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Bale: A Drunk Hit Batmobile

C hristian Bale, who plays the title character in the upcoming comic-book movie Batman Begins, told SCI FI Wire that a drunk driver sideswiped one of the film's stunt Batmobiles while it was being moved during a break in shooting on the streets of Chicago last year. "There were a couple of times driving down the street in Chicago and when it was like, we can load it on the truck or just drive five minutes down there, and they just drove five minutes down there, and you see that thing just going down the street, and everybody is stopping and looking," Bale said in an interview at WonderCon in San Francisco over the weekend. "There was even this guy who crashed into it, this poor drunken guy who didn't have a license. [He] said he got so panicked when he saw the car that he thought aliens were landing, and he put the pedal to the metal."

Bale wasn't in the car at the time, and no one was hurt. Bale said that several Batmobiles were built for the film, with a design unlike any from previous films or TV incarnations. "They've done such a radically different thing with it," he said. "And what I love about it is that, aesthetically, it kicks ass. It looks f--king stunning. ... It looks nothing like any Batmobile that has come before it, and it completely has practical applications that are explained, and [are] very smart and make complete sense. And that's indicative of what we've done with everything to do with the movie, including the explanations of the suit, the cowl, all the different gadgets that he comes up with and where he comes to them."

Did Bale eventually get to keep one of the stealth-black vehicles? "That was the first question," he said with a smile. "They looked at me, and they went, 'Are you f--king kidding?' I didn't." Batman Begins opens June 17.


Batman Is Psycho And Savior

C hristian Bale, who plays the Caped Crusader in the upcoming Batman Begins movie, told SCI FI Wire that his Batman combines elements of two previous roles he's portrayed: Jesus Christ and the American Psycho. "He's very much an American psycho of sorts and, yeah, also certainly has Christ-like symptoms," Bale said in an interview at WonderCon in San Francisco last weekend. "And, yeah, you know, [you see it in] the battle between [his] spirit and ... flesh and, with Bruce Wayne, the battle between the philanthropy his father taught him and was a great example to him for and the need for vengeance, which is incredibly strong." Bale played Jesus in the 1999 telefilm Mary, Mother of Jesus and gained fame as the title character in 2000's theatrical film American Psycho.

Bale said that he views Batman as conflicted. "Because his heart is telling him, frankly, that he wants to kill," he said. "But he cannot do it. He's been taught differently from childhood, and he knows that it is wrong. But, still, it's an overwhelming urge that he's had to pull back, rein in, all the time."

Bale added that this version of the Batman story, the fifth in Warner Brothers' recent franchise, is particularly relevant to these unsettled times. "I don't want to give away too much, but what Scarecrow [Cillian Murphy] is doing, and which Ra's Al Ghul [Ken Watanabe] and everybody [is up to], is very similar to the anthrax scare that people [went through]," he said. "It's very similar to the possibility of chemical, biological warfare, etc., going on. The notion also of the mentor that Bruce Wayne chooses to go and train with being a man with a triple-barreled name [who] lives in caves kind of on the run: You can't help but take a look and say, 'Hmm. There's a lot of relevance to it.' I think also the age-old thing of the ever-widening gap between rich and poor. And the nature of power and corruption. I think all of these things are particularly relevant, yeah. And I think it should be. Because this is American mythology. It should be in keeping with the times. If it's not, it's missing the point." Batman Begins opens June 17.


Hitchhiker Thumbs Down On CG

R obbie Stamp, producer of the upcoming film version of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, told SCI FI Wire that the filmmakers strove to depict Adams' bizarre world with as many practical effects as possible. "I think the guiding principle was to not do everything with [computer-generated imagery]," Stamp said in an interview at WonderCon in San Francisco last weekend. "So there's an awful lot of stuff that is done in-camera. We've got real creatures. [Director] Garth [Jennings] has used some of the oldest ... filmmaking tricks in the book. ... I think we wanted something which had a sort of a heart and soul and a charm to it. ... [With] some of the bigger, huge CGI epics, ... maybe just some of their heart and soul and fun has gone out of them."

The Hitchhiker's galaxy features many aliens, spaceships, creatures and other otherworldly sights, many of which were a challenge to get just right. "I'm very aware that on anything like this, ... for every reader or listener there's a Marvin [the Android] in their heads," Stamp said. "And therefore ... the only thing you can do with that when you're dealing with one of these hugely loved books—or in this instance, book, radio series, TV series—is to work with the grain of the material and to try and find in the descriptions Douglas has given me the essence of the character. And then what you hope is that at the end, people will come out and say, 'Well, OK, that might not have been the Marvin that I had in my mind all these years, but it definitely was a Marvin.' And I think that's kind of what you're hoping for, really."

