Suddenly, This Summer


We anticipate the onslaught of summer movies—cineculture’s annual Run of the Bulls—but also loathe it when it’s raging, somehow forgetting its inanities by spring. Publicity, training its bazookas on our cockeyed desire to be present at “events,” is a large factor in the conundrum because it itself is forgettable, but surely the blame lies squarely with us, caught up in the late-century notion that June-through-August is the time to occupy the pleasure dome of third graders. Except it doesn’t begin with June or end with August any longer, the profi-teering calendar having expanded in either direction, this year from Gladiator to Wesley Snipes in The Art of War in September, in the Industry’s effort to keep the alpha waves as flat as possible for as long as possible. For some large wedge of humanity, it’s time to flock to the new Rocky and Bullwinkle, the new Pokémon, the new Godzilla. But for many of us, it is the plague season, when the entire world goes all hoochie-koo over explosions, giant digitals, old sitcoms writ long, and Mel Gibson.

The ecstasy and the agony: Spencer Breslin and Willis in Disney’s The Kid (at left); Wahlberg and Clooney in The Perfect Storm

Everyone knows that the “summer movie” became a viable entity with Jaws, and a market fundamental with Star Wars, but its mean season was the Reagan-Bush era, known otherwise as the still-telethoning Spielberg-Lucas era. Like all dumb pop culture, the summer movie quickly became self-aware, and as even intelligent filmgoers began to ironically love them for their box-of-rock-ness, the movies themselves got knowingly, proudly dumber. Of all things, only poor voter turnout and literacy rates might leave us more shamefaced than we should be about Lethal Weapon 4‘s box office success.

But if you take the last two summers at face value, things might be changing. Sure, contenders to ID4-hood have splashed down, but you’re truly letting the summer slip through your fingers if you’re doubling your MIB bet and letting it ride on Wild Wild West. Most of last summer’s winners were standard studio tosh (Austin Powers 2, Big Daddy, The Mummy, etc.), but a good number were inexpensive eccentricities or studio wingdings: The Blair Witch Project, The Sixth Sense, South Park, Bowfinger. There were no Joel Silver?style immolations, or comic book adaptations, or disasters, just as 1998’s summer was a spectacle of eccentric Hollywood decision making, spawning Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Truman Show, Bulworth, and Out of Sight. This summer has its fair share of obligatory sequels (The Nutty Professor II) and live-cartoon costume parties (X-Men), ripoffs (What Lies Beneath) and seminoble novelizations (All the Pretty Horses), remakes (Bedazzled) and trend jumpers (The Crew). But who can say for sure what will happen? Will Me, Myself and Irene be this summer’s Theres Something About Mary, Requiem for a Dream its Buffalo 66, Chicken Run its Iron Giant? Will The Patriot be half as lackluster as we suspect, and will The Perfect Storm be half as thrilling? More to the point, what will dominate? Rocky and Bullwinkle or Pola X, Godzilla 2000 or Jesus’ Son? It’s up to us, isn’t it?

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