Holiday forecast: deep in celluloid

Prepare for a blizzard of new movies hitting screens in the next six weeks, for at least two reasons:

Studios figure that people have extra time off from school and work during the holiday season, and they hope you'll be eager to get out of the house.

Films that studios hope merit Oscar consideration are released at year's end so they will be fresh in the minds of awards voters - and simply to get them on screens and eligible for consideration.

As David Sterritt points out in his cover story this week, the decision on which hoped-for "blockbusters" to release was made months or even years ago. Like candidates on Election Day, the studios can't change much now. Other than keeping up their usual marketing blitzes, all they can do is wait for the verdict of audiences at the ticket window.

"Cast Away," starring Tom Hanks and opening Dec. 22, for example, was given a green light before anyone knew that "Survivor" would be the surprise TV hit of the summer. Will audiences have seen enough stayin' alive on a deserted tropical island? Or will their interest in Hanks, an actor with a sterling reputation for creating memorable, sympathetic characters, fill seats anyway?

If, after the last car chase, mega-explosion, gravity-defying karate flip kick, or sophomoric joke, you feel less than satisfied this holiday movie season, I'm afraid next year's outlook isn't too promising either. The lineup could be worse as studios rush to finish projects before expected actors' and writers' strikes next year.

"I think there's going to be a bunch of bad movies next year," a financier-producer told the entertainment industry paper Variety.

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