TERMINATOR SALVATION'S MIDNIGHT TAKE: $3 MILLION

Terminator came back to theaters with a vengeance Thursday night, with Warner Bros. reporting that it took in $3 million during midnight screenings. The studio did not indicate how many theaters actually participated in Thursday night's preview of the latest sequel, Terminator Salvation. The movie is due to open officially in 3,580 theaters tonight (Friday). Also opening tonight is another sequel, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, which has grabbed 4,096 theaters. including 161 IMAX sites, giving it an advantage over other movies now crowding theater marquees. In addition, Paramount is counter-programming all the blockbuster pics with the low-budget comedy Dance Flick.

MOVIE REVIEWS: NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN

The first blockbusters of the season may be selling a lot of tickets, but with the arguable exception of Star Trek, they are not faring well with critics. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is no exception. Even Roger Ebert, who has been relatively kind to most of the films released during the past month, admits that "it rubbed me the wrong way." He goes on: "Oh, did I dislike this film. It made me squirm. Its premise is lame, its plot relentlessly predictable, its characters with personalities that would distinguish picture books, its cost incalculable (well, $150 million)." One of the better reviews is A.O. Scott's in the New York Times, who describes it as a "shallow and harmlessly diverting picture." But Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal admits that it is more or less pointless even bothering to appraise the movie, which he says, "is critic proof; nothing I might saw would have the slightest effect on its commercial fate. That leaves me free to marvel at the movie's cheerful idiocy ... and at the efficiency with which the filmmakers have dumbed down a dumb premise of proven success." And writing for the Washington Post, Dan Kois delights in being able "to praise a beloved local fixture making a grand Hollywood debut." His verdict: "The museum sparkles, but the movie's awfully dull."

FAMILY FEUD MAY HALT MLK MOVIE

DreamWorks indicated on Thursday that it will not proceed with plans to produce a film about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. unless his three children resolve their differences. "We remain committed to pursuing a film chronicling Martin Luther King's life provided that there is unity in the family so we can make a film about unity in our nation." The announcement of the deal between DreamWorks and Dexter King, CEO of the King estate touched off widespread controversy, with several detractors insisting that the King estate was exploiting the legacy of the slain civil rights leader. They demanded to know how much DreamWorks had paid for the film rights and where it would go. Martin King III and Bernice King, said that they had not been consulted by Dexter before the deal was struck. On CNN's Larry King Live, Bernice King said, "We have no details to say whether or not this particular [agreement] is a good idea." Tom Houck, an Atlanta public relations agent who knows all three children, told CNN, "I don't think that either Martin or Bernice are opposed to having a megafilm done on the big screen by DreamWorks, but I think it's the mechanism and the way it was done that's got them upset."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS

Terry Gilliam has come a long way since the late '60s, when he admittedly became one of the original copyright infringers by cutting out photos and pictures from magazines and newspapers and using them inventively as graphic inserts in the BBC's Monty Python's Flying Circus without permission. Gilliam has now let his imagination loose in a movie about a traveling circus act called The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Although the film co-stars Heath Ledger in his final performance (he died while the film was still in production), it is not the performances or the script that captured the attention of audiences who previewed it at the Cannes Film Festival today (Friday), where it was shown out of competition. Reviewing the film for the BBC, Emma Jones commented, "There's no doubt that the imaginary world [Gilliam has] created is awe-inspiring, but it's ultimately designed for an art house audience. The critics at Cannes loved it, but most cinema-goers would need to see it more than once to start untangling the multiple themes." Peter Bradshaw wrote in Britain's Guardian newspaper: "When Gilliam shoots off into his surreal wonderland, his film has a kind of helium-filled jollity and spectacle. ... a reminder of the old Python magic. But the film's convoluted curlicues are tiring, insisting too loudly on how 'imaginative' everything is. And when it descends into the real world -- Lucy out of the sky without diamonds, as it were -- the film can frankly be a bit ho-hum."

HOW TO MAKE A MOVIE WHEN A STAR DIES IN MID-PRODUCTION

At a news conference at the Cannes Film Festival following today's (Friday) screening of The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, director Terry Gilliam and cast members were repeatedly questioned about how the death of co-star Heath Ledger affected the production of the film. Gilliam said that he originally felt that it would have to be canceled (as his earlier Don Quixote film had been following an injury to one of its stars). "I couldn't see how we could finish it without Heath because we were in the middle of production," Gilliam told reporters. "Fortunately, I was surrounded by really good people who insisted that I shouldn't be such a lazy bastard and I'd better go out and find a way of finishing the film for Heath. That's what we did." Gilliam eventually decided to use friends Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell to play Ledger's character -- something made possible because characters who enter a fantasy world through a magic mirror sometimes change their appearances. "Heath goes through it three times and that was it, we had the solution." Gilliam also disclosed that Depp, Law, and Farrell essentially worked for no pay; donating their fees to Ledger's daughter Matilda.

AMERICAN JEWISH CONGRESS DECRIES FESTIVAL DECISION

The American Jewish Congress is not satisfied with the outcome of the dispute between the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) and director Ken Loach. Loach, who has condemned Israel's actions against Lebanon and Gaza, had demanded that the festival return $450 that the Israeli embassy in London had contributed to bring Israeli director Tali Shalom-Ezer to this year's festival to show her romantic film Surrogate. He warned that unless the money was returned, he and other British filmmakers would boycott the festival. On Wednesday, the festival, remarking that Loach spoke "on behalf of the film community," said it would return the funding. That in turn led to cries of censorship by other filmmakers and a subsequent decision by the festival to contribute the $450 out of its own funds. But on Thursday, David Harris, executive director of the AJC, said that the festival's decision "does not detract from the key issue here." Noting that no similar action had been taken in regards to countries engaged in "terrible wars and horrendous human-rights abuses," Harris said, "In refusing money from the Israeli Embassy, the EIFF is effectively supporting discrimination against Israel and Israelis disguised as support for Palestinian rights." For its part, the festival said that it "is well known for bringing together people from all over the world, regardless of race or religion, to screen and appreciate films for their own sake, and we look forward to continuing this important mission."