One thing the film will have that the book didn't is music. "It's an all-original score by a musician called Joby Talbot, who's an immensely talented composer," Stamp said. "He's the composer-in-residence at Classic FM in the U.K. ... He is a very, very talented man, and he's written a fabulous opening song called 'So Long and Thanks for All the Fish,' which is a ... wonderful, funny Busby-Berkeley kind of big number. ... A big MGM [-style] musical [number]. ... And it's done with the dolphins at the beginning. ... 'So long and thanks for all the fish./So sad it had to come to this.' It's just fabulous." Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy opens April 29.


Adams Added To Hitchhiker Film

R obbie Stamp, producer of the film version of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, told SCI FI Wire that Adams himself wrote new material for the film before he died in 2001. "There's brand-new stuff, which Douglas created," Stamp, Adams' longtime collaborator, told SCI FI Wire in an interview at WonderCon in San Francisco last weekend. "There's a brand-new character called Humma Kavula, who plays a sort of pivotal role there in the middle of the movie, ... and he's the character being played by John Malkovich."

The Hitchhiker movie, like the books, centers on the plight of Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman), who finds himself on an odyssey with a ship full of wacky aliens after Earth is destroyed to make way for a galactic bypass. The new character of Kavula is a crazed missionary who lost the election with Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) for presidency of the galaxy, Stamp said. "He's clever, whereas Zaphod is stupid and charismatic. ... He's now a missionary ... or a high priest of a cult that believes we were all sneezed into existence by the Great Green Arkleseizure that's waiting for the coming of the Great White Handkerchief. ... It's very Douglas." The Arkleseizure is based on a 3-D model of Adams' nose, Stamp added.

Adams also came up with a sequence in which Trillian (Zooey Deschanel) gets taken to the Vogsphere, home planet of the villainous alien Vogons.

As for cuts that had to be made, Stamp said, the title Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy itself is in the movie, but "we ... had to cut ... some of the more discursive elements in the guide. Where the book will take one and a half [or] two pages to sort of do a wonderful ... peregrination around a subject or an issue, we just obviously can't do that [in the film]. ... And so the Guide entries are necessarily much shorter. ... But they're there, and they're recognizable, and it's Douglas' words. And everybody, I think, will be very pleased to see and feel how much of the Guide is there." The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy opens April 29.


War's Aliens Faithful To Wells

D oug Chiang, the conceptual artist on Steven Spielberg's upcoming War of the Worlds movie, told SCI FI Wire that he relied heavily on the detailed descriptions in H.G. Wells' original book for the look and feel of the film's aliens and tripod war machines. "As much as we could, yeah," Chiang (Star Wars: Episode II) said in an interview at WonderCon in San Francisco last weekend. "I mean, we wanted to be faithful to it, because ... we think it's best to go to the source material versus other interpretations, as great as the other interpretations may have been. It's always nice to see where the inspiration came from. And then Steven, of course, takes it to a whole new level."

In Wells' book, the aliens are Martians who are described as having two large, dark-colored eyes; a V-shaped mouth; a mass of tentacles; and "oily brown skin." The Martians' war machines are described as 100-foot-tall tripods with domed canopies and mechanical tentacles, one wielding a box that emits an invisible heat ray. (By contrast, in George Pal's 1953 film adaptation of War of the Worlds, the Martians were depicted as leathery red creatures with one huge, trifocal lens as an eye and three-fingered hands; their war machines were hovering boomerang-shaped saucers with glowing green wingtips and a cobra-like heat ray that emitted pulses of green light.)

Chiang and production Rick Carter declined to give details about Spielberg's aliens, who are not from Mars. But, he added, "we're kind of trying to create fear, or an image of fear. And whatever that is to each individual person is always different, so there's always shadow images and stuff. So in some ways we're trying to create these creatures or these machines or whatever as sort of manifestations of what terrifies me or what terrifies Rick. And it may not terrify everybody else. But I think we're trying to capture that essence."

Carter, for his part, alluded to Spielberg's last alien movie, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, in describing his and Chiang's approach. War's aliens "would be the opposite of the little fingers going and getting candy," he said. "It would be the opposite of touching a flower that's dying and making it be alive." War of the Worlds opens June 29.


