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After ‘King Kong,’ what's left?

‘Rings’ director Peter Jackson thinks big, so here's a few big ideas

It seems almost certain that “King Kong” will enjoy the same critical adulation and blockbuster popular success as the “Lord Of The Rings” trilogy, which means that Kong isn’t the only 10-ton gorilla around. With four massive successes in a row, director Peter Jackson is an enviable position as an artist, having gained enough clout that he could choose just about anything he dreamed of for his next film and he’d find a studio that would let him make it. (“A dramatic adaptation of the Sears catalog, Mr. Jackson? Brilliant!”)

So what should that next movie be?

Well, he’s already got a couple slated for 2007, both of which seem well-chosen — he’ll take a break from the gigantic scope of his recent films for a return to a smaller scale by directing the movie version of Alice Sebold’s hauntingly beautiful novel “The Lovely Bones.” And he’s keeping his foot in the door of the big action picture by serving as executive producer of “Halo,” based on the popular video game.

But even if those movies should fall through, Jackson is in no danger of running out of source material that would benefit from his particular skills as a filmmaker — a penchant for the epic that doesn’t lose sight of the personal, a rare facility with action scenes, and an ability to anchor high-flown fantasy and horror elements with realism. Here are a few of our humble suggestions.

Feeling the love“Heavenly Creatures” showed that Jackson has little trouble depicting a highly dysfunctional love affair in a way that’s sympathetic to the characters yet still acknowledges its dark and unpleasant side, and the same dynamic powers the relationship between the giant ape and Naomi Watts’ character in “Kong.” He’d be a natural to take on the granddaddy of all doomed Gothic romances, Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights.”

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Hopping across the Atlantic in search of material, we come across an eldritch source of inspiration: New England horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, whose influential body of work has, by and large, been either ignored or served badly by moviemakers. Though Lovecraft’s ideas have inspired dozens of films, including such classics as John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” faithful and well-made adaptations of the stories themselves are few — Stuart Gordon’s “Re-Animator” and “Dagon” among them.

Jackson’s roots in the genre, including the classic zombie satire “Dead/Alive,” make him more than qualified. Perhaps the best option would be “The Dunwich Horror,” one of Lovecraft’s most well-known short stories, which has a plot that seems particularly cinematic. Though a movie of “Dunwich” was made in 1970, the original story was made almost unrecognizable, with trendy psychedelic nonsense replacing the admittedly outlandish and over-the-top, but truly scary, scenario.

Call the Doctor
The venerable British sci-fi series “Doctor Who” is in good hands now on the small screen, brought back to life in a cheekily well-written, Buffyesque format by “Queer As Folk” creator Russell T. Davies. But nobody’s made a feature-length film spinoff of the series since Peter Cushing starred in two forgettable “Doctor Who” movies in the mid-1960s.

Jackson would find an excellent match for his talents in “Who’s” match of slam-bang action, creepy horror and thought-provoking science fiction. The villains of this hypothetical film would almost certainly have to be the tank-like Daleks simply because they’re The Doctor’s most popular foes, but we’d love to see what Jackson would do with such eerie aliens as the fungoid Zygons, the amoeba-like Rutan, or the reptilian Silurians and Sea Devils.

There’s plenty of other forgotten or underappreciated science fiction that would fit Jackson. Like “Doctor Who,” lots of them are British — we’d be intrigued to see his take on the 1950s “Quatermass” TV serials and the 1962 monster-chiller “Day Of The Triffids.”

The novels of H.G. Wells are also worth a look. “War Of The Worlds,” “The Time Machine” and “The Island Of Dr. Moreau” have all been filmed recently enough to be effectively off-limits, even if Jackson would probably do a better job. “The Invisible Man” has also been brought to the screen in various incarnations many times, but it’d be interesting to see Jackson update the definitive 1933 Claude Rains version — made the same year as the original “Kong.”

Even better, though, would be if Jackson rescued a couple of decent Wells stories about giant marauding animals from their schlocky 1970s adaptations, “Food Of The Gods” and “Empire Of The Ants,” currently known mainly as the source of the infamous “Simpsons” line: “I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords.”

Ring around the ‘Rings’
The one film that most of Jackson’s fans would love to see him make, of course, is “The Hobbit” — the first of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth books.

Jackson himself has been quoted repeatedly saying that he’d like to do it. For a while, the chief obstacle seemed to be the vehement disapproval of Tolkien’s estate, but more recent developments seem to be centering around rights issues with the novel, which is a promising sign. Still, it will apparently be at least three years before anything concrete happens. Perhaps Jackson and his “Rings” cast could develop some other projects in the meantime. A few ideas:

Bond, Gollum Bond: After actor Daniel Craig, recently chosen to be the new James Bond in the upcoming “Casino Royale,” is found dead in a mysterious orc-related incident, producers are forced to rethink the entire concept, bringing Jackson on as director and casting an unexpected new Bond: the wretched, slinking “Lord Of The Rings”character Gollum.

Wielding his newfound superstar clout, Gollum demands that “Casino Royale” be thrown out in favor of a remake of “Goldfinger” in which the villain is “a thieving little hobbit, yes, who stole our Precious from us! Precious!” The film ends with a spectacular fight scene in Frodo Goldfinger’s top-secret base inside an active volcano, with only 30 seconds remaining for Bond to defeat Goldfinger’s evil henchman, a fat hobbit armed with a razor-sharp hat, before a nuclear missile launches itself at New York. Bond deliberately lets the missile launch itself, and in the noise and smoke, bites off Goldfinger’s finger and steals his ring.

Book 'em, Lego: Besides being two guys you’d want on your side in a battle against a horde of goblins, grumpy dwarf Gimli and pretty-boy elf Legolas had good comic chemistry as a pair of polar opposites who grudgingly came to respect each other’s abilities and even became friends. So here’s a natural spinoff: A buddy-cop action movie in the style of “Lethal Weapon,” except the lethal weapons in this case are a giant axe and a bow strung with the hair of elf queen Galadriel.

Picture it: Several years after the events of the last movie, Gimli is working as a beat cop patrolling the streets of the crime-ridden underground city of Khazad-Dum. When his partner is killed by an evil coalition of orcs and Colombian drug lords, he must bring the culprits to justice while learning to tolerate the quirks of his hotshot new partner Legolas, who has incredible skill as an archer but who spends their entire coffee-and-donuts budget on expensive shampoo.

Man in the mirror: With Jackson at the helm, actor Ian McKellen could team up with, well, Ian McKellen in a film that would pit two of his most well-known characters against each other, in “Gandalf Versus Magneto: The Final Battle,” followed closely by its sequel “Gandalf Versus Magneto: The Next Final Battle” and the trilogy-closing “Gandalf Versus Magneto: This Is The Last One, Honest.”

It would surely be an opportunity for a massive special-effects extravaganza, and to save money on the production, Jackson could save money on expensive split-screen technology by having McKellen deliver his Magneto lines while wearing the villain’s trademark helmet, then rushing across the stage, removing the helmet and holding up a voluminous white beard to his face while playing Gandalf.

Who'll play Wilbur? Shelob, the giant spider seen in Return Of The King, is the obvious choice to star in a remake of children’s classic Charlotte’s Web. The ending would have to be rewritten as a tragedy, of course, since Shelob would certainly wind up eating the other characters. And the film crew.