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The 'Next Big Thing' at the Box Office


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

And as we mentioned all this week, we're talking about the next big thing. Who or what to look out for in 2008 in sports, in music. Today, at the movies. 2007 was a big year for Hollywood with the summer of three-peats. This year, it may be the summer of 3D. Tim Burton, YouTube(ph), maybe even George Lucas have plans for upcoming 3D releases. Imagine Darth Vader literally in your face. Of course, the writers' strike could have an impact on the movies this year as well.

What are you looking forward to at the movies in 2008 - the films, the actors, the technology, the trends maybe? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail [email protected]. And you can give us your predictions on our blog at

And whenever we talk movies, we invite in our pal Murray Horwitz, director and COO of American Film Institute Silver Theater in Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Maryland here in the Washington, D.C. area.

And Murray, nice to have you back with us in 3A.

Mr. MURRAY HORWITZ (Director and Chief Operating Officer, American Film Institute Silver Theater): It's great to be back in a new year. Happy New Year.

CONAN: Happy New Year.

Mr. HORWITZ: Thanks.

CONAN: And so you wanted to talk in particular, I think, about movies you have to put on funny glasses this year.

Mr. HORWITZ: Well, I mean - you know, I should know more about this process than I do. I think some of the new processes don't even require funny glasses but I think that there have been some technological trends that have been bubbling up and they'll only accelerate and maybe even hit for real in this coming year or certainly in the next two years. One of them is digital cinema, which has been, you know, quietly sort of taking over projection. I think just four years ago when our theater opened, we had 6 percent of all the digital cinema equipment in the nation in the AFI Silver Theater here. And now, there must be, oh, I'm guessing, 4,000 screens with digital cinema projection.

CONAN: And when you talk about digital cinema projection, you're getting away from cans of film…


CONAN: …and talking about what, playing a disc?

Mr. HORWITZ: Well, you could play a file. You can play - we play films off of hard drives. But there is talk of, you know, downlinking films just like you downlink radio programs and - from satellites. It's not happened yet. There was an attempt this year, a re-cut of "Blade Runner," but eventually, they had to strike 35 millimeter prints of it. But that's just - it's just a matter of time, Neal. And as you said, 3D's happening. There's going to - that may not really hit until 2009. James Cameron has a big project in preparation and that's already gotten a lot of buzz.

CONAN: I think that's the "Titanic" (unintelligible). But anyway, there was one big movie that did come out in 3D - well, it came out late last year and that, of course, was "Beowulf." Let's take a listen.

(Soundbite of movie "Beowulf")

Mr. RAY WINSTONE (Actor): (As Beowulf) We come seeking your prince, Hrothgar, in friendship. They say you have a monster here. They say your lands are cursed.

Mr. ANTHONY HOPKINS (Actor): (As King Hrothgar) Is that what they say? Bad thing of Hrothgar. Shame from the frozen north to the shores of Vinland.

Mr. JOHN MALKOVICH (Actor): (As Unferth) There's no shame to be of cursed by demons.

Mr. WINSONE: (As Beowulf) I am Beowulf. And I'm here to kill your monster.

CONAN: And I went to the movies, did get a funny pair of glasses and you could see the spittle coming right out of the screen right towards you.

Mr. HORWITZ: And it's - so I guess there are glasses. And if "Beowulf" sure can pierce (unintelligible) and be far behind, I don't know. But there is also a re-cut of Tim - you mention Tim Burton, it's the "Nightmare Before Christmas." The 3D "Nightmare Before Christmas," which came out, I think, even in IMAX and 3D, and that was rather successful as a release in those - on those limited screens that could play that kind of thing. There's a "Journey to the Center of the Earth" in 3D that's scheduled. So these are some - you may see some technical things, innovations really, at the movies in next…

CONAN: It's sort of like 3D was like Cinerama, one of those sort of technological fads. I mean, it's that great postcard picture - I'm sure everybody's seen it - of people looking at the screen…

Mr. HORWITZ: Right. They're in glasses.

CONAN: …all of them wearing glasses. Yeah.

