EW Staff
May 28, 1993 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sir Richard Attenborough. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

Bidding for a family-friendly PG-13 rating, Spielberg has toned down some of the bloodier bites in Michael Crichton’s best-selling novel, but he’s still working with a surefire plot. Call it Jaws-Plus: A demented theme-park operator (Attenborough) turns into a Dr. Frankenstein, genetically engineering dinosaurs that eventually run deliriously amok.

The animatronic beasts, designed by special-effects whiz Stan Winston and including a 9,000-pound tyrannosaur, all functioned on cue, but nature itself threatened the production. Hurricane Iniki roared through the Hawaiian island of Kauai after three weeks of location filming, forcing the cast to spend 14 hours huddled in a hotel ballroom. Goldblum (playing a skeptical scientist who runs afoul of the T. rex) says, ”It was sobering, but we rode it out. It brought us closer together as a company.” In fact, he and costar Dern became so close that a romance developed.

Back on Universal’s locked-tight soundstages, filming actually finished two weeks ahead of schedule. But the computer-effects team at Industrial Light & Magic (the same folks who executed Terminator 2‘s quicksilver T-1000) still had to finish about 50 shots of rampaging dinos. ”It’s a key advance in terms of the modeling,” says producer Kathleen Kennedy. ”T2 took a human being and animated something coming out of that form. We’re creating something from scratch—living, breathing animals—and that catapults things into a dimension no one’s ever done before.” Apparently confident of the results, Spielberg decided to oversee postproduction long-distance from Poland, where he has been filming Schindler’s List, monitoring Jurassic’s special effects by satellite hookup to ILM and commuting to Paris on occasion to screen updated cuts. That way, not only could he capture the Polish winter on film, but he’ll also be able to enter two movies in next year’s Oscar derby. (June 11)

Buzz: Jurassic‘s status as the summer’s biggest movie is a foregone conclusion. The only question now is, How big? A reasonable guess is $200 million, although Jurassic’s stomp-and-chomp violence may keep little kids and cautious parents away.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O’Brien, Mercedes Ruehl, Bridgette Wilson. Directed by John McTiernan.

With the movie’s price tag reportedly soaring to more than $80 million, Columbia Pictures chairman Mark Canton seems to have bet the farm on this fantasy about a boy (O’Brien) whose magic movie ticket launches him into the world of his favorite on-screen hero (Schwarzenegger)—a gimmick that allows Player-esque cameos by Sharon Stone, Chevy Chase, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Tori Spelling, and Mrs. Ah-nuld, Maria Shriver. But early screenings have not been entirely promising. The film was sent back for reshoots last month after test audiences complained that—get this—there wasn’t enough action.

Last Action Hero wasn’t always The Movie That Ate Columbia’s Development Budget: Its origins two years ago were more modest-a spec script from the neophyte writing team of Zak Penn and Adam Leff that Canton bought for $150,000. As the production mushroomed into an extravaganza, Canton yanked the two 23-year-olds from the project. ”We wanted to get Arnold,” says Penn, who with Leff wrote the script around the Schwarzenegger archetype, ”and to do that the studio needed a big-name writer.” Columbia first hired Shane Black (Lethal Weapon) for a rewrite, and then—at the star’s insistence—William Goldman for a reported $1 million polish. ”We gladly swallowed the pill,” says Penn. Leff and Penn ended up with an ”original story by” credit. ”The movie,” says Leff, ”became bigger than our egos.” (June 18)

Buzz: Word of mouth has been nothing short of poisonous, which says more about the number of movie-biz insiders who are rooting for Arnold to belly flop than about the film itself. Still, if this Action Hero doesn’t mow down at least $100 million, Canton may have to update his resume.

Starring Tom Cruise, Gene Hackman, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Holly Hunter, Ed Harris, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook, Gary Busey, Wilford Brimley. Directed by Sydney Pollack.

When Tom Cruise was off in Ireland in 1991 filming Far and Away, Paramount sent him a novel that legions of Americans were tearing through—John Grisham’s The Firm. Devouring it in an afternoon, he became hooked on the idea of playing Mitch McDeere, a hungry Harvard law grad who takes a too-good-to-be-true job at a Memphis law firm only to find that it really is too good to be true: The firm represents the mob, and the FBI wants McDeere to finger the bad guys or be fingered himself.

