Saturday, May 15, 2010

Worst Summer Ever, Best Summer Ever

"Iron Man 2" is on track to beat "Robin Hood" at the box office this weekend, but "Iron Man" took such a plunge from last week's numbers, it feels like both films lost. With one massively anticipated tentpole falling a bit short of expectations and another expensive project coming in a box office dud, the 2010 summer movie season is not getting off to a great start. The next few weeks don't look too promising for film fans either.

May 21st sees the release of the fourth and final "Shrek" sequel (not counting the "Puss in Boots" movie and other spinoffs) and "MacGruber," which is based on a series of "Saturday Night Live" sketches with Will Forte that no one seems to particularly enjoy, let alone wants to see in the cineplexes. Memorial Day weekend is serving up "Sex and the City 2" and Disney's "Prince of Persia." The former is sending its New York forty-something socialites to Abu Dhabi to discover their own personal "Ishtar." The latter is Disney's attempt to launch a new action franchise in the same vein as their lucrative "Pirates of the Caribbean" films - it stars Jake Gyllenhaal as the world's most Nordic-looking Persian, and what appear to be leftover sets from the "Mummy" movies.

In the wake of such lackluster features, there have already been grumblings from various corners of the internet that this is may be shaping up to be the Most Disappointing Summer Ever at the movies. A glance through the rest of the major studios' slates reveals remakes and sequels and adaptations from popular existing properties as far as the eye can see, but there are few of the major franchise pictures like "Batman," "Terminator," or "Harry Potter" to get much buzz going. Greg Morago over at The Daily Comet suggests that this year has a higher percentage of family-targeted ("Shrek," "Toy Story," "Despicable Me") and female-targeted ("Sex and the City 2," "Eclipse," "Eat, Pray, Love") films than usual, which is leaving traditional male-dominated summer audiences feeling high and dry.

My pet theory is that we're seeing a proliferation of the unknown this summer, films that are coming up as question marks in the mind of the average moviegoer. Though we've got a lot of familiar titles like "The Karate Kid," "The A-Team," and "Predators," the adaptations are so far removed from the original source material, no one has any idea what we're in for. How does a "Karate Kid" with Jackie Chan and Will Smith's kid work? (And shouldn't it be "The Kung Fu Kid" if the Chinese government is footing the tab for this one?) Can a "Predators" movie starring Adrian Brody still bring on the pain? And whose bright idea was it to cast Liam Neeson as Hannibal in "The A-team"?

Even more uncertain are the fate of films based on unfamiliar material or sporting original premises like "Get Him to the Greek," "Jonah Hex," "Knight and Day," "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," and "Grown Ups," all star-driven films whose stars don't exactly have the greatest track records. Can Josh Brolin carry an action film? Can Russell Brand and Jonah Hill break out on their own? Can Adam Sandler still fill seats after "Funny People" floundered last summer? Nicholas Cage is obviously only showing up for the money, but will he earn his paycheck? And what of Tom Cruise? Dear God, what of Tom Cruise?!

With so many question marks on the schedule this could be the worst summer ever, but it could just as easily be the best summer ever. Nobody expected that "The Hangover," "District Nine" and "The Proposal" were going to be hits last year. Conversely, no one knew "Land of the Lost" was going to be such a disaster. We're just going to have to wait and see. Personally I think it's more fun this way. Sure, everyone knows that "Toy Story 3" is going to be bigger than Jesus, but how are audiences going to take to "The Expendables," "Machete" and "The Other Guys"?

Without all the big franchise films in the way, smaller films are finding it easier to attract attention. Right now some of the most anticipated titles are completely original non-franchise pictures like Christopher Nolan's "Inception" and Edgar Wright's "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." Put up against a "Transformers 3" or a "Harry Potter 7," neither would get much media attention, but this year they have the chance to break out. Both films have been generating buzz the old fashioned way, with strong trailers and the involvement of popular creative talent. But given how little we know about them, who knows if the buzz will pan out into audience numbers? The best ticket this year might just be watching the box office returns.

We'll see who's still left standing on Labor Day. Until then, have a great summer at the movies!

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