War Aims For Reality

R ick Carter, production designer for Steven Spielberg's upcoming War of the Worlds movie, told SCI FI Wire that the movie aims for a hyper-realistic look and feel for its fantastical events, based on the novel by H.G. Wells. "The idea of this version of War of the Worlds is that it really takes place in our world," Carter said in an interview at WonderCon in San Francisco. "So it's not as though we created a new world the aliens come into. It's our world."

The film begins in New Jersey, where star Tom Cruise's character is a dockworker. The choice of location is in part an homage to Orson Welles, the director whose 1938 Halloween radio production of War of the Worlds set off a national panic. "But it's [also] really about setting it somewhere that we think we recognize in any of the movies that we might have seen over the last years, or even just real life," Carter said. He added: "It's a multiethnic area, and I think it's designed so that people feel this could happen, maybe even has happened somewhere in your psyche, that an event like this could happen here. ... Imagine it as a big pond. And someone from above who's been watching us starts throwing stones into it. And now you watch all the fish start to scatter, and then step by step it just increases."

Conceptual artist Doug Chiang, who worked closely with Carter, agreed. "For me it really gets down to sort of the core essence of what science fiction meant for me, which is ... this is a real story with real events," he said. "Typical science fiction recently has a tendency to kind of make it too fantastic and sort of detach itself from reality. [But] for this story, ... what really appealed to me was that it was a real story, and it was a very serious take on the whole thing. What would really happen if aliens came down, and how would we address it?" War of the Worlds opens June 29.


Kong's Brody Plays It New

A drien Brody, who is currently filming his role as Jack Driscoll in Peter Jackson's upcoming King Kong remake, told SCI FI Wire that his interpretation of Driscoll differs greatly from that of Bruce Cabot, who portrayed the character in the original 1933 classic. As Driscoll, Oscar winner Brody is a former World War I fighter pilot and love interest to Kong heroine Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts).

"The role actually hasn't been played before," Brody said in an interview while promoting his latest film, the March 4 SF release The Jacket. "The name has been used before, but [the character] is actually derived from a number of other sources that have interesting parallels to the character that I'm playing."

Brody added, "But the character I'm playing has never been done before. I think this will have a far more realistic and sensitive nature than the interpretation in the original movie."

Universal Pictures will release King Kong on Dec. 14. Universal is owned by NBC Universal, which also owns SCIFI.COM.


Is Four's Doom Misunderstood?

J ulian McMahon, who plays the villainous Dr. Doom in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, said he views his character as both evil and misunderstood. "I see him as both," McMahon said in an interview at WonderCon in San Francisco last weekend. "Initially—and this is the way we start him off in the movie, and it was really taken from the original comics— ... he's a man who is pretty much reasonably egotistical. Very much set on getting what he wants out of life and will do whatever he has to do and can do to make sure that he gets that."

But when the character, the industrial tycoon Victor Von Doom, gets zapped with cosmic rays during a disastrous space mission, he begins to change. "When the circumstances happen to him that happen to him in the movie and everything kind of turns against him, I think it's almost a natural progression for him to go [off], if that makes sense," McMahon said. "He has villainous qualities, because he will trample you. ... Even just as a businessman, before he became this Dr. Doom thing, he would run over you if he had to. He didn't care. ... And then on top of that it's kind of, I call it the disintegration of a human being. And that's kind of what happens to him in the movie and also what happens to him in the comics."

At a WonderCon panel, Australian native McMahon likened Von Doom to a countryman, Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire managing director of News Corp.—which just happens to own 20th Century Fox, the studio that is distributing Fantastic Four. McMahon quickly realized his faux pas and backpedaled. Speaking after the panel, he said, "I shouldn't have [said that], and I take it back." But, he added, "you know there's only a certain few men on this planet that are visually those type of men that we know have that kind of power and money. And I think Rupert's one of them." Fantastic Four opens July 8.


McMahon's Return Is Charmed

J ulian McMahon, who will reprise the role of Cole in an upcoming episode of The WB's Charmed, told SCI FI Wire that his reappearance bookends his involvement with the show. "I loved working on the show," McMahon (Fantastic Four) said in an interview at WonderCon in San Francisco last weekend. "And I love playing that character. And the show and the show runners and that character really kind of gave me a lot as far as an actor is concerned. And I feel like where I'm at now is really attributed to what they allowed me to do on Charmed. ... And so for me going [back] is a no-brainer."

