The studios aren't the only ones to blame for miniaturizing movie stars -- if blame is the right word, since in some ways these new compact models can be seen as an improvement over their jumbo-size forerunners. No, the blame for this shrinking trend can be spread generously.
THE RUSH TO GREATNESS (OR, ROME WASN'T BUILT IN A DAY -- NEITHER WAS TOM CRUISE)
You probably knew all about Colin Farrell -- the late nights of pub crawling in Dublin, the many passes he makes at lasses -- long before you saw him in any movie (assuming you've seen him in a movie; his first big starring vehicle, ''Alexander,'' opens in November). And even if you've never watched one episode of Alias, you've probably read (perhaps in this very magazine) that Jennifer Garner is the new Julia Roberts -- a good bet until ''13 Going on 30'' failed to deliver Pretty Woman-size numbers at the box office.
And that's the problem with young stars today: They're famous before anybody really knows who they are. ''To be a movie star, you have to build an audience that wants to see you no matter what you're in, and we don't give them the time to build that relationship,'' explains one Hollywood manager, who reps several rising stars. ''We pump them up, get their prices up to $5, $8, or $10 million, and then their movies don't open and the studios get pissed and they're over. We've definitely accelerated the process too much.''
The going theory is that young, up-and-coming actors can't recognize quality material and don't know how to pay their dues. Keep in mind that Julia Roberts made five films before the world fell in love with her in ''Pretty Woman.'' Cruise made four movies before strumming air guitar in his underwear in ''Risky Business'' turned him into a household name. A lot of other actors of that generation gestated for similar terms (Meg Ryan spent two years on a soap opera and took roles in movies like ''Amityville 3-D'' before meeting Harry as Sally), and all of them became stars only after proving themselves with a box office hit. In other words, after the audience decided they were stars.
These days, though, actors need hardly make any movies at all -- let alone popular ones -- before Hollywood christens them embryonic cinema gods (just ask Vin Diesel or Heath Ledger or Paul Walker). Indeed, the incubation period for hatching movie chicks has sped up so dramatically, it's practically running in reverse: The star is born first, then makes the hit movie -- or tries to -- while the audience is expected to catch up at the box office later. Huge surprise that theatergoers don't always feel the urge to play along. ''The audience can see the machinery at work,'' says Robert Newman, senior VP of Motion Pictures at International Creative Management (which reps Mel Gibson and Jennifer Connelly, among others). ''They can see the levers being pulled.''
''What happens is that someone comes along and they're great in a small movie that nobody sees and they get immediately elevated to 'the next big thing,''' says Georgaris. ''But the public needs a certain amount of time to fall in love. And they don't like being told what to like and what not to like.''