Lucas: 'Indiana Jones 4,' at Last
Famed filmmaker George Lucas jetted into New York yesterday to attend the blockbuster premiere of "King Kong" with his kids in tow — and in the spur of the moment.
He told me he'd have gone to Ron Howard's tribute dinner on Sunday night "if I'd known I was going to be here."
He just woke up one Monday morning and said, "Let's go to New York for Peter Jackson and 'King Kong.'" Lucas rocks, man.
More on Kong and friends in a minute.
Lucas showed up at Universal Pictures' amazing party at Pier 92 without publicists or bodyguards.
You understand that he's the most successful film director of all time. He was also the most unassuming person at a party with thousands of guests. He was easily the most important, but didn't show it. A lot of celebrities could learn from him.
So the big news is that Lucas is now devoting himself full-time to writing and producing "Indiana Jones 4." Steven Spielberg, of course, will direct.
Lucas told me that he's got a script now from Jeff Nathanson, and he's tweaking it. That won't go on forever, he assured me, and filming will occur before Harrison Ford goes into a nursing home.
Does he miss "Star Wars" now that it's all wrapped up?
"I don't," he said, "not really. I've got so many things to do."
And how aware is he of it permeating pop culture forevermore?
"It should last about 50 more years and then go the way of all things," he said.
I think it will last much longer, but this is Lucas: very modest. He said that the next films he'll direct will be small ones without special effects.
He also told Army Archerd, Variety's famed columnist — who's writing a must-read blog now at the newspaper's Web site — that he thinks "King Kong" will do $150 million in its opening weekend.
Lucas told me though that he doubts "King Kong" will get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, even though it should.
"These kinds of movies rarely do," said the director of six blockbuster movies that were never nominated either.
Then of course, there was "King Kong," Peter Jackson's three-hour epic, which made its spectacular debut in New York last night.
As promised, Universal took over both the AMC Empire 42nd St. and the Loews 42nd St., two megaplexes across the street from each other, and filled them up with thousands of people.
We were told that all VIPS, as well as the cast of "King Kong," were in a separate screening room so they wouldn't have to endure the praise of the hoi polloi. I don't know if there was a red carpet or celebrities on it, but we can assume there was.
At the gigantic after-party, a spectacle to behold, I did see Glenn Close with her daughter and a friend, as well as Fisher Stevens, Molly Shannon, actor/writer Mike White and all the members of the "Kong" cast, with the exception of the actual gorilla.
Naomi Watts came with boyfriend Liev Schreiber, sat on his lap a bit and then walked outside to look at the snow falling on the Hudson River. Romantic!
Jack Black greeted friends, as did Andy Serkis, who worked for Jackson as Gollum on the "Lord of the Rings" movies and portrayed Kong in this one.
A friend of Jackson presented the director with an actual model from the original "King Kong," and Fay Wray's daughter, Victoria Riskin — a former president of the Writers Guild West — told me her mother approved of Watts' performance (she was in New York by accident, and not at Universal's invitation).
Lucas and Jackson talked extensively, which I thought was interesting, since "The Lord of the Rings" and "Star Wars" series are certainly linked in many ways.
"They're both based on mythology," Lucas said.
Jackson told me that the extensive work on "King Kong" began on the third "Rings" movie, which accounts for his dramatic 80-pound weight loss.
More than anything, the night proved an ironic point. Universal Features is having a more award-winning year than its specialty house, Focus Features.
Universal is about to go into the awards race with "Kong," Spielberg's "Munich" and "The Producers."
Focus, meantime, wasn't even able to rouse support for its indie brand at the annual Independent Spirit Awards. Its offering, "Broken Flowers," a movie I adored, was snubbed completely.
"Brokeback Mountain," Ang Lee's "gay cowboy" movie, was beaten for Best Feature last week at the Gotham Awards by "Capote," now an almost certain Oscar nominee.
"The Constant Gardener," another movie I liked, was so undistinguished to the idiotic National Board of Review that it left the names of the director and supporting actress off its eligibility letter to its voting membership.
Yet Universal proper is having a smashing year. "Munich" and "King Kong" could each wind up with many Oscar nominations. "The Producers" should make the Golden Globes list in the comedy/musical category. Last night's "Kong" premiere shows that the studio — which is considering buying DreamWorks in the new year — is on a roll.
And what of Jackson's "King Kong?"
I agree with Lucas: It will rake in the dough on its first weekend. It is probably the most amazing CGI movie ever made. The visuals are stunning, so realistic that by the end of the movie you're completely identifying with King Kong.
The best scenes are in the jungle and in New York. A long sequence featuring the main characters on the boat to Skull Island is much too long, though, and could have been cut some.
"King Kong" is likely to pick up a lot of technical awards, but that may be to its detriment otherwise. There isn't much dialogue, no laughs, and it's just not an actor's movie, despite such a talented cast.
A huge chunk feels like "Jurassic Park 4" or "5," with next-generation dinosaurs that are positively mind-blowing. But Watts is charming in the Fay Wray role, and she even juggles.
Is it high art? No. Is it a four-star, popcorn-and-soda home run with fireworks? You'd better believe it.
Well, Sunday night's swanky premiere of "The Producers" — directed by Susan Stroman — was a hit, and so was the movie.
Only one thing: Stroman told me she had to cut the show's big opening number, "The King of Broadway," after test audiences got itchy waiting for Matthew Broderick and Uma Thurman to show up on screen.
Stroman assured me that the number was filmed and will be included on the DVD with a lot of extras.
In the meantime, "The Producers" comes to the screen otherwise intact, just as funny and quick-witted as the stage musical. I do think that Broderick is the surprise of the film version. Look for him to get a Golden Globe for his work.
Broderick left the big dinner at the Metropolitan Club early Sunday (early — like 11 p.m.) to take wife Sarah Jessica Parker home. She had a morning flight to L.A.
And while Mel Brooks was dearly missed, his absence was understood.
"He just couldn't come into a big crowd like this," a friend said. "He's still mourning Annie."
Brooks' beloved wife, the talented actress Anne Bancroft, succumbed to uterine cancer on June 6.
"It was a surprise, too, because she'd been doing very well," said the friend, "and then suddenly became very sick. Mel said maybe he should have stayed married to his first wife," the friend conveyed, "because then he wouldn't have had to endure losing Annie."
I mean, come on, it's too sad. Mel, we love ya!
Also happening: Mark Zupan, who's emerged as the star of the documentary "Murderball," is everywhere and doing everything. I have lots of stories about his wondrous activities.
Listen, this is the best doc of the year. I hope the Oscar doc committee gets things right this time.
And there's more: Everyone's talking about playwright Wendy Wasserstein's battle with leukemia, sending her prayers and lots of good wishes, vibes, knocks on wood, the whole spiel. She is also beloved by everyone who knows her.
And prayers for R&B star Wilson Pickett, who's on the mend in a Washington, D.C., area hospital. The famed singer of "In the Midnight Hour" is no doubt giving the doctors hell.
Finally, I am turning over custody of a terrific blues album sent to me by Bob Merlis, former head of P.R. at Warner Music, who now has his own label. The recipient will be our FOXNews.com editor Steve Bromberg, a blues aficionado.
The CD is called "Chicago Blues Reunion: Buried Alive in the Blues." It's just wonderful, and features the magnificent vocal stylings of the underrated Tracy Nelson. It's as good a holiday present as I can think of for the music fan in your life!