McMahon returns as Cole Turner, the half-human/half-demon ex-husband of Phoebe Halliwell (Alyssa Milano). Though Cole died in an earlier episode, his spirit will meet Piper's (Holly Marie Combs) in the cosmic space between life and death, where he will help reunite her with Leo (Brian Krause), according to a report on TheCharmedOnes.com.

Since leaving Charmed, McMahon has gained fame as one of the stars of F/X's Nip/Tuck and will soon appear as the villainous Dr. Doom in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie. But there is a certain symmetry to his guest appearance on the show where he first got noticed, he said. "It's their 150th episode," he said. "I was killed in the 100th, and I come back in the 150th. I'll go back for the 200th if they have one. And if I was asked. But, you know, it was just ... a great character to play. It was great fun going back and [filling] those shoes again. It really was." The 150th episode, "The Seven Year Witch," is slated to air in April. Charmed airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT.


Watts Impressed Ring's Baker

S imon Baker, who co-stars with Naomi Watts in The Ring Two, told SCI FI Wire that the actress greatly impressed him. "She's one of my favorite people," Baker (Red Planet, the upcoming Land of the Dead) said in an interview. "I've actually known her forever, so it was a blast to work with her. As an actress, she's just so good."

Baker added, "When people get to a certain level they sometimes become self-conscious, and their work gets constricted. And with Naomi it's completely the opposite. The more successful she's gotten, the more risks she takes. She just commits to everything. So working with her was quite inspirational. It's harder to impress someone who's known you for 12 years. Sometimes that mystery isn't there anymore. But she impressed me."

Like its predecessor, The Ring Two revolves around journalist Rachel Keller (Watts) and her son, Aidan (David Dorfman). Having survived their first encounter with the evil spirit of Samara, Rachel and Aidan relocate to Astoria, Ore., where Rachel goes to work at a small-town newspaper owned and published by Max Rourke (Baker). It's not long before Rachel, Aidan and Max are swept up in new horrors relating to Samara and those cursed videotapes that spell doom for anyone who screens them.

Baker said that he believes Hideo Nakata—the Japanese director who launched the Ring series with the original Japanese film Ringu and who makes his English-language debut with The Ring Two—has crafted a worthy sequel. "I think it'll be frightening," Baker said. "It pushes the story to the next level. I think there's a lot of anticipation for this film. I liked the script. But I'm a realist. I'm the guy who errs on the side of 'We'll just wait and see.' But I did see a preview of the film. It was hard for me to watch it, because I worked on the film, but I still jumped out of my seat a few times and made a few noises." The Ring Two opens on March 18.


Fans Petition For More Dead

M ore than 22,000 fans of the canceled supernatural Showtime series Dead Like Me have signed an online petition urging the network to revive the series. "We strongly oppose your decision not to purchase the rights for another season of this amazing show," the petition reads. "This show has proven to be a very popular show in all parts of the world, with a very loyal and strong fan base in Canada, the U.K. and the United States. Dead Like Me is an amazing, witty and intelligent show that does not talk down to its audience and makes people think, which is very rare to see on television these days."

Showtime announced in December that it was canceling the series after two seasons and 29 episodes.


Welling, Grace In A Fog

S mallville's Tom Welling and Lost's Maggie Grace will star in the remake of John Carpenter's classic horror thriller The Fog for Revolution Studios, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Rupert Wainwright is directing, and Debra Hill, David Foster and Carpenter are producing the film, which Cooper Layne is writing based on the original 1980 screenplay by Hill and Carpenter.

The Fog is set in a Northern California town where, about 100 years ago, a ship sank under mysterious circumstances in a thick, eerie fog. The ghosts of the deceased mariners return from their watery graves to seek their revenge, the trade paper reported.

Welling will play a local boat owner who never left the town, and Grace will portray a college girl who is back in her hometown for the summer, the trade paper reported.


Eternal Wins WGA Award

E ternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind won best original screenplay Feb. 19 at the 57th Annual Writers Guild Awards, the Associated Press reported. The screenplay was written by Charlie Kaufman from a story by Kaufman, Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth. The SF film starred Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in a story about a man who seeks to erase his memories of a failed relationship.

WGA winners were announced in ceremonies held in Beverly Hills, Calif., and New York.


Mister Ed Saddles Up?

A lan Young, who played straight man to the talking horse on the classic TV series Mister Ed, told SCI FI Wire that a film version of the classic comedy series is in the works. "There are some plans being made about a Return to Mister Ed, in which I will probably play a grandfather," Young said in an interview. "It's planned as a feature."

