Author Sacks is pleased with depiction of behavior in 'Awakenings'

December 27, 1990|By Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD -- So how does Dr. Oliver Sacks feel about Columbia Pictures' just-out "Awakenings," which chronicles his dramatic success in reviving a group of post-encephalitic patients from their catatonic states in 1969?

"My reservations are very small, because the essential truth of that time was conveyed," he says. "I'm delighted that the story of this event and these patients is being told again [there was a British documentary in 1973]. These things were full of wonder at many levels."

Director Penny Marshall's feature has fictionalized much of Sacks' own book, which recounts his work with patients who had been mute and virtually immobile for decades. Robin Williams portrays a doctor based loosely on Sacks, with Robert De Niro as his primary patient, who awakens after 30 years to a changed world and a challenging new life.

Sacks, technical consultant on the film, says that the actors -- "especially De Niro" -- meticulously studied footage of the so-called "awakenings." De Niro "had an incredible empathy and [mastery] of detail," Sacks says. "At times, I would get totally taken in and forget he was an actor."

Sacks is generally pleased with the film's depiction of behavior and events -- "This was not a documentary or reconstruction, though it's authentic in many ways" -- but remains unhappy that De Niro's character becomes violent in the film.

"My main reservation is the violence on Ward 5," Sacks says. "I got very angry about it. In fact, I walked off the set."

He was less upset when screenwriter Steven Zaillian created a relationship between the doctor and a supportive nurse (played by Julie Kavner).

"The nurse didn't exist," Sacks says. "She was an invention.

"But what is Hollywood without a little love and violence?"


Critics liked it, but American moviegoers were less excited. So why did producer Dodi Fayed make a sequel to his 1986 thriller "F/X"?

Fayed points to "F/X's" worldwide box-office tally: $55 million ($27 million from North America), a solid figure for a film shot for $10 million.

"F/X II," now in post-production for Orion Pictures, cost about $16 million. Set for March release, it re-teams Bryan Brown as a movie special-effects man and Brian Dennehy as a tough cop.

Fayed admits that he would have preferred to have the sequel come out much closer to the original. But: "It has a big following. Brown and Dennehy say that for the past few years they're always asked about the sequel."

The promo campaign, adds Fayed, will "remind audiences of the first film."

Meanwhile, Fayed is involved in the two Peter Pan projects, "Hook" and "Peter Pan." He had held "Peter Pan" rights since 1985 when he heard that Tri-Star Pictures was talking "Hook" with film maker Steven Spielberg. Consequently, Fayed is now executive producer of the Spielberg film, which stars Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook and Robin Williams as a grown-up Peter Pan.

Fayed hopes to begin production on a more traditional "Peter Pan" in the fall, also for Tri-Star, though no director or stars are yet attached.


Special effects get hairier and hairier: Sources say that state-of-the-art Industrial Light & Magic has developed a traveling matte process that creates the illusion of hair to cover actors' bald spots. ILM isn't commenting.

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