At the movies: All hail Harry Potter

Fall Preview

September 13, 2001|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone may sweep away the fall competition when it opens Nov. 16, just as J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter fantasies have dominated best-seller book lists usually overrun by courtroom melodramas and espionage thrillers.

Although autumn is supposed to be prestige season at the megaplex, too many big-studio movies opening before Thanksgiving sound like summer flicks disguised in autumn duds. Cops, killers and spies are sprinkled throughout the list. The talent attached is impressive - but then, so was the talent attached to that thoroughly mediocre heist movie The Score.

For a group of movies with more originality and ambition, you'll have to wait for the winter holidays.

Even if it fails in execution, Harry Potter - with its mixture of Dickensian melodrama, Edward Lear-y nonsense, Tolkienesque fantasy and Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew adventure - will at least attempt to pull off a genre-bending flight of imagination that also spans genders and ages.

By contrast, one studio (20th Century Fox) has filled nearly its entire slate with thrillers - Don't Say a Word, Joy Ride and From Hell. Of this group, the most highly anticipated may be From Hell, based on the Jack the Ripper story as retold in an acclaimed graphic novel.

The big studios' fall movie list does contain some enticing oddities. The Affair of the Necklace stars Hilary Swank in a tale of intrigue set at the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Barry Levinson's Bandits promises to bring quirky comedy and romance to a chase-movie plot acted out by Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett. John Woo gets serious with Windtalkers, based on the U.S. military's use of Navajo code-talkers during World War II.

There's also at least one sure thing: The computer-animation geniuses at Pixar, who never disappoint, will be delivering Monsters, Inc.

But, as always, there are more looming question marks. Kevin Spacey stars in K-PAX as a mental patient who claims to be an alien; will this be a moralistic bummer like Spacey's previous vehicle, Pay It Forward, or his chance to pull off a latter-day One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest? (It's a good sign that Iain Softley, of Backbeat and The Wings of the Dove, is directing.)

And which Tony Scott will emerge in the Robert Redford-Brad Pitt espionage flick Spy Game: the director who gave us the surprisingly adult and exciting Enemy of the State or the director who engineered a series of bludgeoning, mind-numbing blockbusters like Crimson Tide ?

The answers will emerge over the next nine weeks. If you'd like to start guessing them now, you can find a lot of the data you need below, in the capsule previews compiled and written by Lori Sears.

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