Sure, the Academy Awards have been predictable in recent years. But even so, this is the first time the pre-Oscar suspense had nothing to do with who was going to win -- "Amadeus," of course, everybody knew that -- but how long the show was going to run. And if the fact that it ran only 12 minutes and 24 seconds longer than planned was something of a surprise, it was about the only surprise in a ceremony whose predictability is itself becoming predictable. This is the third consecutive year in which virtually every major winner entered the ceremony a solid, odds-on favorite . . .
It's shuffling time at the major studios these days, as the release dates of several promising films have been rearranged to accommodate production delays or to get a jump on the competition the way "Beverly Hills Cop" did last Christmas.
The biggest change involves "Cocoon," the third film directed by Ron Howard, who picked up favorable reviews for "Night Shift" and then turned in a critical and commercial smash with "Splash." His new film, the tale of aliens who land in a Florida retirement community, was originally slated to come out next Christmas. That was changed some time ago to July 19, then 20th Century-Fox saw Howard's rough cut of the film and decided it had a sizable hit on its hands. A big hit is exactly what Fox desperately needs, so the studio persuaded Howard to speed up his postproduction schedule. This means more work for George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic, which is handling the special effects, but the movie will be ready by mid-June.
So will Orion Pictures' "Secret Admirer," a low-key comedy starring C. Thomas Howell that has been moved from July to June. At the same time, Steven Spielberg's "Back to the Future" -- a Robert Zemeckis-directed tale of a time-traveling teen-ager -- has made a move in the other direction, changing its June release to July after casting troubles slowed down the production . . .
Mel Brooks, Dylan Thomas and Twiggy are hardly a logical team, but they've all had input into the upcoming gothic thriller "The Doctor and the Devils." Thomas wrote the screenplay in 1953. Based on a true story about British grave robbers, it was the poet's only published writing for the screen -- though his "Under Milk Wood" was transferred, often verbatim, into an odd, impressionistic Richard Burton film 14 years ago.
Thomas' screenplay has been adapted by writer Ronald Harwood, and the film is currently shooting at London's Shepperton Studios for executive producer Mel Brooks and his Brooksfilms production house. The director is Freddie Francis, who photographed Brooksfilms' acclaimed "The Elephant Man" and has directed such horror films as "Tales From the Crypt." The film stars British actors Timothy Dalton and Jonathan Pryce, and playing the lead female role -- "a charming young prostitute," say the production notes -- is Twiggy . . .
Going to the movies is always something of a gamble, but a proposal before California's new State Lottery Commission would make it more so. The Theater Association of California has submitted a proposal calling for lottery tickets to be sold in the lobbies of movie theaters. No word on whether you'd have to buy a movie ticket to get into the lobby to buy a lottery ticket. The lottery commission, which is months late trying to implement the state's upcoming lottery, hasn't gotten back to the theater owners yet . . .