Honey, Who Shrunk The Stars?

Tom Pollock, the studio head-turned-producer (his movie ''Old School'' helped make Will Ferrell the new Adam Sandler), offers an example. ''I'm looking at a copy of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY with Christian Bale on the cover for a movie coming out [a year] from now,'' he says. ''Is Christian Bale a star? He's a good actor, and let's hope ''Batman'' is great and the kind of movie that makes people into stars. But no, he's not a star. Not yet.''

Um, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY could not be reached for comment.


Where's the next wave? They'll be here. Somebody will find them. It's all about the right things lining up -- the star, the project, the actor being ready to make the next move.''

These are Jerry Bruckheimer's words, but the legendary producer (who helped launch the careers of Cruise, Richard Gere, and Eddie Murphy, among others) is speaking for many in Hollywood, particularly industry vets, who insist the current star shortage is merely a cyclical, temporary dry spell. ''Superstars like Julia Roberts and Tom Cruise come along every 20 years, not every 5 years,'' calculates Rob Moore, a partner in Revolution Studios (sometime home to both Roberts and Garner). ''That's why they're so special and so loved.''

Maybe so. Maybe Keira Knightley or Clive Owen -- or any of the other nonstars who share top billing in Bruckheimer's $90 million-plus ''King Arthur'' -- will eventually grow up to become the next Roberts or Cruise.

But there's another theory circulating: that the long, genteel era of old-fashioned megastars is crumbling to an end and a new, modern age of mass-produced disposable stars is dawning. According to this hypothesis, these old-timers are cleaving to an obsolete star system. ''It's a cultural thing,'' explains Chamian. ''Everything comes and goes faster today. I don't know if we can even use the term 'movie star' in the traditional sense anymore.''

''The movies have become a medium directed at very young people,'' elaborates David Thomson, author of ''The Biographical Dictionary of Film.'' ''So the average age of stars has shifted younger. And that means they have to be [constantly] renewed, because every few years you've got a new sub-generation coming to the movies who want to discover their own stars.'' And each successive sub-generation seems less interested in the stars that came before. ''I was teaching a course and asked a bunch of 19-year-olds what Tom Cruise meant to them and not one person said anything,'' says entertainment attorney and author Peter Dekom (''Not on My Watch: Hollywood vs. the Future''). ''Stars like Cruise don't mean [as much] to people under 25. You can't sell movies with them to this generation. That's over.'' (Though Hollywood will continue to put Dekom's theory to the test: Cruise's ''Collateral'' opens Aug. 6.)

What you can sell young audiences are small-screen spectacles like ''American Idol'' and ''Survivor'' -- hugely successful reality TV series showcasing ''stars'' who come and go from week to week and whose ''careers'' are as short-lived as viewers' attention spans. Look at it this way: Last May, the biggest TV personality in the world was Fantasia Barrino, with 31 million fans tuning in to watch her walk away the winner of ''American Idol.'' By next May, someone else will have replaced her.

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