Though already set to play a lawyer in A Few Good Men, Cruise says he saw The Firm as a departure: “Yes, I’m playing a lawyer again, but having a profession doesn’t define the person. This is Mitch’s personal story. He gets sucked into this world, and then he has to crawl out of the hole.” Cruise was captivated not so much by the legal intrigue as by its effect on McDeere and his wife, Abby (Tripplehorn). “Here’s a guy who worked so hard, and made one mistake in his life—and he’s trapped,” says Cruise. “The whole movie, Mitch is carrying a lie on his shoulders. He sleeps with another woman. He’s got this whole firm on his shoulders, hiding that away. It’s a movie about keeping secrets and then secrets being revealed.”

As production neared, the filmmakers had some secrets of their own in store; in an apparent attempt to bolster The Firm‘s female appeal, Pollack toyed with casting Meryl Streep as McDeere’s mentor, a male character in the book. Eventually, Hackman got the role. But an even bigger change made its way to the screen: Pollack chose to ratchet up the tension by altering the novel’s climactic final third. Cruise—who reportedly was paid $12 million for starring in The Firm—swears the unexpected ending maintains the integrity of the novel. “Although the third act is different from the book,” he says, “it is still thrilling. That’s why people read books. And that’s why people go to the movies.” (June 30)

Buzz: Can Cruise lose? Sure he can; last summer’s Far and Away grossed a relatively modest $58 million. But with Tom back in his element and quite a few good men in the supporting cast, The Firm should hit $100 million in a blink.

Starring Michael J. Fox, Nathan Lane, Cyndi Lauper, Christina Vidal. Directed by James Lapine.

In a case of art skewering life, Fox plays a washed-up sitcom star trying to relive his glory days as a youth. He and his brother (Lane) head a run-down talent agency for child actors; they’re desperately seeking the perfect Cute Kid to act in a cookie commercial when a young con artist (newcomer Vidal) tries to pick Fox’s pocket and ends up his pick.

“It’s not cloying,” says director Lapine, who spent two months screen-testing hundreds of kids before he found his star, an 11-year-old Queens native. “Christina is street smart, tough, and natural. This isn’t Curly Sue, which I was trying to avoid like the plague.”

And it isn’t Family Ties: The Aftermath, either, though the sitcom’s star says he relished the real-life reverberations. “I like when I get a chance to wink at the audience,” says Fox. “There’s a line in the movie where I’m talking about a performance and I say, ‘People have won Emmys for less than that. I know I did.’ Lines like that taste good.” (June 4)

Buzz: In movies that let him do his charming-wise-guy thing, Fox can be formidable: See Doc Hollywood. (Or not: See The Hard Way.) The terrible title—It’s a movie! No, it’s a cereal commercial!—won’t help.

Starring Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Bill Pullman, Rosie O’Donnell, Rob Reiner, Ross Malinger. Directed by Nora Ephron.

In January, TriStar held a sneak screening of this sentimental story in which a Seattle widower (Hanks) and a Baltimore journalist (Ryan) come together via his son and a late-night-radio talk show. After Sleepless scored eye-opening ratings among its target audience of women ages 25 to 49, its release was switched from March to early summer, a spot that set off box office fireworks for When Harry Met Sally and Ghost.

Now positioned as the official Summer Date Movie, Sleepless “is not an art film, to put it mildly,” admits cowriter-director Ephron (This Is My Life). Still, it’s at least aware of its own corniness. “During rehearsals, I told the actors, ‘This is not a movie about love; it’s a movie about love in the movies,'” says Ephron. “Obviously, at the same time, we are desperately trying to become one of those movies that we make fun of.”

Romantic destiny was the subject of much cast palaver. “We had this big discussion about fate, and I talked about how Dennis (Quaid) and I had lived within blocks and had never really met,” says Ryan, who married the actor in 1991. “I also remember when I fell in love with him that I knew instantly.” If omens on a movie set mean anything, a similar story was told to Ryan by the extra who plays an Empire State Building elevator operator. “He said he and his wife were both strangers on the Empire State Building’s observation deck the day the Hindenburg exploded,” says Ryan. “And they met 19 years later and fell in love.” (June 25)

Buzz: After six months of good word of mouth (commercials ran during the last Super Bowl), Sleepless is poised to become the summer’s least surprising surprise hit. Stock tip: Buy shares of Hanks now.

