LOS ANGELES — Harry Potter at Hogwarts, Frodo Baggins bound for Mordor, Hannibal Lecter in his nuthouse cell, Jean-Luc Picard on the bridge of the Enterprise, and James Bond in bed with Halle Berry.
Who says there are no sure bets in Hollywood?
Most fall films are uncertain commodities, but a handful have such built-in appeal, they can pretty much count their tickets before they’re sold:
n “Red Dragon”: Anthony Hopkins does diabolical killer Lecter in his early asylum days in a prequel to “Silence of the Lambs” and “Hannibal.” Edward Norton stars as the FBI agent who captured Lecter and years later needs his help on a new case.
Though it’s set years before the action of “Silence” and “Hannibal” and Hopkins is a decade older than when he first played the role, “he’s one of the greatest actors ever. If you’re looking at the wrinkles on his face, I’m not doing a very good job,” said “Red Dragon” director Brett Ratner. “In the first five minutes, you may say, ‘Yeah, he looks older,’ but then you get into the story. Anthony Hopkins is Hannibal. Whether he looks younger or older, he’s Hannibal Lecter.”
n “Die Another Day”: Agent 007 (Pierce Brosnan) beats up on villains as he pursues a mega-weapon. Brosnan said he and Berry share one of the steamiest Bond love scenes ever and that the movie is ripe with fond allusions to earlier 007 flicks.
“This particular film for any Bond aficionado will be a connoisseur’s delight in terms of picking out lines used in other movies and paying certain homages to past films,” Brosnan said. “I don’t think it will disappoint when you have the beautiful Halle Berry coming out of the water” in a take on Ursula Andress in the first Bond movie, “Dr. No.”
n “Star Trek: Nemesis”: Patrick Stewart and the Enterprise crew find a nasty new enemy on a peace mission to the Romulans. For those subscribing to the theory that even-numbered “Trek” films are the best, this is No. 10.
“In two or three years (when an 11th “Trek” film is likely), I will pooh-pooh that theory, but for now, I’ll hold on to it dearly,” said producer Rick Berman. “This is probably the most action-packed and exciting, edgy and dark of the movies we have made. There’s startling and shocking elements to it, and I would say we’ve probably got the best ‘Star Trek’ villain we’ve ever had (British actor Tom Hardy).”
As for the season’s main events, need we say more than “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”?
Blessed with lead-in films last year that each took in more than $300 million domestically, “Chamber of Secrets” and “Two Towers” are set to disprove the old Hollywood notion that audiences need a two- or three-year breather between blockbuster sequels.
“Conventional wisdom would be that 12 months is too close together to have a sequel,” said Mark Ordesky, an executive producer of the three “Lord of the Rings” films. “But what’s become evident with ours is that people are perceiving the films as what they are. Not sequels, but one giant, epic story told in three installments.”
Since director Peter Jackson shot all three “Lord of the Rings” films simultaneously, fans can expect another dose of class and quality.
It doesn’t hurt that J.R.R. Tolkien’s saga of Middle-earth and a hobbit named Frodo has almost 50 years of built-in fandom, and that Jackson left audiences salivating for part two with last year’s opening chapter, “The Fellowship of the Ring.”
Likewise, 2001’s top moneymaker, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” has fans itching for the next big-screen adaptation from J.K. Rowling’s fantasy series about the boy wizard.
“Chamber of Secrets” director Chris Columbus, who also made “Sorcerer’s Stone,” said audiences can expect another two-and-a-half-hour adventure as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) fights fresh evil at Hogwarts school.
Columbus found two big advantages this time. He could jump right in on the action, without the character set-up and scene-setting necessary in the first film. And he said “Chamber of Secrets” makes for a more visual tale — “I found it to be the most cinematic of all the books, except maybe ‘Goblet of Fire.”’
The action is buoyed by improved special effects, Columbus said, including a bigger and better round of quidditch, a game played on flying broomsticks, crafted by George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic effects house.
Inevitable blockbusters, the only question about “Chamber of Secrets” and “Two Towers” is where they will stack up on a 2002 box-office chart that already has produced a $400 million sensation in “Spider-Man” and a $300 million smash in “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones.”