We weathered a summer in which, it seemed, the only offerings were misbegotten spins on long-ago TV shows. (If you have already forgotten "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "Bewitched," God bless your mental self-preservation.) But what's so pleasantly surprising about this holiday season's offerings is the higher quality of their source material. At least the books, plays, former movies and historic events they're adapting or dramatizing make excellent starting points.
Consider one of the season's potentially biggest spectacles, "King Kong." Sure, there was that less-than-satisfying 1976 Dino De Laurentiis-produced spectacle (starring Jessica Lange). But Peter Jackson's new film is based on the classic, marvelous 1933 "King Kong," directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, the one that starred Fay Wray. And judging by Jackson's track record -- you recall a certain trilogy involving hobbits, towering castles and walking, talking trees -- we can only be optimistic.
Then there are the books we'll be revisiting. First up: "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," opening this weekend, based on C.S. Lewis's venerable "Narnia" series, which has charmed generations of children. Should this movie, a Christian allegory, have the slightest success, and most observers are expecting more than that, there should be more dips into the Lewis vault. Perhaps we'll be seeing film versions of "The Magician's Nephew," "The Horse and His Boy" and other Lewis novels.
Rob Marshall's "Memoirs of a Geisha," starring Chinese actresses Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li and Michelle Yeoh as Japanese geishas (discuss), is based on Arthur Golden's best-selling novel. Having seen this, we can tell you that Marshall, who made the inspired "Chicago," has created an atmospherically sumptuous movie of billowing veils, beautiful costumes and floating cherry blossoms. Whatever you think of the story, you'll have no end of visual stimulation, especially with kimono-swishers Ziyi and Li.
"Hoodwinked," a computer-animated comedy featuring the voices of Glenn Close, Anne Hathaway, Jim Belushi, Patrick Warburton and Anthony Anderson, comes straight from a classic, namely "Little Red Riding Hood." It has been reconceived as a comic detective story that starts with a domestic disturbance at Granny's cottage. If DreamWorks can make nursery rhyme characters hilarious in "Shrek," Weinstein Co. heads Bob and Harvey Weinstein figure so can they.
Remember Charles Webb's novel "The Graduate" or its 1967 movie version starring Anne Bancroft as the seductive Mrs. Robinson? Both sources are the collective, central motif in "Rumor Has It . . .," which stars Jennifer Aniston as a woman who learns a delicious family secret. Apparently, her grandmother may have been the inspiration for Mrs. R., and a certain Beau (Kevin Costner) is the former young man who succumbed to her enticements. If you can't foresee what's going to happen, don't expect your agent to return your calls anymore.
History is the source of two intriguing films this holiday season. Steven Spielberg revisited a dark period in 20th-century history with 1993's "Schindler's List," a movie (adapted from Thomas Keneally's book) that retold the life of industrialist Oskar Schindler, who saved hundreds of Jews from death camps during World War II. Spielberg goes to the dark side again with "Munich," about the aftermath of the infamous Black September tragedy, when Palestinian gunmen kidnapped and killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team at the 1972 Games. Spielberg's film is about the Mossad squad that decided to take revenge on the assassins.
In another, equally compelling project, director Terrence Malick fuses American history with lore in "The New World." The movie tells the story of Jamestown settler John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas, set against a larger canvas: European conquest of an untamed America. Easy prediction: It's going to look great. Malick's films, such as "Days of Heaven" and "The Thin Red Line," are always an ocular feast.
On a lighter note, we're banking on some amusement from "Fun With Dick and Jane," which reprises the lightly funny 1977 film that starred George Segal and Jane Fonda. If the latest film smells of summer holdover, well, hey, two words: Jim Carrey. That Houdini bendy-toy of a comedian seems to work his way out of any bad movie and still make you laugh. And if "Rent" didn't do it for you as a satisfying Broadway-to-movie transition, there's the upcoming "The Producers." This film about two shysters (Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick) who think they'll make easy money off their investors with a stage bomb is the screen version of the stage musical of the movie. Got that? Given that Mel Brooks's original 1968 film, the one with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, was funny, well, a moviegoer can always hope.
The best bet for this holiday, thus far? Hands down, it's "Brokeback Mountain," which we've had the pleasure of seeing. It's based on a good literary source, too: E. Annie Proulx's short story of the same name. The movie, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, is about two male ranchers in the 1960s who fall in love one winter, only to spend the rest of their lives mainly apart from each other but never forgetting their bond. You can put "Brokeback" right at the top of your holiday list. The Oscar folks certainly will.
Now take a look at the movies in our preview guide and see what grabs your fancy.