a fairly surprising move, the Venice Film Festival has announced it is in talks to host the world premiere of Robert Zemeckis’s 3-D performance capture epic Beowulf. This is odd in that it’s rare for a mainstream skewing studio release to bow so many months in advance, though Beowulf is relatively less expensive at a reported $70 million than most major holiday releases. Still, this is a signal of some kind. Has Zemeckis atone for The Polar Express with a work that thrills the audience without insulting it (this only applies if you saw the 3-D IMAX version; otherwise, you were just insulted)? Are Paramount and Warner Brothers going the festival route to court critical attention because the movie’s not sufficiently commercial? Is everyone drunk (the deal does sound like it’s being brokered at Cannes)?

Roger Avary, who adapted the anonymously composed Old English poem with Neil Gaiman, got me incredibly fired up for Beowulf over a year ago when he shared with me the inspiration for Grendel’s design (think painfully contorted and diseased), and then told me Zemeckis had cast Crispin Glover as the monster. Not what I’d expected, but also not a safe choice, which was a welcome change of pace for the post-Gump Zemeckis. Since listening to Avary expound on the potential for this movie, it’s been near the top of my most anticipated projects for 2007 (probably right beneath Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret, to tell you the truth) – and it’s not so much about the source material explicitly, but, rather, the idea of Zemeckis getting away from the studio product bullshit. His talents were wasted on shallow nonsense like What Lies Beneath, The Polar Express and Cast Away (sorry). That said, I’d like to think the Leni Riefenstahl march of the elves in The Polar Express was intentional; if so, the subversive Zemeckis of Used Cars is alive and well.

While we wait to find out if Venice has landed the big monster, let’s consider the other high-profile films that will definitely be unveiled at the fest: Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There, Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution and Eric Rohmer’s The Romance of Astrea and Celadon. The first two are givens; by skipping Cannes, there seemed little doubt that Anderson’s Upton Sinclair saga and Haynes’s unconventional Bob Dylan biopic would turn up at either Venice or Toronto or both. Overall, I think it’s good news that they’ve opted for Venice, since the movies will be a known quantity to critics before arriving in Toronto (last year, Children of Men, The Queen and The Fountain debuted there; then again, so did Hollywoodland and Bobby). Lust, Caution, which is Ang Lee’s first Mandarin-language film since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is a WWII-era thriller that might need special handling from Focus, so it sounds like a good fit for Venice as well.

And how can you not be excited about a new work from the eighty-seven-year-old Rohmer? The only disappointment is that we’ll probably have to wait a year before it gets barely distributed in the U.S.