Mr. HORWITZ: Yeah, it's - I think what happened was - and this is - I am at best an amateur film historian, but I think what happened was television sort of freaked the studios out in the late 40s and as it started to catch on, not only did they give away dishes to try and get people into the movies, but they also had, you know, big widescreen processes…

CONAN: Imported from the planet Melmac.

Mr. HORWITZ: Actually, Melmac was one of the band leaders in the musicals at - no, right, I'm sorry. Anyway, the - but you had the Todd-AO and Cinemascope, and then later, you know, Cinerama as you mentioned. So, 3D was one of the gimmicks to try and get people back into the theater. And I'm not sure that it was unsuccessful in that. At least, it got people thinking about going to the movies again.

CONAN: We want you to weigh in on what you're looking forward to or looking aghast at the movies for 2008. 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us [email protected]. And let's begin with Paul(ph). Paul's calling us from Toledo in Ohio.

PAUL (Caller): Hi, Neal, how are you?

CONAN: I'm well, thank you. Happy New Year.

PAUL: Thank you, you too. My question - I probably know the answer to, unfortunately, but I'm wondering if they're going toward - turning toward over CGI, not so much the cartoon-type CGI, but the - "Beowulf" is a good example. I find it very difficult to watch the CGI movies that attempt to be realistic, so to speak. Trying to look life-like.

CONAN: CGI, of course, computer-generated imaging.

Mr. HORWITZ: Right.

PAUL: Yeah. I find it difficult to watch these movies when they try to make it look like live action with CGI and I'm hoping that they're not going to be trying to do that until they've perfected it. But I…

CONAN: Yeah, "300" was another one of those, Murray.

Mr. HORWITZ: Right, right, right.

PAUL: Yeah.

Mr. HORWITZ: And actually, there's a satire of "300" coming out this year, which may give you, Paul, exactly what you want. I have two answers to that question. Number one, yes, you know the answer. Of course, that's going to increase and as folks do perfect it, the fear of course is that, you know, computer-generated images are going to replace actors for real, and - for real maybe the wrong phrase there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORWITZ: But that's number one. But number two, don't forget the kind of visual landscape in which we live and there are millions and millions of people, younger than I certainly, who look at video games a lot, who look at other different kinds of CGI moving images and so they're probably less uncomfortable with it, I'm guessing, than we may be. But - yeah, it's only going to be on the rise.


PAUL: So, you're telling to stop being so old.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORWITZ: No, I'm telling you to see if you can get a used PlayStation.

PAUL: All right, thank you.

CONAN: And enter the world where everybody's got six-pack abs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORWITZ: Speaking of younger people, though, Neal, one of the things that's not particularly technological, but is programmatical, that if I were a Hollywood publicist - and my mother raised me right, I'm not. But I would be telling you that one of the trends is family films. This year - or I should say last year, 2007 - there was really some evidence that films of G and PG ratings did well. "Hairspray" did - "Shrek 3," "Enchanted," the second National Treasure film, "Book of Secrets," "Ratatouille,"…

CONAN: "Ratatouille." Yeah.

Mr. HORWITZ: …yeah. And they did well. And so, there are a lot more things on the slate coming up that are that kind of film. "Where the Wild Things Are," Disney has a new "Chronicles of Narnia" film or two coming up, "Prince Caspian" is the first one of that. And I don't know what rating "Speed Racer" is going to get, but that's by the Wachowski Brothers who did "Matrix." So, there seems to be a trend. It'll be worth watching to see if it really is.

CONAN: And this maybe just late in the year, but every once in a while, after watching a whole year of absolute dreck come out of Hollywood, to suddenly see "Sweeney Todd" and "Charlie Wilson's War" come out within a couple of weeks, it gives you faith.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORWITZ: Well, the end of the year is always kind of the awards season and at our theater at the AFI Silver right now we're running the Coen Brother's new film, "No Country for Old Men" and "Juno." Soon, we're going to be running "There Will be Blood," which was released before the end of the year. And as usual, toward the end of the year, the films that one thinks of as of greater artistic quality kind of show up. I know - I mean, total dreck, you maybe using as a term of art, there are a lot of really good - Hollywood is, I always argue, has a great track record of making good films.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HORWITZ: If two percent of all the films made in Hollywood are really artistically worthy - and I think it's a lot more than two percent - that's a pretty big percentage of things that will outlive their own generation.