Young, who starred as Wilbur Post on the series and is beloved by genre fans for his performances as David and James Filby in the George Pal-directed The Time Machine, added: "Lloyd Schwartz, who's a friend of mine, just finished doing Return to Gilligan's Island. He owns that and The Brady Bunch, and he came to me with a great idea for a Mister Ed movie. We sat together and worked out the plot, but the rights to Mister Ed weren't available until last month. The rights were owned by MGM. It finally came around. They were free now, and I figure Lloyd is working on it and that I'll hear from him very shortly. That's something we'd write together."


Silver Updates V, Logan, Reaping

P roducer Joel Silver told SCI FI Wire that his upcoming film version of Alan Moore's graphic novel V for Vendetta is eyeing a Nov. 5 release date—Guy Fawkes Day in the United Kingdom and the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot to overthrow the English throne. That's in keeping with the lead character in Moore's novel, set in a retro-futuristic alternate-universe U.K., who wears a Guy Fawkes mask as he sets about to undermine the nation's fascistic government. "The tagline [is] 'Remember the Fifth of November,'" Silver said.

Silver, speaking in an interview at WonderCon in San Francisco over the weekend, added that the film will begin shooting March 7 in Berlin, with Natalie Portman leading the cast. The Wachowski brothers (The Matrix) are producing, with their Matrix second unit director, James McTeigue, at the helm.

Silver also updated SCI FI Wire on his other upcoming projects:

The Reaping. "It's a supernatural horror film," he said. "Female protagonist in a weird story about a town where the plagues all of a sudden start occurring and what it's all about. [We'll] probably shoot it in the Carolinas" starting in May. The modern-day story will be directed by James Cox (Wonderland), based on a script by Carey and Chad Hayes.

Logan's Run remake. Chris McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) is the latest writer to take a run at a script. McQuarrie's Usual Suspects director, Bryan Singer, "had to kind of postpone his work on [Logan] to go do Superman," Silver said. "And hopefully, if all goes well, and it seems to be going fine, he'll commence that when he finishes Superman. So hopefully it will come out the summer of 2007." Silver added that he didn't think the 1976 film lived up to the potential of William F. Nolan's original novel. "It was groundbreaking in some ways when it came out, but it was kind of stupid," he said. "And ... having read the book recently, it's really smart. And the movie we're going to make is really smart. The age is much younger. ... We're prepping now." The film is slated to shoot in Australia.


McCaffrey Named A Grand Master

S cience fiction author Anne McCaffrey, best known for her Dragonriders of Pern series, has been designated a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the SFWA announced. McCaffrey becomes the 22nd writer so honored since 1974. The selection was made by SFWA president Catherine Asaro, in conjunction with the board of directors and the past presidents of SFWA.

Presentation of the award will be made during the Nebula Awards Weekend in Chicago, April 28-May 1.

McCaffrey's career spans nearly 40 years in both science fiction and fantasy, for adults and young people alike.


McMaster Bujold Talks Nebulas

L ois McMaster Bujold, who earned her eighth Nebula Award nomination for her novel Paladin of Souls, told SCI FI Wire that the Nebulas have not changed much since she won her two Nebulas, for the 1988 novel Falling Free and for the 1989 novella "The Mountains of Mourning." "The Nebulas have always been a bit more idiosyncratic than the Hugo Awards," McMaster Bujold said in an interview. "The Nebulas do seem to pick up on hot new writers a year or two before the Hugos do. Both awards serve to bring a varied list of writers and works to the attention of new readers, always a plus."

McMaster Bujold said that the awards' eligibility rules have changed since she first won. Now, a work may collect nominating votes for one year after its date of publication, which gives works published late in the year a chance to be seen. Paladin of Souls was released in September 2003. "This has decoupled the Nebulas from an arbitrary 'year's best' base," she said. "But [it] does get a bit confusing sometimes."

Paladin of Souls, McMaster Bujold's 17th novel, follows Ista Dy Baocia as she undertakes a pilgrimage to ease her soul and finds instead that in Chalion, a fantasy world ruled by five gods, a more dangerous fate awaits than she could ever have imagined. McMaster Bujold originally included Ista in The Curse of the Chalion. "Every scene she appeared in seemed to tilt toward her, but she could not be that book's central focus," McMaster Bujold said. "The last scene of that book included a sort of promissory note that I would get back to her properly, give her her own story and her own journey of learning and redemption. It was a lot of fun to write an older heroine [Ista is about 40] who doesn't get shuffled off to the sidelines. It also allowed me to draw on a much broader range of life experiences than for a younger protagonist."

