Los Angeles They'll be fighting on land, on sea, in space, in Middle-earth. Their weapons will include cannons, flame-throwers, swords of all sorts and a guitar case full of guns.
Hollywood goes to war this fall with a bombardment of historical battle epics, contemporary action flicks and sci-fi and fantasy combat, led by the final chapters of two trilogies, "The Matrix Revolutions" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King."
The lineup is heavy on 19th century military and personal conflicts. Among them:
- A new take on "The Alamo," starring Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Quaid.
- Russell Crowe as a Napoleonic-era naval captain in "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World."
- Ron Howard's "The Missing," with Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones in an Old West thriller about a woman trying to recover her daughter from a cult of desperadoes.
- "Cold Mountain," with Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger in an adaptation of Charles Frazier's Civil War best seller about a wounded Confederate soldier struggling his way home to his sweetheart.
- And "The Last Samurai," with Tom Cruise as a disillusioned American officer training Japanese troops in modern warfare in the 1870s.
Director Edward Zwick and producing partner Marshall Herskovitz say Cruise begins as a drunken, soul-sick soldier embittered by U.S. actions in clearing Indians from the American West. He finds redemption in the spirituality of the samurai code and is caught up in a rebellion as feudal Japanese warriors resist the shift to modern combat.
"The Japanese culture, I'm fascinated by it and the purity of what the samurai stand for," said Cruise, who trained for nine months and put on 20 pounds of muscle for the film's elaborate sword fights. "Courage, honor, compassion, these are part of the code of the samurai. Honesty and justice. There are so many aspects of that culture worth looking at and paying homage to."
While Cruise plays a fictionalized soldier, the makers of "The Alamo" were dealing with legendary real-life figures who died trying to hold off Mexican forces that outnumbered them 10-to-1.
Thornton said he was able to draw on his own personality quirks to capture much of Alamo hero Davy Crockett's eccentricity.
"We're both Leos," Thornton said. "Crockett was kind of a rock star at the time. He was very well known. When he came to town, people knew who he was. Crockett loved people. He loved to hold court and tell stories, which has kind of been my path in a lot of ways."
Thornton appears in three other movies this season. In the dark comedy "Bad Santa," he plays a thief impersonating a mall Santa Claus to carry out a robbery. Thornton has small roles in two romantic comedies: The Coen brothers' "Intolerable Cruelty," starring George Clooney as a crackerjack divorce lawyer and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a "serial divorcee," and "Love Actually," an ensemble tale with Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson.
"Alamo" producer Brian Grazer also has a busy fall, working on "Intolerable Cruelty," longtime directing partner Howard's "The Missing," and "Dr. Seuss' the Cat in the Hat," starring Mike Myers as the trickster feline from the beloved children's book.
"Mike's fantastic. He's unbelievable," Grazer said. "He was so committed and inhabited the cat in a way that's seamless, but has some of the Mike Myers we all love."
Also in family-flick mode is Steve Martin, who stars in an update of "Cheaper by the Dozen," a parenthood comedy about a couple with 12 kids, and plays the villain in "Looney Tunes: Back in Action," pairing him and Brendan Fraser with Bugs, Daffy and other Warner Bros. cartoon creatures.
"This will probably be considered the biggest performance I've ever given, the most over the top," Martin said. "You're working with Daffy Duck. So what am I going to do, be sensitive?"
While Martin squares off against 'toons, darker tales of personal battle this fall include "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," with Antonio Banderas returning for the final chapter of Robert Rodriguez's "El Mariachi" trilogy about a deadly gunman with a guitar case filled with firearms; "The Rundown," an action comedy starring wrestler The Rock as a hired gun in the Amazon; "Secondhand Lions," featuring Robert Duvall and Michael Caine as curmudgeonly recluses who share stories of youthful adventures in Africa with their great-nephew (Haley Joel Osment); and "Kill Bill, Volume 1," the first chapter of Quentin Tarantino's two-part saga about a hitwoman (Uma Thurman) wreaking havoc on the mentor who tried to kill her.
Tarantino wrote the part specifically for Thurman, who co-starred in his hit "Pulp Fiction."
