Spring Fever

March 23, 2004
A thought by James Berardinelli

It's always this way for me during the closing days of March - I'm filled with an unfounded sense of optimism. You see, I'm a warm-weather person. My ideal weather is a cloudless, 85-degree day with high humidity. A summer with dozens of 90-plus degree days is heaven. So, with the arrival of spring, I become hopeful that better afternoons are on the way. Then the teasing starts. In March, teasing is okay. But by May, it's unwelcome.

It's the same way with movies. No movie period (even the pre-Oscars holiday deluge) is as highly anticipated as the summer season. Since Hollywood can't read a calendar, the big-budget movies start arriving with the lilacs, before spring is half over. By the time summer officially starts (2/3 of the way through June), many of the biggest titles have already come (and in some cases, gone).

March is a time for high hopes. The upcoming release slate is like a mirage, tantalizing us - just over the horizon, barely out of reach. The long, lean ten-week period that started in early January is over. Now, there's at least something to look forward to… Or is there? How much of what's coming out this spring excites anticipation? Which titles fall into the "can't miss" category? Spring movies have a history of disappointing - think The Matrix and The Phantom Menace (which I liked, but was universally panned as a result of its failure to live up to impossible expectations). Big, overhyped movies released during the second half of the spring usually make money, but often fail to satisfy.

What about 2004? What's out there, hoping for our patronage? Frankly, it looks bleak. The only movie that has me aquiver with anticipation is Richard Linklater's Before Sunset, a follow-up to his divine Before Sunrise. Sequels often suck, but that's because they are developed for economic reasons, not creative ones. Before Sunset is the exception to the rule - a sequel that exists because the filmmaker believed there was another story to tell involving the same characters. The advance word on this movie is very good, with the most frequent comment being, "If you loved the first one, you'll love this one." It opens on June 25.

After Before Sunset, there's a drop-off in my excitement level, but there are a few films I expect to be entertaining. The first is Wolfgang Petersen's Troy. Petersen's name alone is enough to inspire a degree of confidence, and the trailers look great. It arrives on May 14. A week later, Shrek 2 bounds into multiplexes. The second installment most likely will not measure up to its predecessor, but I don't expect a complete evaporation of the cleverness that defined Shrek. At worst, it should be decent family entertainment.

Then there are the films I'm approaching with a certain amount of trepidation. The first is May 28's apocalyptic The Day After Tomorrow, which has a good trailer, but, with big-budget disaster epics, that doesn't mean much. My fear is that the movie is little more than a concept with special effects. Over the years, we have certainly seen enough of those. June 4 brings back Harry Potter, this time with a more accomplished director than Chris Columbus. Although Mr. Potter's devout legion of fans will put this one in the running for highest grossing summer feature (duking it out with Spider Man 2 and possibly Shrek 2), I'm getting tired of the kid. On June 11, The Chronicles of Riddick opens. Pitch Black grew on me, so there's real potential here for something good. However, Vin Diesel hasn't done much that's memorable recently, and his star has been plummeting. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (June 25) looks intriguing, but I don't know enough about it to have formed an informed opinion.

That brings me to several films that I will see but have minimal hopes for. In April, these include Kill Bill Volume 2 and The Alamo. Both should have been released last year. That's never a good sign, and hardly a way to generate excitement. May brings us Van Helsing, which has a cheesy trailer to go along with awful word-of-mouth. June offers the idiotic idea of remaking The Stepford Wives. Around the World in 80 Days, which has all the earmarks of a very expensive dud (despite Jackie Chan's participation).

With the movie slate providing so little heat, a late spring Bermuda high would be most welcome.