Hollywood studios in a retro mood

Thu Jun 19, 2008 1:55am EDT
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By Steven Zeitchik

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - For those ready to move past the endless stream of dark dramas from fall 2007, get ready for a new barrage -- from the 1960s, the 1940s and the 1780s.

Studios are preparing to unleash a hailstorm of period movies -- in broad terms, films set in an era other than the current -- in the fall, at times turning the multiplex circa 2008 into a veritable cinematic museum.

The films range from large studio productions (Clint Eastwood's 1920s missing-child drama "Changeling" and Baz Luhrmann's World War II epic "Australia") to specialty releases (the mid-century Southern tale "The Secret Life of Bees" and the 1960s Catholic-school drama "Doubt").

They veer from costume dramas (the 18th century Keira Knightley quill-and-wig extravaganza "The Duchess") to political sagas (Ron Howard's "Frost/Nixon") to 1950s family dramas (the Sam Mendes-Leonardo DiCaprio collaboration "Revolutionary Road") to biopics (Gus Van Sant's "Milk") to yet more WWII throwbacks (Ed Zwick's "Defiance," Mikael Hafstrom's "Shanghai" and Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna").

"It seems like Hollywood is merging with the History Channel," media critic Robert Thompson noted wryly.

Studios have a long tradition of producing movies set in previous eras, from epics like "Ben-Hur" to intimate stories like "The Ice Storm." But the latest wave of period movies is notable for several reasons.

These movies are coming all at once -- scores of pictures crammed into a period of just 10 or 12 weeks. The stakes and expectations for these movies also are higher because the overall number of fall specialty releases is expected to be down by as much as 25 percent from the nearly 70 titles released last year. And, maybe most critical, these period films are being released at a moment when questions linger from last season about whether the audience can find enough to identify with in fall releases.

That combination is enough to make some executives nervous. "It's a lot of period movies, and it's going to be a question of who'll be able to connect," said one high-ranking arthouse-studio executive releasing a period film.   Continued...

<p>Cast member Angelina Jolie attends a news conference for the film "The Exchange" by U.S. director Clint Eastwood at the 61st Cannes Film Festival May 20, 2008. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier</p>