"It's an amazing way to be in a film. Totally different than being cast or selected after the script's been written," said Thurman, who trained 40 hours a week for three months to handle the movie's martial-arts action. "I'm playing a trained assassin who tries to retire but rather rudely has her resignation not accepted by her boss, who basically tries to knock her off with another assassin."
Part two of "Kill Bill" hits theaters early next year.
Thurman also co-stars with Ben Affleck in John Woo's latest action flick, "Paycheck," adapted from a sci-fi story by Philip K. Dick, about a corporate consultant fighting to piece together his erased memory.
The heavyweights among year-end sci-fi and fantasy are "Return of the King" and "Matrix Revolutions," guaranteed blockbusters considering the $300-million-plus domestic gross for each of the first two "Lord of the Rings" movies and this year's $278 million haul for "The Matrix Reloaded."
Both movies break with the Hollywood tradition of allowing two or three years of breathing space between sequels.
Arriving just before Christmas, "Return of the King" completes director Peter Jackson's monumental adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic of hobbits, humans, elves, wizards and dwarfs united to destroy a ring of ultimate evil that threatens the fantasy land of Middle-earth. The three movies were shot simultaneously and scheduled for release just a year apart.
Brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski shot both sequels to their 1999 hit "The Matrix" at the same time, continuing their saga of a group of freedom fighters (Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss and Laurence Fishburne) battling computers that have enslaved humanity.
"The Matrix Revolutions" hits theaters in early November, just six months after "The Matrix Reloaded."
"The thing that's kind of neat is that it feels like an event," Moss said. "If I wasn't in it, I'd be kind of psyched about the movies myself as a fan."
Also on the sci-fi front is "Alien: The Director's Cut." Ridley Scott restored about five minutes to his 1979 horror hit that pits Sigourney Weaver against an unstoppable space invader.
The major addition is an "alien-nest" sequence revealing the fate of co-stars Tom Skerritt and Harry Dean Stanton, whose characters were snatched by the hostile beast.
Also this fall, Scott directs the comic drama "Matchstick Men," starring Nicolas Cage as a neurotic con man whose latest scam is jeopardized by the arrival of a teenage daughter (Alison Lohman) he never knew he had.
"She helps to adjust his condition," Scott said. "His condition is one where he's rapidly going down this route of isolation. He's a clean-a-phobe, he's a little Howard Hughes-ian in his cleanliness, and he's going down this hole of being entirely alone, which would be his lot for the rest of his life. And she helps straighten him out."
Also playing the shell game are John Cusack, Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman in "Runaway Jury," adapted from John Grisham's thriller about sneaks and conspirators trying to buy the jury in a major lawsuit.
"It's a bit of a con-man movie," said Cusack, who plays a juror with an agenda. "You see many court dramas, but I'd never really seen that angle on jury tampering before. I imagine when money gets involved, anything's possible."
Other fall highlights:
Julia Roberts as an unorthodox professor at a women's college in the 1950s in "Mona Lisa Smile"; the horror tale "Gothika," with Halle Berry as an amnesiac psychiatrist accused of killing her hubby; Eddie Murphy on the run from ghosts in "The Haunted Mansion," based on the Disney attraction; the Farrelly brothers' latest, "Stuck on You," pairing Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins; another horror-film spoof with "Scary Movie 3"; and "The Human Stain," starring Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman in an adaptation of Philip Roth's novel about a disgraced academic's fling with a janitor.
Also, a live-action "Peter Pan," about the eternal boy who battles Capt. Hook; Denzel Washington as a police chief unraveled by a murder investigation in "Out of Time"; Tim Burton's "Big Fish," starring Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor in the adventures of a tall-tale spinner; "Mystic River," with Clint Eastwood directing Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon in a dark drama of three men drawn together by a murder; Woody Allen's latest Manhattan romance, "Anything Else," starring Jason Biggs and Christina Ricci; and Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton in "Something's Gotta Give," a comedy about a 60-something playboy with a taste for young women, who finally meets his romantic match with someone in his own age range.
"My movie's definitely about people that need their glasses to read," said "Something's Gotta Give" writer-director Nancy Meyers ("What Women Want"). It's really about being the age you are and feeling it and accepting it, and being in love. Because people do fall in love after the age of 35."