Should McMaster Bujold win the Nebula, she does not think much will change. "Winning for the first time has a greater impact: increasing a writer's visibility, helping foreign sales, and so on," she said. "It's also a huge morale boost. And winning for the second time helps prove that the first one wasn't a fluke. I've already accrued most of the hoped-for results, partly of awards, but mostly from 20 years of steady plugging, bringing out book after book to the best of my current abilities. As near as I can figure, the name of the publishing game is 'but what have you done for me lately?' So while I can always use a morale boost, winning an award does nothing, really, to help one write the next book. That still has to be done the same old hard way."

Next up for McMaster Bujold is The Hallowed Hunt, the third novel in the Chalion world, which is due in June. The Nebula Awards, given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, will be presented in Chicago on April 30.


Bullock, Reeves In Il Mare

S andra Bullock will reunite with her Speed co-star Keanu Reeves in the romantic fantasy comedy Il Mare, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The Warner Brothers project revolves around a lonely doctor (Bullock) and a frustrated architect (Reeves) who live in the same house, only two years apart. They fall in love via letters they exchange through a mailbox that mysteriously links the two of them, the trade paper reported.

Christopher Plummer will play the father of Reeves' character. Argentine filmmaker Alejandro Agresti (Valentin) will direct Il Mare from a script by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Auburn (Proof). Il Mare is a remake of a Korean film, Siworae, which also was released under the title Il Mare, the trade paper reported.


Williams Went Wild In Robots

R obin Williams, star of the upcoming animated SF movie Robots, told SCI FI Wire that he enjoyed almost complete freedom while recording the voice of his character, Fender. "They let me do exactly what I just did, and then pick," Williams said in an interview. "It's kind of like looking through s--t for gold, but they basically say, 'OK, you try this,' and then we adjust."

In the film, set in a world of sentient robots, Williams voices Fender, a robot who befriends Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor), who wants to be an inventor. Williams said that the filmmakers were careful to maintain a balance between material appropriate for kids and allowing the actor to explore every comic avenue available. "Number one, this will be for kids, and you don't want them going through puberty during the movie," Williams said, with tongue in cheek. "You play with it, and then once you start seeing the early renderings [of the character] come in, you realize, 'I know what it looks like.' The fact that he's falling apart, you can start to play with that, and the parts that are old, which I am, that helps. That gives you the idea where you can go with it."

Williams added that the movie's modified version of "Singin' in the Rain" sprang from one of his many improvisations. "That came as a riff, and I thought sometimes you play, and I'll do songs, and sometimes it'll be song parodies," Williams said. "Most of the time you realize you'll never get the rights, because a lot of estates don't [sell them]. And I did it, and I thought, 'You'll never get the rights.' And they got the rights, and [I] went 'Uh-oh,' because I love that number, and they did it. And it was, like, wild. That's kind of cool." Robots opens Mar. 11.


Galactica Returns This Summer

S CI FI Channel announced that the second season of its hit original series Battlestar Galactica will premiere this summer, with 20 new episodes. The channel added that the entire ensemble cast will return for season two, including Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff, Jamie Bamber, James Callis, Tricia Helfer and Grace Park. Also resuming their roles are executive producer and writer Ronald D. Moore and executive producer David Eick.

Galactica will resume production in Vancouver, B.C., in March and will again anchor the channel's SCI FI Friday block of prime-time original series.

The series, which premiered on Jan. 14, has been averaging over 3 million viewers per episode and has quickly become SCI FI's highest-rated original series and has received unprecedented critical acclaim. Galactica airs Fridays at 10 p.m. ET, part of the channel's successful SCI FI Friday lineup, which also includes Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. Galactica ends its first season with a finale episode on April 1.


Sith Is A Worthy Sequel

C hris Avellone, lead designer for the LucasArts video game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, told SCI FI Wire that there was a lot of pressure creating the sequel to the critically acclaimed first KOTOR game. "After all the reviews came in on the first game, we were feeling pretty terrified," said Avellone, whose Obsidian Entertainment created the new game in conjunction with LucasArts. "The first game was really a tough act to follow."

In KOTOR II, a general returns to Republic space five years after the events of the first game to deal with the aftermath of the Jedi Civil War and to pick up the pieces of his life. The game refines the mechanics and other elements of the first game, Avellone said. Additions include new lightsaber styles, more uses of the core skills and the ability of characters to break down unnecessary items and rebuild them into other things. "Our attitude was, if it isn't broke, don't fix it," Avellone said.