CONAN: Well, I must - I do go to films like "Transformers" and generally enjoy them…

Mr. HORWITZ: So, what's your complaint?

CONAN: Well, I…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: …it just reminds me of Andrew Sarris' famous comment that if, you know, foreign films, independent films these days, you know, may hold the very highest A-plus ratings for rules of the game and things like that.

Mr. HORWITZ: Right, right, right.

CONAN: The categories of A-minus through C-plus are completely dominated by Hollywood.

Mr. HORWITZ: I think that's right. And I think that's right. And actually, one of my colleagues at the theater just said to me this week - because we're doing a good business over the holidays - were you in the audience when these big classics came out, like "The Godfather" and the - I said, yeah, but one didn't know at the time that they were classics, you know? It's just - that time will tell, you'll never know.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. And this is Tinai(ph). Tinai's with us from Stigler, in Oklahoma. Is that right?

JINNAE(ph) (Caller): This is Jinnae from Stigler, yes.

CONAN: Okay, I'm sorry I mispronounced your name. Go ahead please.

JINNAE: Well, I would just like to say that my family and I have really enjoyed the return of the musical. My daughters just love "Hairspray" and that "High School Musical," which isn't on the movie screen, but we just love it and it's family entertainment that we can all enjoy together.

CONAN: "Sweeney Todd," another musical, it may not be family entertainment.

JINNAE: True, true. We haven't taken the kids to see that one yet, but I might see it without them.

CONAN: Well, let me play you a clip promoting a film that's coming out next year and ask you if you might be interested in going to see this.

(Soundbite of promotion for "Hannah Montana: The Movie")

Ms. MILEY CYRUS (Actress): Hey everyone, it's Miley and right now, I've got a special announcement. As you may know, I've kicked off the "Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds" concert tour, featuring the Jones Brothers.

(Soundbite of song "Best of Both Worlds")

Ms. CYRUS: (As Hannah Montana) (Singing) You get the best of both worlds.

And now, we're going to film the concert and turn it into a 3D movie. Tickets are available now. You can see the concert and our backstage adventures only in theaters and only in Disney Digital 3D. See you there.

Unidentified Male #1: Coming in theaters in Disney Digital 3D.

CONAN: And that combines, I guess, two of Murray's categories - not only 3D, but a family film. Will you and your kids be going to see the "Hannah Montana" concert?

Mr. HORWITZ: No, I mean, I think if…

JINNAE: Oh, I can't imagine that my daughter would let me miss.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You were asking Jinnae, not me.

CONAN: I was asking Jinnae. Yes.

Mr. HORWITZ: All right. Good. Yes.

CONAN: You can go too, you know…

Mr. HORWITZ: Yes, thank you.

CONAN: …I think it's something you'd like though.

Mr. HORWITZ: I'm more likely to go to - I think the musical I'm waiting for is - even though it's not really up my alley, the cast is so extraordinary. They're doing the film version of "Mamma Mia" which is based on Abba's music. And it's got Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard and Christine Baranski - something's up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Jinnae, thanks very much for the call and have a good time at the movies.

JINNAE: Thank you so much, Neal.

CONAN: We're talking with Murray Horowitz about the next big thing in the movies. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Murray, I guess we can't go too much farther without saying, what movies? Writers aren't writing any of them.

Mr. HORWITZ: Well, I think that's, you know, you raised that at the beginning of this segment and I think it's something that we don't know yet. The writer's have now been on strike since November 5th, I think. So, entering the third month of the strike, I have full disclosure, I'm a member of the Writers Guild, as well as the Directors Guild, and that's what's - that's sort of the other shoe that folks in Hollywood are waiting to drop.

The directors have said that depending on how things go with the writers, they may start their own separate negotiation. And we'll see what happens. But so far, I think most would say that it hasn't had a huge effect on the movie business, certainly not so big an effect as it's had on the television business, but things are pretty paralyzed out there right now. And…

CONAN: And it's amazing how far in Hollywood, in the Los Angeles area, how many businesses this affects?

