Friday, February 17, 2006

Inspired, Sort of, by Real Life - Hollywood Report :: Truth-Based Films Popular, But Often Far Off Facts; Better Fate for Sled Dogs: "Recent movies are trumpeting a link to factual events in their posters, credits and trailers, even when the link is tenuous at best. Today, Disney's Antarctic adventure "Eight Below" opens throughout the country -- "inspired," its poster says, "by a true story." The terrorist drama "Munich" is "inspired by real events," and last fall's Mideast-espionage story "Syriana" is "suggested" by a nonfiction book, its poster says. In perhaps the oddest credit line, last autumn's "Domino," about a model who turned into a bounty hunter, says the film is "based on a true story... sort of."

When New Line Cinema recently showed "Take the Lead" ("inspired by a true story") to a test audience, the fact that it was based on the real life of a dance teacher "gave it more appeal" to every age group, says Russell Schwartz, president of marketing at the studio. Nonfiction-based stories, says veteran producer Mark Gordon, are the ones generating interest in Hollywood.

The movies' reality-related labels are part of a bigger movement in media toward fact-inspired works. Reality shows have ruled TV in recent seasons, a documentary film ("Fahrenheit 9/11") took in an astounding $222.4 million in world-wide ticket sales. Memoirs, often written by virtual unknowns, are one of the hottest genres in publishing -- and a source of controversy, with the brouhaha over James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces."

The past couple of years has seen a spate of biopics (from "Ray" to "Capote" and "Walk the Line") and political thrillers ("Syriana" and "Munich"), all aimed at an educated, adult audience. By at least one measure, these movies have been taken seriously: In the top four categories in the current Oscar race -- best picture, directing, actor and actress -- more nominees (11 out of 20) come from movies that involved real events than in any year in the past decade and a half. Last year there were 10 such nominees, compared with an average of four a year for the 14 previous Oscar races.

Take "Eight Below," the PG-rated yarn about an attempt to rescue eight sled dogs. It is based on a 1983 Japanese movie, "Nankyoku monogatari," that in turn was based on a doomed 1957 expedition by Japanese scientists to Antarctica. "Inspired by a true story" is used loosely: The Disney film changed the characters, their nationalities, the time period, the number of dogs and the fate of most of the canines.

In 2001, "A Beautiful Mind," which starred Russell Crowe as the troubled mathematician John Nash, was blasted for ignoring Mr. Nash's anti-Semitism, his arrest for public lewdness, and for divorcing and then remarrying his wife. (The movie, though, went on to win an Oscar.)

As for "Domino," the events and story depicted in that movie were entirely fictitious, says Russell Schwartz, president of marketing at the film's producer, New Line Cinema, although the main character is drawn from a real person. (Domino Harvey died of an accidental overdose from a painkiller shortly before the movie opened.)

"The Hoax," from Clifford Irving's autobiography, in particular about the 1970s scandal over Mr. Irving's fake Howard Hughes biography. (Richard Gere plays Mr. Irving.)

Alpha Dog
TBA 2006,
"Inspired by actual events." A fictionalized version of the case of Jesse James Hollywood, a drug dealer who was the youngest fugitive ever on the FBI's Most Wanted list for his role in the murder of a 15-year-old suburban Los Angeles youth.
Mrs. Harris
HBO, Feb. 25;
"Inspired by" nonfiction book "Very Much a Lady" About the 1980 murder by prep-school headmistress Jean Harris of her lover, "Scarsdale Diet" doctor Herman Tarnower. (Annette Bening plays Harris, Ben Kingsley the doctor.) An HBO spokeswoman says the filmmakers carefully utilized numerous resources, including courtroom scenes based on transcripts.
Take The Lead
April 7,
"Inspired by a true story." About Pierre Dulaine's ballroom-dancing program, for inner-city New York kids (last year's popular documentary "Mad Hot Ballroom" focused on the same project). The original elementary-school kids are teenagers in this film. "We made the kids older because they have more complex and interesting problems and are more relatable to a broader audience," says producer Diane Nabatoff.
The Zodiac
March 17,
"Based on true events." Several detectives who worked on the gruesome 1960s murders that plagued central California have become a single composite sleuth. The reason: The "Zodiac" serial murders "occurred over several jurisdictions," says producer Corey Campodonico. Otherwise, he says, the film has stuck accurately to history."

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