Monday, April 28, 2008

Summer Blockbusters

By David Luhrssen
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The summer movie season didn't always mean blockbuster time. In fact, the summer release schedule was once considered a relatively sleepy period in Hollywood. Jaws changed that. Since the man-eating shark's assault on the box office during the summer of 1975, Hollywood studios have highlighted the weeks between Memorial and Labor day as the season for big budget, supersize popcorn movies. Some of them are good. Most are visual and mental junk food.

With so many blockbuster wannabes to position on the calendar, the season sometimes starts a little early. It�s not considered good business to open two potential blockbusters on the same weekend. As a result are jump-the-gun opening dates for movies such as Iron Man (May 2) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of theCrystal Skull (May 22).

The season's biggest news, at least among middle-aged movie critics, is the return of the long absent adventurer Indiana Jones. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull begs the question: will anyone aside from a few hopeless fan geeks care deeply about a story that�s been idling since 1989? It�s much more interesting than the question of whether Harrison Ford, who turns 66 in July, can still twirl a whip as handily as he did in the Reagan-Bush years. Ford was always a little wooden and age might grant him additional gravity.

The producer-director team of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg can be credited for taking time into account. It�s been 19 years since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Crystal Skull is set 19 years after its predecessor�in the Cold War, with an icy Soviet adversary in the form of an agent played by Cate Blanchett. Betting on the youth vote, Lucas-Spielberg cast 21-year old Shia La Beouf as Indy�s motorcycle-riding sidekick. Let�s hope La Beouf doesn�t do a lame Marlon Brando-James Dean impression.

Crystal Skull is not the summer�s only sequel, with The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and TheMummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor also on tap. Familiar names are considered bankable in the warm months and what�s more familiar than a story that began as a hit TV series? This summer�s movie lineup includes productions based on �Sex and the City,� �The X-Files� and, maybe a couple decades too late, Mel Brooks� �60s favorite �Get Smart.�

Summer is also alive with super heroes or characters derived from cartoons. 2008 brings a veritable legion of them with Iron Man, The Hulk, The Dark Knight, Speed Racer and Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Each has something of potential interest. Iron Man stars Robert Downey, Jr. and The Hulk, Ed Norton. The DarkKnight features the late Heath Ledger as The Joker. Speed Racer is the first post-Matrix film directed by the Wachowski brothers. Helming Hellboy is Guillermo del Toro, a director with great promise based on his latest film, Pan�s Labyrinth. Speaking of cartoons, the leading light in animation, Pixar Studio, will release WALL�E, a futuristic story featuring a trash-compacting robot and his only friend, a cockroach. The story is a logical next step, I suppose, after a film about a French rat who dreams of becoming a master chef.

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