-superhero Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter’s pal Harry Osborn (James Franco). Now a college student, webmaster Peter battles new super-villain Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), who has been transformed into the tentacled “Doc Ock.”
Spidey gets intimateWhile most sequels ratchet up the action, Raimi chose to ratchet up the moral and personal dilemmas and private quandaries that set “Spider-Man” apart from many Hollywood franchises and helped turn it into a $400 million mega-hit.
“The next one is going to seem a little smaller and more intimate. I hope people are not hoping it’s bigger and better. Hopefully, they’ll think it’s smaller and better,” Raimi said. “I really turned the film inward on the characters, and it seems like that’s what the audience responded to in the first film. So we focused on developing the characters to the next level, and the actors have taken the performances, all of them, up a notch.”
The sequel picks up two years after “Spider-Man,” which ended with Peter turning his back on his great love, Mary Jane, realizing it was a sacrifice he had to make to travel the high road with his superpowers.
“In those two years, we see the weight of this decision upon Peter Parker,” Raimi said. “It’s a much tougher road than he ever thought. And the sacrifices he makes here are much more extreme than he ever thought.
“It’s about the growth of a boy into a man. Really, a simple coming-of-age story. This boy just happens to be one bitten by a radioactive spider.”
New director for “Potter”
“Harry Potter” fans who want to see every detail from the books translated into the screen versions might be uneasy over the projected length of “Prisoner of Azkaban.” Director Alfonso Cuaron expects to bring the movie in at less than 2½ hours, the shortest of the series so far and well under the nearly three-hour running time of the last installment, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”
This time, Rowling’s story lent itself to a tighter script than the first two flicks, Cuaron said.
“I’m sure that somebody is going to miss something very specific that was ingrained in his or her mind when they read the book. But I think fans are going to love the movie,” Cuaron said.
Cuaron signed on for “Harry Potter” after making the racy Spanish-language hit “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” He hesitated initially, wondering if it was a good idea to leap into blockbuster country, where every frame would be under the microscope of a profit-minded studio and an eager but finicky audience.
Helping to put the filmmaker on the Hogwart’s Express was a remark from a friend, who told him, “in serving Harry Potter, you may do the best film of your career,” Cuaron said. “It turned out to be probably the most free experience I ever had in a studio movie.”
“Shrek” helmer faced challenges
On the other hand, Andrew Adamson felt a bit artistically constricted on “Shrek 2.” A co-director on both “Shrek” movies, Adamson felt he and his collaborators wrapped up the 2001 original too neatly, making it tougher to develop the sequel.
Adamson’s main beef: He wishes they had not let Shrek and Fiona marry at the end of the first film. The filmmakers could have strung out the romantic mayhem in the sequel if the two had yet to tie the knot, Adamson said.
“But it actually forced us to push the story through more twists and turns and prevented us from letting the film fall back into sequel cliches,” Adamson.
Among the twists: Turns out Shrek wasn’t the fairy-tale true love meant for Fiona, after all. A guy named Prince Charming was (Rupert Everett provides the voice of the unlucky-at-love prince).
While the filmmakers had not been thinking sequel on the first “Shrek,” they have left more leeway to continue the story after the new installment, Adamson said.
“This time at least, we’re preparing for it. We’re trying not to make the same mistakes,” Adamson said. “In the first movie, Shrek learned he could be lovable to some degree. This movie, he learns how to love, and at some point, he needs to learn to love himself. So there is still more to be told about these characters. They still have room to go.”
Non-sequels to watch for
This year’s non-sequel and non-remake highlights include a “Wedding Singer” reunion for Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore in the romance “50 First Dates”; Tom Cruise as a hitman in “Collateral”; Kurt Russell in “Miracle,” the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team; Gene Hackman as an ex-president running for mayor in “Welcome to Mooseport”; the end-of-the-world thriller “The Day After Tomorrow,” with Dennis Quaid; Nicole Kidman’s “The Interpreter,” a tale of United Nations intrigue; Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg reteaming for the drama “The Terminal”; and Will Smith in the sci-fi adventure “I, Robot.”
