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Hollywood goes back to originals

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Los Angeles (Reuters): A funny thing has happened on the way to movie theatres this autumn: Hollywood, it seems, has been listening to fans looking for original features after years of boring sequels, prequels and remakes. Among the nearly 150 new films slated for release from September through December, there are the usual Oscar hopefuls and high-concept stories with big-name stars but very few big-budget franchises the likes of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films. Even super agent James Bond -- super old by the standards of Hollywood's obsession with youth (The first Bond movie, Dr No was released 44 years ago) -- got a remake into a younger, edgier British spy for November's Casino Royale.

''We introduce a man that is not quite as refined, at first, as maybe we've known Bond to be,'' said Daniel Craig, 38, the new 007 after 53 year-old Pierce Brosnan got the boot. Craig promises all the action, stunts, effects and pretty women for which Bond flicks are known, but this new film throws a wrench into his famously healthy sex life when ladies man Bond gets jilted by his lover. ''It's complicated,'' deadpanned Craig. Indeed. But tough love for Bond and other fresh ideas may be what fans want after three straight years of fewer viewers in theatres. So far in 2006, attendance is up 3 per cent.

Disney, for instance, is high on a November sci-fi thriller in which Denzel Washington uses ''deja vu'' to track down a killer. It has an event-movie pedigree - directed by Tony Scott and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer -- but an odd title: Deja Vu. ''Rarely do you come up with a title that you don't have to change into local languages around the world,'' counters Mark Zoradi, president of Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group. ''You put great visuals along with that, and a fresh idea, and it's perfect for the (holidays). Following the upcoming US Labor Day holiday -- the summer movie season's end -- September kicks off with Hollywoodland in which Adrien Brody plays a detective looking for the truth behind the death of TV Superman George Reeves (Ben Affleck). Action and adventure flicks include The Guardian, pairing Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher as Coast Guard rescue swimmers, martial arts title Jet Li's Fearless, and Flyboys about World War I pilots.

September comedies are led by Jackass: Number Two in which Johnny Knoxville performs stupid stunts, and Confetti, a fake documentary about creating original weddings. Oscar hype is already buzzing for September dramas such as Children of Men, The Black Dahlia, The Queen, The Last King of Scotland and All the King's Men. (Okay, that last one is a remake of a classic 1949 film.) Award buzz for October hangs on Clint Eastwood's World War II tale, ''Flags of our Fathers,'' and Martin Scorsese thriller The Departed, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson. Also on the award watchlist are Brad Pitt as a tragedy stricken tourist in Morocco in ''Babel,'' Hugh Jackman playing a magician in The Prestige, director Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette starring Kirsten Dunst as the doomed French queen, and Todd Field's Little Children with Kate Winslet. October comedies include Dane Cook and Jessica Simpson in Employee of the Month, Robin Williams in Man of the Year and an ensemble cast including Annette Bening and Gwyneth Paltrow in Running with Scissors. November&December Neither November nor December stray far from the theme of fewer big sequels, prequels, remakes and stale tales.

Oscar-winning Russell Crowe, known for sword fighting (Gladiator) and telephone hurling (real life), is in comedy A Good Year. That's right, a comedy. Another Oscar winner, Nicole Kidman, stars in Fur, playing a photographer who strikes up a life-changing friendship with a man covered in fur. Turning the tables on those two thespians is funnyman Will Ferrell, who takes on drama in Stranger than Fiction. But the truly quirky comes from Christopher Guest (Best in Show) comedy For Your Consideration, and from Borat in which British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen takes his popular character, a TV reporter from Kazakhstan on a tour across America.

Topping off the Oscar watchlist in December are musical Dreamgirls, based on the hit Broadway play, George Clooney in World War II drama The Good German and Robert De Niro-directed The Good Shepherd, starring Matt Damon. ''I do see a lot of quality,'' said box office watcher Paul Dergarabedian of Exhibitor Relations Co Inc ''That, to me, is what's so cool about fall.''

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