What Hollywood has in store for the next two months
Hollywood hasn't given us much to cheer about lately. Can the season that gave us the lurid ''Q'' and ''Pink Floyd the Wall'' be all bad? Quite possibly.
But let's not give up. As always, the studios are holding a few big packages up their sleeves, waiting for the busy moviegoing period that begins building in November and climaxes at Christmastime. There could be something worthwhile among them.
What's coming up? Universal Pictures has two of the most promising items on tap. ''Sophie's Choice'' is based on William Styron's best-selling novel about a young writer who gets involved with a concentration-camp survivor and her unstable boyfriend. Meryl Streep, fresh from the movie version of ''The French Lieutenant's Woman,'' plays the title role. Kevin Kline and Peter McNichol appear opposite her. Alan J. Pakula, a veteran of such hits as ''Klute'' and ''All the President's Men,'' is the director.
Also from Universal is ''The Dark Crystal,'' a fantasy co-directed by Muppet-masters Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Set in a long-ago world, it centers on a boy named Jen, the last survivor of a ''gentle elfin race,'' who must solve the secret of a mysterious crystal and end the reign of evil that has corrupted his planet.
Although it's a live-action film, it contains no human characters. Through a combination of puppetry, painting, mime, electronics, and other crafts, it aims to make a new collection of unreal creatures - amiable Gelflings, wicked Skeksis , savage Garthims - as believable as the robots and aliens of ''Star Wars'' and ''E.T.'' A big job, but its team of talented creators (including the producer of ''Star Wars'' and ''The Empire Strikes Back'') may pull it off.
Other forthcoming films from Universal strike a more somber note. ''Frances'' is the tragic story of movie star Frances Farmer, played by Jessica Lange, while ''Six Weeks'' focuses on the last days of a little girl's life. Dudley Moore and Mary Tyler Moore are the stars, under Tony Bill's direction.
Columbia Pictures also has big things in store. The biggest is ''Gandhi,'' a ''biopic'' that Sir Richard Attenborough has been striving to complete ever since the idea caught his fancy many years ago. Ben Kingsley plays the great Indian philosopher and politician, with help from such notables as Trevor Howard , John Gielgud, and South African playwright Athol Fugard in a key role. The running time is 31/2 hours - shades of ''Reds''! - so buy plenty of popcorn on the way in.
Another unusual Columbia offering is ''The Toy,'' a remake of a mildly successful French comedy about a spoiled boy who wants a real person for a plaything. Richard Pryor plays the title role, with Jackie Gleason at the head of the supporting cast. Richard Donner, of ''Superman'' and ''Omen'' fame, directed. Also look for Columbia's comic ''Tootsie,'' with Dustin Hoffman as an out-of-work actor who climbs the ladder of success by pretending to be a woman.
Major movies from MGM/UA include ''Still of the Night,'' directed by Robert Benton, who hit it big with ''Kramer vs. Kramer.'' He's teamed with Meryl Streep again in this romantic thriller about a man (Roy Scheider) in love with a woman who may be a killer.
In a lighter mood, look for ''Trail of the Pink Panther,'' a compilation of classic scenes from previous PP pictures, strung together by a plot about a reporter tracing the klutzy career of Inspector Clouseau. All eyes will surely be on the late Peter Sellers in this reprise of a phenomenally successful comedy series.
Warner Bros. will kick off its winter season with ''Five Days One Summer,'' a romantic adventure with plenty of mountain climbing in the Swiss Alps, circa 1932. Sean Connery stars for director Fred Zinnemann, whose hits range from ''High Noon'' to ''Julia.''
Turning to fantasy, Warner will offer ''Twice Upon a Time,'' an animated feature directed by the individualistic John Korty in partnership with Charles Swenson, and with George (''Star Wars'') Lucas as executive producer. The film, due on Christmas Day, recounts a plot to stop time by stealing the spring of the cosmic clock. How dastardly can you get?
Clint Eastwood's latest (as both star and director) will also come from Warner Bros. It's called ''Honkytonk Man,'' and centers on a roughneck with a weakness for country music. With his teen-age nephew - played by Eastwood's real-life son, Kyle - he heads across country to realize his dream of singing at the Grand Ole Opry. And look for ''Best Friends'' also from Warner, with Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn in a romantic comedy made by Norman Jewison.
Twentieth Century-Fox will release ''The Verdict'' in early December, featuring Paul Newman as a lawyer who puts himself on the line for a just cause. Sidney Lumet directed from David Mamet's screenplay. The other major Fox offering is ''Kiss Me Goodbye,'' a sophisticated comedy by Robert Mulligan, with Sally Field as a woman whose late husband, an actor, haunts her new spouse, an Egyptologist. James Caan and Jeff Bridges are also at the head of the cast, which includes Claire Trevor, Mildred Natwick, and Paul Dooley.
