LOS ANGELES – Steven Spielberg's tossing Tom Cruise to the Martians. Peter Jackson's handing Naomi Watts over to a 900-pound-plus gorilla. Tim Burton's turning Johnny Depp loose in Willy Wonka's candyland.
Yet in a year whose big Hollywood return engagements include the remakes "War of the Worlds" (search), "King Kong" (search) and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (search), aren't we all really looking forward to one last outing with George Lucas and the Skywalker clan?
The Force will be with you again in May as Lucas unveils "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith" (search), the final chapter of his prequel series.
Fans grumbled over the first two prequels. They scoffed at starting Anakin Skywalker's journey toward evil in childhood and ridiculed the young Jedi's mushy romantic babble.
Still, it's hard to imagine fans will not turn out to see Anakin take his final turn to the dark side and become the malevolent Darth Vader.
The man pulling the galaxy's strings shrugs off the gripes. Lucas says he's making the movies his way, not the way fans want.
"The fan base basically wanted the first film to be this film, 'Revenge of the Sith,' and have Darth Vader become Darth Vader in the first episode, then have the other ones with Darth Vader going around killing everybody," Lucas told The Associated Press. "But that's really not what the story is at all. And I knew it when I was going to go back and do it. I said, 'I'm going to tell the story of how he became that person, not the story of him being that person."'
Along with "Revenge of the Sith," studios continue their onslaught of sequels, prequels, spinoffs, remakes and big-screen adaptations of TV shows throughout 2005.
Before "King Kong" runs off with her, Watts delivers "The Ring Two," her horror follow-up about a videotape whose viewers die within a week.
Other winter and spring follow-ups include "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous," with Sandra Bullock back as the stylish FBI agent; "Beauty Shop," Queen Latifah's spinoff of the "Barbershop" flicks; "Be Cool," John Travolta's sequel to the crime romp "Get Shorty," reuniting him with "Pulp Fiction" co-star Uma Thurman; and "XXX: State of the Union," with Ice Cube replacing Vin Diesel in the action franchise.
Ice Cube also softens his image with the family flick "Are We There Yet," about a man trying to worm his way into the heart of a single mom (Nia Long) by taking her mischievous children on a road trip.
The PG-rated comedy was a logical progression after his R-rated "Friday" films and PG-13 "Barbershop" movies, Ice Cube said.
"Kids like those movies, but those movies aren't necessarily made for kids," Ice Cube said. "Since 'Barbershop' got a wide mainstream response, this was the natural next step, to try to see how broad can we take it? I think a lot of people are typecast, and I'm trying to stay away from that, because that limits your opportunities to work."
On the remake lineup this winter and spring: "Assault on Precinct 13," with Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne in a jail-break thriller; "The Amityville Horror," with Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George in a fright film about a cursed house; "Guess Who," an update of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" starring Ashton Kutcher as an unwelcome prospective son-in-law and Bernie Mac as a disapproving father of the bride; and "The Honeymooners," a big-screen take on Jackie Gleason's TV sitcom, with Cedric the Entertainer as loudmouth bus driver Ralph Kramden.
Intimidated by the role, Cedric?
"Indeed. He's such an iconic figure, and the comedy on the show was the first of its kind," Cedric said. "The timing of his delivery, the way he punctuated what he said. I didn't want to do a caricature or just try to outright emulate him, so I just tried to do my own thing. I mainly took the attitude that this guy was an everyman and took the attitude of doing it my way, but paying homage when I could."
Other early-year releases include "Constantine," with Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz in a supernatural adventure based on DC Comics' "Hellblazer" series; the romantic comedy "Hitch," starring Will Smith as a matchmaker pursuing his own dream date; "The Interpreter," featuring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn in a thriller centered on an assassination plot at the United Nations; "Hide and Seek," with Robert De Niro in the story of a girl (Dakota Fanning) with a menacing "imaginary friend"; and the animated tale "Robots," about a young inventor who moves to the big city to make a name for himself in a world populated by mechanical beings.
Directed by Chris Wedge ("Ice Age"), "Robots" features voice work by Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, Robin Williams, Mel Brooks, Drew Carey and Greg Kinnear.
While aimed at families, "Robots" touches on themes that adults without children can appreciate, including rampant consumerism, marketing blitzes that dictate the latest fashions and the plight of "outmodes," machines that have overstayed their welcome.
"I look at the machines in my life. That's what started the whole idea," Wedge said. "Some of the things are so endearing, you give them names. Everybody gives their first car a name. You get attached to gadgets, cell phones, stereos. You upgrade them, but after a while, it's just not worth it. The machines become obsolete.
