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`Planet 51' proves unable to support life
`Planet 51It's been a big year for animation, with a great variety of styles represented by "Up," "Monsters vs. Aliens," "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and the upcoming "The Princess and the Frog."
The best you can say of the sci-fi comedy "Planet 51" is that like those others, it too is animated.
"Planet 51" is the first feature film from Ilion Animation Studios, established by the founders of video game outfit Pyro Studios. The Ilion crew has all the technical talent to craft decent computer imagery, though it looks commonplace next to the marvels "Up" creator Pixar Animation dreams up in film after film.
But "Planet 51" is an aborted liftoff when it comes to story, presenting a half- or quarter-baked premise of a human astronaut among little green aliens who, for some uninspired reason, are living the serene "Ozzie and Harriet" life of 1950s America.
Working from a screenplay by Joe Stillman (co-writer of "Shrek" and "Shrek 2"), director Jorge Blanco shifts from his Pyro video game career to the big screen with an adventure as bland as the sitcommy decade that fostered it.
Likewise, voice stars Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel, Justin Long and cast mates seem to take their cue from the Ward Cleaver school of parental droning. Even vocal gymnast John Cleese sounds neutered as a partly mad alien scientist.
Lacking any real cleverness Ч why is it supposed to be funny that this planet's skies rain rocks instead of water? Ч the movie piles on frantic slapstick and chases, which may go some distance in satisfying young children. Their parents may find "Planet 51" as boring as an interstellar voyage Ч a long way to go with not much to do.
"Planet 51" Ч you know, like Area 51, where the U.S. government keeps its own alien stuff Ч is a world petrified of outsiders, whose big entertainment is the latest B-movie about space invaders coming to take over.
Brainy teenager Lem (voiced by Long) is an unbeliever, an astronomy nut convinced the universe is only 500 miles wide and that his world is the big cheese, until he becomes reluctant protector of Chuck Baker (Johnson), a NASA astronaut who lands on Lem's world.
Convinced Chuck is a monster aiming to turn them into zombies, Lem's fellow citizens want to hunt him down, the charge led by Gen. Grawl (Gary Oldman, who, to his credit, delivers with a Patton-like bark to his voice).
Chuck finds more allies in Lem's comic-book geek chum Skiff (Seann William Scott) and the lovely, sensitive Neera (Biel), the girl-next-door for whom Lem pines.
Rather than imagining something fresh and sly of their own, the filmmakers fixate on mimicking America in the Eisenhower years, with soda shops, full-service gas stations, beatniks on the cusp of hippiedom, even a hint of McCarthyism when a child tells authorities his mom's a zombie.
The latter routine is almost funny. Everything else in "Planet 51" is mostly familiar and tired. The buildings and cars are '50s clones, only with rounded flying saucer shapes to let you know you're not in Kansas anymore.
Chuck's a vain, strutting, wearisome pretty boy, and Johnson's banal vocals might make you long for the comic gravity of Tim Allen's Buzz Lightyear in Pixar's "Toy Story." The cutest thing about "Planet 51" is Chuck's robot helper Rover, and even he's a pale stand-in for a far superior Pixar creation, a guy named WALL-E.
As for the people of "Planet 51," these aliens are not just a reflection of us Ч they are us, only with green skin and antennae.
Derivative at every turn, the movie seemingly references every notable Hollywood science-fiction saga Ч "E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial," "Star Wars," "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Lost in Space," "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman."
This world has our pop music, too Ч "Lollipop," "Unchained Melody," "Mr. Sandman" Ч and the movie's cultural piracy includes Bob Dylan and Beach Boys allusions, even a "Singin' in the Rain" sequence.
Little of this clutter will register with young kids, and adults are more likely to sigh than laugh over the movie's repeated skimming of human culture.
"Planet 51" is so behind the times that it eagerly serves up a "Macarena" gag Ч about a decade after it might have been funny.
"Planet 51," released by Sony's TriStar Pictures, is rated PG for mild sci-fi action and some suggestive humor. Running time: 91 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.


Polanski arrest puts latest film `Ghost' on hold
Polanski arrest puts latest film `GhostLOS ANGELES Ц Roman Polanski's arrest in Switzerland has left his latest film in limbo, with several months of work before the political thriller is ready for theaters.

