In the summertime, Steven Spielberg gave us a fantasy about dinosaurs rampaging through the streets of San Diego. In December, Spielberg will open "Amistad," the wrenching, true story of an 1839 uprising on a Spanish slave ship.
The two Spielberg films represent the traditional Hollywood distinction between our summer and fall movie appetites. During the hot weather, the thinking goes, we want to be thrilled, usually mindlessly so. Sometime around Labor Day, movie studios believe, we recover our IQs. So armed, we are ready to handle more challenging fare.
Fall is when Hollywood and the independent studios usually release their high-minded works and their Oscar hopefuls. This year is no different, typified by adaptations of two Henry James novels, a Charles Dickens classic and a Joseph Conrad short story.
Pulp fiction -- not Quentin Tarantino's -- comes to the screen as well. Books by cinematic perennials Elmore Leonard, John Grisham and Michael Crichton will premiere along with adaptations of "The Horse Whisperer" by Nicholas Evans and John Berendt's "Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil" a best-seller for three years.
History is also a favorite fall topic. Besides "Amistad," the Titanic sinks again and the Romanovs are wiped out once more (in animation this time!). Brad Pitt plays legendary Austrian mountaineer Henrich Harrer, and, in what promises to be one of the season's most whimsical stories, Sir Arthur Doyle Conan and Harry Houdini do battle over the existence of fairies.
This fall will mark the reappearance of many luminaries. Tarantino finally comes back and so, too, does the long absent Constantin Costas-Gravas. Sigourney Weaver returns from even farther away. Killed off in the third Alien movie, she's miraculously resurrected for the fourth.
Al Pacino is Beelzebub and Holly Hunter an angel. Harvey Keitel is the Master of Handcuffs. Kevin Costner is the Postman, and Daniel Day-Lewis the Boxer.
Robin Williams rediscovers Flubber.
The fall is upon us. Time to dust off the thinking caps. Here's what's coming, with dates subject to change:
"The Matchmaker" Janeane Garofalo ("The Truth About Cats and Dogs") is a jaded political operative who's sent off to Ireland to prove that her boss, a Massachusetts senator, has some much-needed magical Kennedy connection. (Are the Kennedys magic even in Massachusetts, anymore?) But in the Irish hamlet where she has come, she finds herself prey during matchmaking festivities.
"U-Turn" Hmmm. An Oliver Stone movie without a conspiracy? )) OK, who got to him? The CIA? The Tri-Lateral Commission? The Girl Scouts? This modestly budgeted film-noir stars Sean Penn as a drifter who wanders into a desert town afloat in scorpions. You know which variety. The A-list cast includes Jennifer Lopez, Claire Danes, Nick Nolte and Jon Voight.
"Kiss the Girls" Morgan Freeman ("Seven") returns to the serial killer genre as a forensic psychologist racing to prevent the murder of his niece. The always sublime Ashley Judd ("Ruby in Paradise") is a North Carolina doctor who manages to escape the fiend and join forces with Freeman.
"Gang Related" Tupac Shakur died just 13 days after shooting wrapped on this thriller. He might have relished the reaction of his fans to his role as -- of all things -- a cop, albeit a dirty one. He and partner James Belushi are detectives who moonlight as drug dealers. In one light, it's a powerful argument for higher police salaries.
"Napoleon" A golden retriever ventures across the Australian outback. Isn't it time that a pitbull gets to be the hero in a movie?
"Rocket Man" Harland Williams stars as a bumbling scientist tapped for the first manned space mission to Mars. Do we need this movie when we have Mir?
"Seven Years in Tibet" Like last year's "The English Patient," this film has a bit of a Nazi problem. It seems its chief character, the Austrian mountaineer Henrich Harrer (played by Brad Pitt), had some inconvenient ties to the Third Reich, a fact overlooked in the new film. Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud ("The Name of (( the Rose"), "Seven Years" traces Harrer's escape from a World ** War II POW camp in India across the Himalayas to Tibet where he is befriended by the Dalai Lama. Will audiences -- not to mention the Academy of Motion Pictures -- forgive "Seven Years" for its glossed-over Third Reich connections? They always do, don't they?
"The Devil's Advocate" Al Pacino is the managing partner of a New York law firm. He's also Lucifer. No surprise there. Keanu Reeves is a naive young lawyer wooed by the old devil. Taylor Hackford ("An Officer and a Gentleman") directs.
"Going All the Way" Jeremy Davies ("Spanking the Monkey") and Ben Affleck ("Chasing Amy") are two Korean War vets trying to figure out how to resume their lives in 1954 Indianapolis. Why?