And how about trusty Paramount Pictures? It may be hard to resist ''It Came From Hollywood,'' a tongue-in-cheek compilation of memorable moments from outer-space movies of the 1940s and '50s. Cheech and Chong are among the narrators. ''Heidi's Song'' is a musical cartoon based on the ever-popular story of a Swiss girl's adventures. Also due: ''48 Hours,'' Walter Hill's yarn about a white cop and a black convict working together on a dangerous mission. And then there's ''Airplane II: The Sequel,'' written and directed by Ken Finkleman. Can it top the hilarious original? Stay tuned.
That's about it for major items from the major studios. But the smaller Walt Disney studio is reissuing ''Fantasia'' - with its recently rerecorded sound track - and ''Peter Pan.'' And coming from Disney soon after Christmas will be ''Never Cry Wolf,'' the saga of a biologist studying wolves and searching for himself in the Arctic. Carroll Ballard, expert director of ''The Black Stallion, '' is the filmmaker.
Finally, note that some films originally due in 1982 have been put off until next year. One is ''The King of Comedy,'' with Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis in Martin Scorsese's tale of a would-be entertainer who kidnaps a talk-show host. Postponed until January are ''The Outsiders,'' Francis Coppola's dark drama about teen-agers, based on an S. E. Hinton novel; and the new Woody Allen film due for release by Warner Bros. As for ''Hammett,'' the long-overdue film by Wim Wenders about mystery writer Dashiell Hammett, no date has yet been set. Making 'Fitzcarraldo'
''Fitzcarraldo,'' the new movie by West German filmmaker Werner Herzog, is part melodrama, part public-works project, and part physics lesson. It focuses on an obsessive music-lover who's determined to build an opera house in the jungles of Peru. The centerpiece of the story is a massive scene wherein he and his native helpers lug a full-size steamship over a mountain - symbolizing his fierce determination, and Herzog's own compulsion to put his daunting vision on celluloid.
To film this bizarre sequence, Herzog and his crew actually accomplished the awesome feat we see on screen; no camera tricks or ''miniatures'' were used. In other words, the shooting of the movie was as dramatic as the movie itself. And the proof has been captured by documentary filmmaker Les Blank, who traveled to Herzog's jungle camp and recorded the action behind the scenes. His nonfiction account, Burden of Dreams, is as dramatic and strange as ''Fitzcarraldo'' itself.
To his credit, Blank has not dwelled excessively on the physical hardships of the production, though they are depicted. He also records the triumphs of the ''Fitzcarraldo'' crew, lingering fondly over the marvelous incongruities he keeps running across. One memorable scene shows star Klaus Kinski whooping with joy as the steamship slides a few inches up the mountain, then realizing the mechanism has broken down, but still whooping in case the camera is still on. Other sequences show the difficulties of communication between the native ''extras'' and German ''principles'' of the project - which led to some tense moments, though most of the intercultural snags seem to have been surmounted with good humor.
And there are tantalizing glimpses of the original stars of the movie, Jason Robards and Mick Jagger, who left the film for different reasons and are not seen in the finished version. In fact, some footage strongly suggests that Robards would have made a much more winning Fitzcarraldo than Kinski does, although one can only guess what the film as a whole would have been like if he had remained in the leading role.
''Burden of Dreams'' is most fascinating, however, when it zeroes in on Herzog himself. Although he is reputed to be an eccentric and elusive artist, my own meetings with him have found him friendly and reasonably communicative. In keeping with this impression, he seems to welcome Blank's probing camera, responding to questions with long monologues about the obstacles facing ''Fitzcarraldo'' and his insistence on overcoming them.
It soon becomes clear that Herzog is all too human, despite the yarns and legends surrounding him, and that the jungle is getting him down. Before long, his vulnerability shows through his bravado, and he becomes a very sympathetic star for this unusual documentary.
In fact, ''Fitzcarraldo'' has nothing as revealing as a moment in ''Burden of Dreams'' when Herzog seems momentarily at the end of his rope. He begins to vilify the jungle, berating the very trees and flowers, stating that even ''the stars in sky look like a mess.'' Then there's an odd pause, as he seems to realize that he's ranting, and suddenly he backtracks.
''I don't hate the jungle,'' he says with a perplexed tone, smoothly contradicting everything he's just said. ''I love the jungle. But - I love it against my better judgment. . . .''
It's as funny, as poignant, and as human a scene as the movies have given us all year.