Mr. HORWITZ: It's - you know, we always say about Hollywood that it's a company town and it's sort of is. It's like in Washington, they say, you know, the company is the government. But it's certainly not a one-company town, but it is a huge effect.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail we have from Ken(ph) in Cleveland. Three words for what I'm looking forward to 2008, "Batman" in IMAX.

Mr. HORWITZ: Yeah. Well - and a lot of people are looking forward to the "Dark Knight," which is - help me, Neal, I'm drawing a blank. It's - I can see him right in front of me. He's going to be playing Batman. But this is…

CONAN: In fact, Christian Bale I think stars in it.

Mr. HORWITZ: Yes, thank you, it's Christian Bale. It is Christian Bale. And this is a - there's a trend that shows no signs of abating. Anything based on a comic book. I mean, the shows coming out - the films coming out that are based on comic books in the next little while is - I mean, there's "Iron Man" and then there's the "Dark Knight" we mentioned, "The Incredible Hulk." There's a bunch of them and they're - it'll be interesting to see what happens with the new - with the process. There aren't that many screens that can show IMAX feature films, but they generally, as I said with the Tim Burton film they re-released, they do well. So…

CONAN: I hope the "Dark Knight" is the Frank Miller version.

Mr. HORWITZ: Yeah, that's exactly right.

CONAN: And he, of course, was also co-director, but also the creator of "Sin City" and he wrote and illustrated "300."

Mr. HORWITZ: And if I'm not mistaken, he doesn't always participate in the film versions of his works. So this really will be - you know, I'm with Ken, this is an interesting - I'm looking forward to seeing it.

CONAN: And I think some of the option is another book of graphic novel which is called, "Ronin," anyway. So, here's an e-mail from Jim(ph) in Fort Collins in Colorado. Netflicks now distributes part of its catalogue as digital downloads and YouTube is a phenomenon, gradually the chasm between these two will fill in with a whole range of private film projects, community theater productions, small-scale documentaries, and the like. It's going to become more difficult to distinguish between professional, paraprofessional and amateur productions as distribution channels get fuzzier. Unless they give away Melmac.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORWITZ: I think that Jim's on to something. I mean, he's more courageous than I am. I'm not going to make an absolute prediction that it will happen this way or that way, but there's a quotation from the French poet and filmmaker, Jean Cocteau, who said that, film will never be an art form until cameras and film are as cheap as pencils and paper. And I disagree with him, I think he was one of the people who helped prove that making film was an art form already…

CONAN: Making is art form already, yeah.

Mr. HORWITZ: …then. But it's true. It's not quite pencils and paper. But filmmaking materials are in the hands of more people now than ever before. And the gap between - as Jim says, between the professional equipment that's available to somebody and what's available to you and me, you know, just go into a Big Box store, is really not that big a gap.

So, I agree. And I would like to think that the more people have these tools, the more people will learn how to use them, it's another argument I would argue for, personally, for art's education. Because there are kids who aren't that literate in screen language and they've got to know how people select shots, how people edit audio, how people combine things to make what they see on the screen. It would be like the 15th century or the 16th century in Germany, and somebody amends a printing press and you don't know how to read and write.

CONAN: And finally, are we going to see a remastered 3D "Star Wars"?

Mr. HORWITZ: Yes. Well, according to George Lucas, according to Lucasfilm, you are, we are. And he's going to start with the very first one, which was "Episode 4," right?

CONAN: Four, yes, it's very confusing and it's going to - there's going to be generations wondering, what?

Mr. HORWITZ: Exactly so. Especially they try to run them in order…

CONAN: Right.

Mr. HORWITZ: …which we've done, actually. But it'll be great to see them. I mean, I'll be one of - now, there's a classic that I do remember lining up outside a theater in Seattle, Washington in 1977 to see. And I'll be lining up again if they do it in 3D.

CONAN: You run them in order, that way you can come in at halftime and not miss a thing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Murray Horowitz, COO of the Silver Theater - AFI's Silver Theater in Silver Spring, here in the Washington, D.C. area. As always, Murray, thanks very much for being here.

Mr. HORWITZ: What a pleasure. Thanks again, Neal.

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And I'm Neal Conan in Tatooine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.