Also: “The Village,” the latest fright flick from M. Night Shyamalan (”The Sixth Sense”); the epic “Troy,” with Brad Pitt as Greek hero Achilles; the musical “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s the Phantom of the Opera,” directed by Joel Schumacher; Oliver Stone’s “Alexander,” with Colin Farrell as the great conqueror; Leonardo DiCaprio in the Howard Hughes biography “The Aviator,” directed by Martin Scorsese; Russell Crowe as Depression-era boxer Jim Braddock in Ron Howard’s “Cinderella Man”; and the comic-book adaptations “Constantine” with Keanu Reeves, “Catwoman” with Halle Berry, “Hellboy” with Ron Perlman, and “The Punisher” with Thomas Jane.
Smorgashborg of sequelsAmong the year’s other sequels: Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer and pals return in “Barbershop 2: Back in Business,” which co-stars Queen Latifah, who gets her own spinoff, “Beauty Shop”; “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement,” with Anne Hathaway and grandma Julie Andrews on a hubby hunt; “Kill Bill — Vol. 2,” the conclusion to Uma Thurman and Quentin Tarantino’s vengeance saga; and Renee Zellweger’s return to romantic misadventures in “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.”
Also: Matt Damon’s second time out as the amnesiac spy in “The Bourne Supremacy”; Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller’s “Meet the Parents” follow-up “Meet the Fockers”; “Blade: Trinity,” Wesley Snipes’ third time as the vampire slayer; Frankie Muniz in “Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London”; “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed,” with the Great Dane and his ghost-hunting gang; Naomi Watts in the horror tale “The Ring 2”; and John Travolta’s “Get Shorty” postscript “Be Cool.”
With “Ocean’s Twelve,” George Clooney reprises the title role from the heist hit “Ocean’s Eleven,” a remake of the Frank Sinatra flick.
Remakes and adaptationsThe assassination thriller “The Manchurian Candidate,” another Sinatra film from the ’60s, gets an update with Denzel Washington in the lead.
Among other remakes and adaptations: Nicole Kidman in the comic thriller “The Stepford Wives,” about a town of oddly obedient women; Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson as cop partners in “Starsky & Hutch,” updated from the ’70s TV show; Tom Hanks in the Coen brothers’ retelling of “The Ladykillers,” about a gang of inept crooks; The Rock as a take-no-prisoners sheriff in “Walking Tall”; “Flight of the Phoenix,” starring Dennis Quaid in the story of crash survivors scavenging their wrecked plane to build a new one; “Van Helsing,” a new take on the “Dracula” saga, featuring Hugh Jackman; “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights,” which transplants the romance to 1950s Cuba; Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez and Susan Sarandon in “Shall We Dance,” based on the Japanese film; and “Dawn of the Dead,” with Ving Rhames and Sarah Polley among survivors in a world of undead zombies.
Other movies, while not straightforward remakes, mine familiar territory. Hilary Duff’s “A Cinderella Story” gives a modern twist to the fairy tale as a downtrodden stepdaughter who meets her prince online then leaves behind her cell phone rather than a slipper for him to track her down.
Jennifer Garner does the child-in-an-adult-body thing a la “Big” in “13 Going on 30,” about a teenager who wishes for a new life and suddenly finds herself stuck in the body of her grown-up self.
Vardalos' big, fat second feature filmWriter-actress Nia Vardalos follows up her surprise blockbuster “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” with “Connie and Carla,” a romance that carries shades of the cross-dressing comedies “Some Like It Hot,” “Tootsie” and “Victor/Victoria.”
“Connie and Carla” stars Vardalos, Toni Collette and David Duchovny in the tale of two female musical-theater singers who witness a murder and hide out from mobsters by posing as drag queens — “women dressed as men dressed as women,” Vardalos said.
The success of the low-budget “Greek Wedding” has landed Vardalos in the middle of big-money Hollywood. The music budget alone on “Connie and Carla” equaled the entire $5 million cost of making “Greek Wedding,” Vardalos said.
Sky-high expectations often trip up newly minted stars on their first follow-up to a major hit. But Vardalos figures she’s already taken that tumble with the failed TV adaptation “My Big Fat Greek Life.”
“I’m not worried about the sophomore jinx. That already hit me with the TV show,” Vardalos said. “I’m now in my junior year, and I feel great.”