BOX OFFICE FULL OF TREASURE

The five-day Christmas holiday brought joy to studio execs as ticket sales soared 34 percent higher than those for the comparable weekend a year ago. The leader of the pack was National Treasure: Book of Secrets, which finished with $65.4 million over the five-day period. In second place was Will Smith's I Am Legend, which collected $47.6 million. Alvin and the Chipmunks finished third with $38.6 million. Opening on Christmas Day Alien vs. Predator: Requiem took in $9.5 million and presumably drew moviegoers away from Treasure, which had the same young-male target audience. Also opening wide on Christmas were The Great Debaters, which took in $3.5 million, and The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, which brought in $2.4 million. In limited release, the award-winning animated film Persepolis took in $37,118 in seven theaters.

The top ten films over the five-day holiday weekend, according to final figures compiled by Media by Numbers (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Disney, $65,444,195,(New); 2. I Am Legend, Warner Bros., $47,685,378, 2 Wks. ($150,950,671); 3. Alvin and the Chipmunks, Fox, $38,609,310, 2 Wks., ($94,476,107); 4. Charlie Wilson's War, Universal, $15,952,430, (New); 5. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, DreamWorks/Paramount, $13,635,390,(New); 6. P.S. I Love You, Warner Bros., $10,048,349,(New); 7. Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, Fox, $9,515,615,(New); 8. The Golden Compass, New Line, $6,931,000, 3 Wks, ($51,379,000); 9. Juno, Fox Searchlight, $6,817,494, 3 Wks., ($9,802,170); 10. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Sony/Columbia, $6,257,174, (New).

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE WATER HORSE: LEGEND OF THE DEEP

The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, a family film about the Loch Ness monster drew decent notices from critics. Laura Kern in the New York Times called it "family-friendly escapist fare that should enthrall, without insult, fantasy-minded viewers of any age." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times regards it as one of the most "endearing recent family movies" and observes that the movie, "despite its fantasy, digs in with a real story about complex people and doesn't zone out with the idiotic cheerfulness of Alvin and his squeaky little friends." And Jessica Reaves in the Chicago Tribune describes it as "a sweet, familiar story, beautifully filmed and lovingly told." On the other hand, Kyle Smith in the New York Post concludes that "by trying to be charmingly old-fashioned, it overshoots the mark and winds up being as musty as grandma's lingerie drawer."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE BUCKET LIST

Critics are kicking The Bucket List. Despite the drawing power of its stars, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, Stephen Holden in the New York Times writes that "it is an open question whether audiences will flock to a preposterous, putatively heartwarming buddy comedy about two men diagnosed with terminal cancer living it up in their final months." Peter Howell in the Toronto Star warns that the movie may be "a distressing hint at what Hollywood might be like a few months from now if the current writers' strike continues and producers are forced to hire Hallmark Cards scribes to churn out screenplays." Even the movie's legendary stars and its director, Rob Reiner, don't escape the critics' swipes. For example, Jan Stuart writes in Newsday: "In Rob Reiner's sodden comedy, Nicholson and Morgan Freeman recycle old screen personas with an abandon that borders on self-parody." And Claudia Puig in USA Today concludes, "The entire undertaking feels like a waste of time and talent."

APPLE TO BEGIN FILM "RENTALS" AT ONLINE STORE

Apple, which has been unable to persuade most movie studios -- with the exception of Disney -- to make available recent releases for sale on its iTunes store, has reached a deal with 20th Century Fox that would allow its movies to be viewed on a "rental" basis -- that is, consumers would only be able to view them on their PCs or video iPods for a limited time frame. (The website TechCrunch said that the movies will expire after 30 days and that the rental fee will be about $2.99.) The deal, which was reported in today's (Thursday) London Financial Times, pushed Apple shares over the $200 mark. (In early trading they had reached $203 but retreated to around $201 at midday.)

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS SELECTS 25 MORE FILMS

The Library of Congress has designated 25 additional classic films for preservation in its National Film Registry ranging from the 1926 comedy The Strong Man starring silent film comedian Harry Langdon to 1985's Back to the Future. Among other films on the list: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Oklahoma (1955), 12 Angry Men (1957), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). The registry was created by an act of Congress in 1989 and is aimed at preserving films of cultural, historical and artistic significance. Films that are selected are preserved either in the Library of Congress' own archive or in outside facilities.

Brian B.