The sequel adds a new element as well. "The first game allowed the player to shift to the light side or the dark side," Avellone said. "In this game we've added the element of the player bonding with others and subsequently influencing them, resulting in either a stronger or weaker group. Consequently the game takes on a deeper storytelling element as your actions start affecting everyone else in your party. This is a dual game, in which you have to evaluate your own moral decisions and what that's going to do to other people in your party."

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords is currently available for the Xbox and PC.


Williams Loves Voice-Overs

R obin Williams, who voices a character in the upcoming computer-animated Robots movie, told SCI FI Wire that he loves doing voice-over work for animated films. "It's the closest thing you can get to doing standup other than HBO, where you're free," Williams said in an interview. "Yes, there are certain boundaries, because it's a kids' movie or a PG, but now, given the level of sophistication of children, even that's been pushed."

In the film, Williams plays Fender, a scavenger 'bot who befriends an ambitious inventor named Rodney (Ewan McGregor) and helps him get in and out of trouble. Williams said he faced specific limitations with the character, especially compared with the freedom he enjoyed while portraying the Genie in Disney's Aladdin films. "I mean, I can do a voice like at the end, when all of a sudden I try different things when he's in the full body armor," Williams said. "But [Fender] can't change like the Genie did, like to start doing 50 characters. But he can play, because he's also ... a shyster, ... a scam artist."

Williams added that director Chris Wedge cut one bit, in which he attempted to run a scam, but failed miserably. "We had one thing that Chris had a great idea, that he's doing the shell game, except he's got clear glasses," Williams said. "But they lose certain things, because they think it's either too hip or whatever. I don't know. I mean, it's a great idea, because it’s like a guy playing three-card monte with the cards turned up.” Robots opens March 11.


Stewart Juggles Radio And Books

S ean Stewart, whose novel Perfect Circle has been nominated for a Nebula Award, told SCI FI Wire that the nod took him by surprise because by the time the book was released in June, he was busy with other projects. He said he went to a book exposition with the book's publishers, Gavin Grant and Kelly Link of Small Beer Press, to help launch the book, but spent most of the time talking on a cell phone trying to work out the details of how he was going broadcast a six-hour War of the Worlds-type radio drama over pay telephones.

"I really had no idea that people in the field were reading my book," Stewart said in an interview. "By the time it came out, I was already disappearing over the event horizon of the I Love Bees project." Bees was a narrative in two parts: the story of a 26th-century artificial intelligence stranded in today's world and the story of six 26th-century characters placed under surveillance by the A.I., who broadcasts the story over pay phones.

Since 2001, Stewart has spent half of his time working on such projects, leaving him little time for books. "To those who just follow the novels, I know it seems as if I've been lazy of late," he said. "But in fact I've written far more in the last four years than ever before, and written all the stuff that I am not known for elsewhere. Weirdly enough, this is probably the work I am more broadly known for now than the novels, and my immediate future has more of that stuff coming."

Perfect Circle follows William "Dead" Kennedy as he goes through life seeing ghosts and dealing with his quirky Texas family. Stewart said that real family members inspired the characters. "Thunder owes something to my Uncle Stanley, who, not knowing what else to do with an 11-year-old great-nephew visiting from Canada, took me to a cockfight for an afternoon's entertainment," he said. "My cousin who dreamed of something more to life than working at the Piggly Wiggly and sent out glamour photos of himself as Christmas presents makes a cameo appearance. And though Will and I don't completely overlap in our taste of music, we did share, for many years, the habit of obsessively converting the cost of every expense into packets of ramen noodles."

The Nebula Awards, given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, will be presented in Chicago on April 30.


Jumping In Cave's Deep End

C ole Hauser, who stars in the upcoming SF adventure movie The Cave, told SCI FI Wire that he had never dived before he took on the role of the leader of a cave-diving team sent in to rescue a group of spelunkers. "This was the first time," Hauser (Pitch Black) said in an interview at WonderCon in San Francisco last weekend. "I mean, I had, like, snorkeled in Tahiti, and that's about it. But ... the best advice I got was just, you know, take your time."

In the film, Hauser plays Jack, an expert in cave diving whose team becomes trapped in an underground maze and finds itself pursued by unknown creatures. To prepare, Hauser had to learn how to dive using "rebreather" tanks and gear, which allow a diver to remain underwater for several hours. "We did three weeks [of training] in Los Angeles, and then we went out, and we were [in Romania, where the film was shot,] I think, for almost a month before we started. And we continued doing stuff out there in the tanks."