"It's a metaphor for people growing old. Those are the issues the characters in the movie are dealing with."
Along with "Revenge of the Sith," summer brings such sci-fi and action tales as "War of the Worlds," with Cruise in Spielberg's update of the Martian-invasion classic; "Batman Begins," starring Christian Bale in a look at the masked crime-fighter's early years; and "Fantastic Four," with Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba in a big-screen adaptation of Marvel Comics' saga of a superhero family.
Other big summer-season releases include Burton's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," with Depp in an update of 1971's "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"; Adam Sandler and Chris Rock's "The Longest Yard," a remake of the 1974 prison football tale; "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as husband-and-wife assassins; "Madagascar," featuring the voices of Ben Stiller and Chris Rock in the story of zoo animals cut loose in the wild; and "The Bad News Bears," a remake of the 1976 comedy "The Bad News Bears" casting Billy Bob Thornton as an ex-ballplayer coaching misfit Little Leaguers.
Also, "Fun With Dick and Jane," starring Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni in a new version of the 1977 romp about an upscale couple who take to robbery; "Kingdom of Heaven," featuring Orlando Bloom in Ridley Scott's epic set in the Middle East during the Crusades era; Jennifer Lopez's "Monster-in-Law," a comedy about a woman battling back against her fiance's scornful mom (Jane Fonda); "The Dukes of Hazzard," with Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, Jessica Simpson and Burt Reynolds in a big-screen take on TV's good old boys; and "Kicking & Screaming," starring Will Ferrell as a father coaching his son's soccer team to a showdown against his own dad, Robert Duvall, an opposing coach with a win-at-any-cost mentality.
Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka co-stars as himself, playing a rival neighbor of Duvall who becomes a coaching mentor for Ferrell.
"I start coaching and don't really know what I'm doing and just want everybody to have a good time. Only it's not quite working, the kids are so bad, and they're not really having fun," Ferrell said. "So I kind of get the help of Mike Ditka, we build this team up from nothing, and along the way, I'm the casualty. I kind of develop the same bloodlust for winning that my dad has, so I become an even bigger maniac than my dad is."
Ferrell also joins Woody Allen's latest romantic ensemble in the spring release "Melinda and Melinda"; Nicole Kidman in the summer comedy "Bewitched," adapted from the TV sitcom about a mortal man who marries a witch; and Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick for the holiday-season remake of Mel Brooks' theatrical farce "The Producers."
Among other fall and holiday flicks: "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," with Daniel Radcliffe returning for the fourth chapter in J.K. Rowling's saga of the boy wizard; "Memoirs of a Geisha," with Rob Marshall ("Chicago") directing Zhang Ziyi in an adaptation of the novel about a Japanese madame; Roman Polanski's "Oliver Twist," featuring Ben Kingsley as Fagin in a new take on Charles Dickens' adventure of the orphan boy; "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," based on C.S. Lewis' fantasy classic of children whisked to an oppressed land; and "The Pink Panther," with Steve Martin taking on Peter Sellers' role as bumbling Inspector Clouseau.
Also, "Chicken Little," an animated tale about the poultry prankster who proclaimed the sky is falling; "Walk the Line," starring Joaquin Phoenix as country-music legend Johnny Cash; Terry Gilliam's "The Brothers Grimm," with Matt Damon and Heath Ledger playing the 19th century fairy-tale spinners as con men peddling their services as monster fighters; "All the King's Men," starring Sean Penn in an update of Robert Penn Warren's novel about a political kingfish; "Rent," adapted from the stage hit of artists struggling against poverty and AIDS; "Wallace & Gromit," an animated comedy about the cheese-loving dweeb and his dog from the British short films; and of course, Jackson's take on "King Kong."
Andy Serkis, who provided the voice and body for the computer-enhanced Gollum in Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings," is handling similar duties as Kong. Serkis' motions will be the basis for the computer-generated final images of the gigantic ape.
Having Serkis on set has been a great help for Watts as she re-creates the role originated by Fay Wray as the object of King Kong's affections, the actress said.
"It's wonderful having a pair of eyes to look at," Watts said. "Andy Serkis is there, and they're filming him at exactly the same time as they're filming me, so everything is in sync in terms of our reactions and connections together.
"He's got a special suit on, not like a hairy gorilla suit, but it's a thing that pads out his body, gives him posture and big teeth, and he's hooked up an audio system so his voice carries around the whole stage. He's studied and prepared so well that I forget I'm actually looking at Andy Serkis. Other than the size, everything seems as it should be."