August 26, 1999
By Franklin Harris
I last delved into the murky waters of Hollywood casting rumors in early July. A month and a half later, the waters have cleared -- somewhat.
I do know that at least Keanu Reeves has plenty of work to keep him busy.
"The X-Men," based on the best-selling Marvel comic, is moving along, adding more stars to a cast that already includes "Star Trek" alum Patrick Stewart as Prof. Xavier and Oscar nominee Ian McKellen as the villainous Magneto.
Former Bond girl Famke Janssen ("GoldenEye") is taking on the role of telepathic heroine Jean Grey, who used to be known as Phoenix and, before that, Marvel Girl. (She usually makes due without a superheroic code name these days.)
Meanwhile, the role of X-Men team leader Cyclops remains uncast.
Reeves is rumored to want the part, but he may have enough on his schedule already.
Variety columnist Michael Fleming reports this week that Reeves is ready to sign to appear in not one, but two sequels to his recent hit, "The Matrix."
The deal reportedly guarantees Reeves $30 million plus 15 percent of the films' combined gross.
And speaking of "The Matrix," it looks like we'll be able to purchase it on video sooner than expected.
In the wake of the Columbine High School shootings, Warner Bros. delayed releasing "The Matrix" on video at a consumer-friendly price, opting instead to release an expensive version targeted to video rental outlets.
The idea, officially speaking, was to limit the film's distribution so that millions of impressionable children wouldn't be compelled to run around wearing black trench coats and shooting firearms, as the lead characters in "The Matrix" are inclined to do.
Unofficially, Warner Bros. was just looking to limit the inevitable backlash from bullying anti-movie-violence crusaders.
Still, "The Matrix" will be priced to sell in time for the holidays. It's slated for a Nov. 26 video release.
Meanwhile, expect "The Matrix" in rental stores and on DVD (priced to sell) on Sept. 21.
Doctors and dragons
In New Zealand, Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy is still coming together, and the highly coveted role of Gandalf goes to ... Ian McKellen.
Yes, the same Ian McKellen who is portraying Magneto is making space in his schedule for J.R.R. Tolkien's legendary wizard.
That means the juiciest "Rings" casting rumor, that Tom Baker was up for Gandalf, didn't pan out.
Baker is best known for playing an eccentric Time Lord, known only as The Doctor, from 1974 to 1981 in the long-running British science-fiction series "Doctor Who."
But don't feel sorry for Baker. He is starring in the upcoming film "Dungeons and Dragons," based on the popular '80s role-playing game.
Britain's SFX magazine reports that Baker will play an elflike character named Hallvarth.
Meanwhile, back on the "Rings" front, Variety reports that veteran horror actor Christopher Lee ("Horror of Dracula") is joining the "Lord of the Rings" cast, probably as the evil wizard Saruman.
Let's see ... Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Christopher Lee as Saruman ...
Can I be the only person who is more looking forward to the "Rings" trilogy than the next two "Star Wars" installments?