Much of the action was filmed in a giant tank in which filmmakers had constructed a giant set that looked like an underwater cave. "It was very, very spooky," Hauser said. "You can't see light. The only light you have is what's on your wrist. And you're kind of cruising through there, and it's, like, even though you know you're in a set in Romania, there's a part of you that ... the hairs on the back of your neck stand up a little bit."

Hauser added that actors and crew remained underwater for as long as four and a half hours at a time. "I said, 'Since we're in a tank in Romania, and there's, like, 60 crew members in there, where is all the piss going?' And they're like, 'Well, we brought in these great filters.' And, of course, halfway through the day, the filters would be not like working properly and everybody would be like, 'Oh, screw it.' ... You try to just remember just to suck in the air and not the water." The Cave opens Aug. 19.


Down Captures Magic

C ory Doctorow, whose SF novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom was nominated for a Nebula Award, told SCI FI Wire that he visited Disneyland and Walt Disney World "at least 50 times, ever since I was a small child," to do the necessary research for the book. Doctorow said in an interview that it was the Haunted Mansion that inspired Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, which follows nearly-100-year-old Julius as he works at Disney World in a time when cybernetic implants in the brain allow memories and personalities to be stored and downloaded into clones, eliminating age and death, and money has been replaced by "Whuffie points."

Doctorow also tackles morality, cloning, socialism, poverty, the right to die, freedom of choice, hubris and the cult of celebrity in the book. He said he has heard from many Disney people, and the reaction and comments about the book were "all positive. They say I captured the mood and details just right."

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom was released in February 2003 to widespread acclaim. Blog critic Kevin Marks wrote, "About once every 10 years, a science fiction novel appears that redefines the art form. One that describes a world different from our own, but recognizably yours: extrapolated from current trends, but richly evocative of its difference, adding words to the language that needed to be coined."

The Austin (Texas) Statesman said, "It may be the best debut science-fiction novel since [William Gibson's] Neuromancer."

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom went on to win a Locus Award for best first novel. If it wins the Nebula, it will join Neuromancer (1984) as a debut-novel winner.

The Nebula Awards, given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, will be presented in Chicago on April 30.


Raze's Hell Due For Xbox

M ajesco announced that it will release Raze's Hell, a third-person adventure game developed by Artech Studios, for the Xbox console system in April. Players will take on the role of Raze, an antihero who must battle an evil princess and her cuddly minions, known as Kewlettes, in order to restore his planet to its naturally ugly state.

The game features 20 mission-based levels and minigames, which can be played alone or in two-player mode. It will also be compatible with the Xbox Live feature, allowing players to compete with each other online, the company said.


Briefly Noted

  • The British tabloid The Mirror reported a rumor that Fantastic Four actor Julian McMahon is one of two front-runners to play James Bond in the upcoming Casino Royale film, though McMahon is believed to have passed on the role because of his schedule shooting F/X's Nip/Tuck.


  • The cult zombie film Shaun of the Dead will become a four-issue comic-book miniseries published by IDW Publishing, produced with the participation of director Edgar Wright and star Simon Pegg, debuting in June, Variety reported.


  • DreamWorks has hired David H. Steinberg to write the animated film Puss in Boots, based on Antonio Banderas' character in Shrek 2, and Banderas will return, Variety reported.


  • The Bloody-Disgusting Web site has posted a link to a trailer for the version of Exorcist: The Beginning directed by Paul Schrader, which was completed but never made it to theaters.


  • Jennifer Love Hewitt will star in CBS' untitled John Gray drama pilot, widely known as Ghost Whisperer and based on avowed psychic James Van Praagh's work, about a young newlywed who communicates with the dead, according to The Hollywood Reporter.


  • The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has created a new literary award to recognize outstanding science fiction and fantasy novels that are written for the young adult market, named in honor of Andre Norton, author of more than 100 novels, including the acclaimed Witch World series.


  • The New York Post reported a rumor that writer/director Joss Whedon is eyeing either Jessica Biel or Kim Basinger to slip into Lynda Carter's tights in a Wonder Woman movie.


  • Warner Brothers has optioned Julie Kenner's upcoming supernatural novel, Carpe Demon: Adventures of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom, for Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan's 1492 Pictures and has hired Kevin and Dan Hageman to adapt the screenplay, Variety reported.


  • Desperate Housewives has tapped Oscar-nominated actress Lesley Ann Warren to play Teri Hatcher's "high-maintenance" mother in an upcoming episode, TV Guide reported.

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