Starring Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Jenifer Lewis. Directed by Brian Gibson.

When she heard she was up for the lead in the film version of Tina Turner’s sensational 1986 autobiography, I, Tina, Angela Bassett wanted to play the firebrand rocker so badly that she worked with a personal trainer, dialect coach, and voice coach—all this even before she won the part. “I was like, ‘What am I doing?! I don’t have a job!'” When she actually got to meet Ms. Stiletto Heels herself, it was payoff time: The 54-year-old legend took one look at Bassett, announced, “She’s gorgeous!” and the 34-year-old actress landed the role. Then came the tough part—lip-synching to Turner’s often extemporaneous vocals: “She’s ‘Ooom, ahhh, huhhuhhuh, hmmmm, awright now!’ In the beginning, I was just like, ‘This is too doggone much!'”

Fishburne faced a different challenge as Turner’s allegedly abusive ex: The film’s Ike, he admits, is “a monster. No matter what I do, he’s still the villain, and that’s fine. But in order for Tina to stick around with him for 20 years, he must have had something. I’ve been trying to figure out what that is.” (June 9)

Buzz: Powerhouse performances by the two leads more than make up for the TV- movie-ish moments in the script. And when Tina finally hits Ike back, you’ll hear the loudest cheers of the summer.

Starring Mason Gamble, Walter Matthau, Joan Plowright, Robert Stanton, Lea Thompson. Directed by Nick Castle.

Purists, take note. In writer-producer John Hughes’ re-creation of the comic strip, Dennis (played by then-5-year-old Gamble, in his film debut) does not have the Alfalfa cowlick created by Hank Ketcham 41 years ago for the funny papers. “One of the rules when we started the picture was not to limit ourselves to actors who look like the cartoon,” says Hughes. Enter Stanton and Thompson as Dennis’ parents, Matthau as their lovably cranky neighbor, Mr. Wilson, and British actress Plowright as his understanding wife, Martha. British? Yup. “The rationale was that Wilson was in the merchant marines during the war and met a woman in England,” says Hughes.

Hughes duplicated the Evanston, Ill., locations—including the Wilsons’ Victorian house and quarter-acre yard—on an Illinois soundstage, where director Castle often shot nighttime scenes during the day to avoid keeping the young stars and extras up late. “It smelled like a garden in there,” says Hughes. “Crickets came in with the plants. There were some extremely confused insects.” (June 25)

Buzz: For anyone who doubts Hughes’ ability to turn kids into cash, two words: Home Alone.

Starring Tilda Swinton, Billy Zane, Quentin Crisp. Directed by Sally Potter.

A sumptuous film adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel, Orlando is like an arty Quantum Leap, spinning the death-defying tale of an Elizabethan nobleman who leapfrogs through 400 years of English history up to the present, evolving in the process from man to woman.

A word-of-mouth success at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (where it was shown out of competition), British director Potter’s $4 million production stars the strikingly androgynous Swinton and features a gender-bending cast that includes eccentric British expatriate Crisp as Queen Elizabeth I. Potter, who labored on the screenplay for seven years before filming as far afield as St. Petersburg and Uzbekistan, isn’t playing a coy Crying Game, though. Her title character may undergo a mid-film sex change, but, she says, “We worked on the principle that Orlando was a person first and a gender second.” (June 11)

Buzz: Imaginative, visually striking, and way too weird for Peoria. Still, there are an awful lot of English majors out there.

Starring Rebecca De Mornay, Don Johnson, Jack Warden, Stephen Lang. Directed by Sidney Lumet.

In Lumet’s did-he-or-didn’t-he thriller, De Mornay leaves her psycho-woman, nasty-nanny persona behind to become a victim. As Jennifer Haines, attorney extraordinaire, she takes the case of David Greenhill (Johnson), womanizer extraordinaire, after he’s accused of hurling his rich wife out a skyscraper window. But is he innocent? “I think he’s guiltier than sin,” says Johnson. “He is the most manipulative, sleaziest slimeball I’ve ever played.” And Johnson loved every sociopathological minute. “It allowed me to explore the darker side of human nature,” he says. “The funny thing was, he’s the antithesis of my own personality.” That should make Mrs. Don Johnson rest a whole lot easier. (June 4)

Buzz: De Mornay as a heroine? Johnson as a bad guy? An erotic thriller without sex? Johnson is said to give a killer performance. He’d better.

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