Big screen flop

THERE is not much to sing about in Annie (Pearl, 1.55pm), the cotton wool musical about a mop-headed orphan girl. It was, for reasons no-one has fathomed, directed by John Huston, a strange choice. It was produced by Ray Stark, who later said: 'This is the film I want on my tombstone.' Time magazine said of it: 'Funeral services may be held starting this week at a theatre near you.' The cost of Annie, which stars Aileen Quinn as the waif and a bald Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks, the millionaire who adopts her and grows to love her, or at least like her, started at US$9 million for the rights and rose during production to US$42 million. The film bombed and none of the massive investment was recovered.

Annie loses all the charm of the comic strip and stage show upon which it is based. Quinn is engaging enough as the foundling and Carol Burnett hams it up as the gin-soaked ruler of the orphanage, Miss Hannigan. But some of the best songs have been discarded and the dancing is ponderous. It is intended for children, but ends up being simply infantile. John Huston was not proud of it. Even he can make a mistake; it is a shame it had to be such a big one.

AND do not confuse Dad (World, 11.00am) with great film-making. The cast is not half bad - Jack Lemmon, Ted Danson, Olympia Dukakis, Ethan Hawke, Kathy Baker - but the film is emotional exploitation. Danson is the preoccupied executive who learns his father (Lemmon) may be on his last legs and rushes home to spend time with him.

BIBLICAL epic of the day is Solomon And Sheba (Pearl, 9.30pm) which, despite the presence of Yul Brynner - with hair - and Gina Lollobrigida, might put you to sleep. It is the story of Solomon's ascension to the throne of Israel and the long, tormented conflict he has with his elder brother, Adonijah. Lollobrigida is the beautiful Queen of Sheba. Solomon invites her (and her entourage) to Jerusalem, falls prey to her charms, and asks her to marry him.

IN 1993 a natural history documentary called Aliya The Asian Elephant won a bronze award for something or the other at the New York Festival. It was made by father-and-son team Simon and John King. As is Inura The Dingo (World, 8.30), which follows a young female dingo, the bay-eating kind, and her struggles to survive in the parched red desert of central Australia. Here the dingoes enjoy an existence that scarcely changed for thousands of years.

Like all desert animals, Inura's fortunes are governed by drought. Her ordeals begin as a puppy, holed-up in among the rocks while her mother forages for food. A camel succumbs to the harsh conditions and packs of dingoes fall upon its carcass. Hands up those who never realised there were camels in Australia.

There are more relaxed moments, such as Inura's encounter with a lone swagman camping in the bush. Attracted by the smell of his food, she creeps into his camp, steals his shoes and keeps him awake all night by biting his sleeping back until he is forced to retreat into his car for some peace.

THE Secret Of NIMH (Pearl, 10.55am) was the first production from Don Bluth Productions, the studio founded by a group of former Disney artists. It tells the story of a widowed mouse and a secret society of super-intelligent rats. It features the voices of Derek Jacobi and Peter Strauss.

It is followed by Prancer (Pearl, 12.00pm), which is also for kids. A poor farm girl whose father is buckling under financial pressure nurses a sick reindeer which she believes to be one of Santa's own. It's cute and it's teary. Stick the offspring in front of it and have a lie down.

THERE is tennis on World at 9.30pm. The Panasonic Super Challenge sees the Chang and the McEnroe brothers doing battle in a doubles match and banking a bit of cash for their efforts. This is not live - it happened on December 16, so you will already know who won what and who did not.