Polanski's agent, International Creative Management chief Jeff Berg, said Polanski had completed much of the editing on "The Ghost." But other post-production work, including music scoring and sound mixing, had yet to be done, Berg said.

Based on the provocative novel by Robert Harris, "The Ghost" stars Pierce Brosnan as fictional former British leader Adam Lang and Ewan McGregor as a ghostwriter hired to help complete his memoirs. The cast includes Kim Cattrall, Tom Wilkinson, Olivia Williams and James Belushi.

The novel caused a stir in Britain for Lang's resemblance to former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Like Blair, Lang is a once-popular leader brought down by his allegiance with the United States in the war on terror.

While the film does not yet have a U.S. deal, it has distribution in many overseas territories, among them Germany, where it was shot early this year, and France, where Polanski lives. He fled America in 1978 after pleading guilty to having unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles.

Polanski was arrested over the weekend in Zurich, where he had traveled to receive a lifetime achievement award from a film festival. His lawyer said Polanski will fight U.S. attempts to have him returned to the United States.

"The Ghost" is the first Polanski movie with a U.S. setting since 1974's "Chinatown." Locations in Germany had to stand in for the story's New England settings.

"There's a lot of psychological intrigue in the story, as well as espionage and politics, and most of the action takes place in an oceanfront house during the middle of winter Ч all of it classic Polanski territory," Harris said when the film was announced in 2007.

Berg said Polanski usually finishes his films before lining up U.S. distribution, so the completed movie can be shopped around.

"There is always interest in movies that Roman distributes," Berg said. "It should be accepted on its own merits, but we feel highly confident we'll find proper distribution."

Polanski's films include the horror hit "Rosemary's Baby," the costume drama "Tess" and the Holocaust saga "The Pianist," which earned him the 2002 Academy Award for best director.

A Holocaust survivor himself, Polanski has endured other dire trauma, including the murder of his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, by followers of cult figure Charles Manson in 1969.

With Polanski jailed, it's unknown when work might resume on "The Ghost." Berg said he is confident Polanski will put his legal troubles behind him and finish the film.

"I'm always optimistic when it comes to Roman," Berg said. "He's strong, and he has survived every situation imaginable."


Tickets go on sale for December bow of "Avatar"
Tickets go on sale for December bow of "Avatar"LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) Ц James Cameron's "Avatar" won't reach movie theaters for almost four months, but tickets for the much-hyped sci-fi action movie are already on sale.

Touted as a potential watershed release -- displaying the creative possibilities of both 3-D cinema and motion-capture production techniques -- "Avatar" is scheduled for a global bow on December 18. Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment is co-producing with distributor 20th Century Fox, which has been stoking exhibitors' appetite for the release through screenings of extended clip reels from the film.

On Friday, the studio staged public screenings of a special 16-minute "Avatar" trailer at 100 Imax theaters. Now, AMC has decided to sell tickets to the movie's opening-day midnight performances.

Online ticketers and Fandango on Friday began ringing up sales for "Avatar" performances at more than 75 AMC locations, most of them Imax 3D venues.

"Tickets being put on sale for a film four months in advance is unheard of," MovieTickets executive vice president Joel Cohen said. "The fact that tickets have already been sold really speaks to the tremendous buzz the film has already created and the power of James Cameron at the box office."

"Avatar" is Cameron's first dramatic feature since 1997's "Titanic," which is still the highest-grossing film of all time.

"Audiences are hungry for fresh fare with original storytelling," Fandango spokesman Harry Medved said. "And with 'Avatar,' you have no idea where the story is going to go."

Sales of the midnight tickets were said to be "healthy."

It was unclear if any other exhibitors will follow AMC's lead in offering early advance ticketing for the film. The studio has yet to hammer out film rental terms with circuits -- though that didn't stop the nation's second-biggest circuit from suggesting the early ticketing.

"AMC came up with the idea," Fox senior vice president of distribution Chris Aronson said. "They said that if all these people are going to come to our theater to see 16 minutes of a film that doesn't open until December, let's give them an opportunity to buy tickets to the first performances of the show itself."

As a practical matter, no one can offer tickets for any screenings beyond the first midnight performances, because nobody knows what the final running time will be after Cameron finishes editing "Avatar." The film's length is likely to be between two and a half and three hours.

(Editing by SheriLinden at Reuters)