Summer Preview

June 20, 2004
A thought by James Berardinelli
Since I posted my review of The Terminal, I have received numerous e-mails taking exception to the following comment: "The premise - that a man could live months of his life in an airport terminal - holds a certain fascination (especially for those with a large number of frequent flier miles, who will feel a peculiar kinship with The Terminal's protagonist), but, in the post-9/11 era, it's not credible." Ah, they say, what about Merhan Karimi Nasseri, the Iranian who has been living inside Charles De Gaulle airport since 1988?

Although the kernel of the idea behind The Terminal was drawn from Nasseri's life story (which was made into a French film in 1994), that does not invalidate my claim that the movie's premise is "not credible." Let's review that premise: a man becomes trapped in modern-day JFK when a bureaucratic snafu disallows him to enter New York City or be deported. Charles De Gaulle is in France, and JFK is in New York City, only a few miles away from where the World Trade Center once stood. Security, which borders on paranoia, is considerably higher in JFK. Post-9/11, Nasseri was allowed to remain in Charles De Gaulle because he had been there for 13 years. It is doubtful that French officials would let a repeat incident occur today. Meanwhile, it is inconceivable that anyone would be allowed to spend an extended period in JFK. The Terminal is a fable, tenuous connection to actual events notwithstanding.

In the Northern Hemisphere, today marks the beginning of summer (at least astronomically speaking). Of course, if you use the Memorial Day-to-Labor Day means of calculating the season, it's already three weeks old. And, as far as Hollywood is concerned, it's half-over. Many of the big guns (Troy, Shrek 2, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) have already gone off. In fact, after July 4, there will be few blockbusters left in the pipeline. However, since next weekend is the first official weekend of summer, now's as good a time as any to look at what promises to show up in multiplexes during the next three months.

Only a couple of notable features arrive on June 25. The first is The Notebook, and it probably won't generate much business in a marketplace that's dominated by teenagers (particularly boys). As a love story, the movie's okay, but it has its share of problems, and doesn't really deserve to be singled out for particular notice. Meanwhile, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 comes with as much baggage as publicity. I'll have plenty to say about the movie after I see it (tomorrow). But the big question about this one will be: is it a documentary or propeganda? (Or is there a difference? A recent column by Roger Ebert indicates that there may be a blurring of the line between the two.)

The biggest battle to be waged at the box office this year will be between Shrek 2 and Spider Man 2. The green ogre has a big headstart, but the webslinger will get his send-off on June 30. Expect a minimum of $120 million (maybe as high as $150 million) over its 5-day opening weekend. I'm not going to predict a winner in the Shrek vs. Spider Man match, because it's too close to call, and the willingness of teenage boys to see a movie repeatedly is notoriously inconsistent. In a strange move, The Clearing (a kidnapping thriller with Willem Dafoe and Robert Redford) is opening opposite Spider Man 2. I guess the expectation is that the movies are targeting different audiences. However, I wonder how many middle-aged couples wanting to see the Redford movie are going to brave multiplex crowds waiting in line to see Spider Man 2. Also opening July 2 is Before Sunset, Richard Linklater's almost-as-good-as-the-first-one sequel to Before Sunrise. The talky romance is #1 on my "want to see" list for the summer, and it does not disappoint. Those who liked the first one will appreciate the sequel. Those who didn't like the first one will hate the second installment. And, if you haven't seen Before Sunrise, rent it.

July 7 is King Arthur's weekend. I'm not sure why there's a feeling that we need another re-telling of the legend. As far as I'm concerned, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is definitive. Hopefully, the new version will be rousing and won't feature too much anachronistic material (such as a kick-ass Guinevere). The movie doesn't have a strong "buzz," so it's probably headed for obscurity about as quickly as Troy.

The following week (July 14-16) sees a few more releases. The headliner is I, Robot, which stars Will Smith in an action-oriented adaptation of Isaac Asmiov's classic story. I have to admit to being interested in this one. Also that weekend is The Door in the Floor, about an extremely dysfunctional marriage, an adult who sleeps with an underage boy, and a psychologically abusive drunk. (It also features nude scenes from a couple of older-than-starlet actresses, Mimi Rogers and Kim Basinger.) Fun stuff for the middle of the summer. Then there are Sleepover and A Cinderella Story, neither of which I plan to see. I have endured my share of tween girl-oriented material for the year; it's doubtful I'll subject myself to another sample any time soon. (Plus, I actively avoid Hilary Duff, although the same cannot be said about her "rival," Lindsey Lohan.)

June 23 sees the release of one sequel and one spin-off. I'm looking forward to The Bourne Supremacy, hoping that the return of virtually the entire cast will ensure a taut second episode. Then there's Catwoman, a movie that, at least based on advance word, should never have been made. Considering what I have heard, the only draw may be seeing Halle Berry in a leather S&M outfit. Since she showed a lot more in Swordfish, that makes Catwoman redundant. And without Batman to rub suits with, where's the fun?

July 30 is a big day for releases. The most anticipated movie to come out that day is M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, which will get a nice publicity boost due to an apparently "unfavorable" documentary scheduled to air on the Sci-Fi Channel. That weekend also opens the Manchurian Candidate remake - a film that, in order to work, is in need of some serious updating. The original was great in the '60s, but appears dated. Certainly, the cast (Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, John Voight) is top-notch and the director (Jonathan Demme) has a proven track record, but the real key may be how well the screenplay is re-worked. Then there's Jonathan Frakes' PG movie version of the '60s British TV Series "Thunderbirds," and a limited roll-out of the disappointing Garden State, which does not live up to its post-Sundance buzz.

Open Water is probably my second-most anticipated summer release (after Before Sunset). The low-budget thriller, about people trapped in shark infested waters after the sinking of their boat, has been compared to The Blair Witch Project. I eagerly await its August 6 opening. Also seeing the projector's light during the first weekend of August is Collateral, the Michael Mann/Tom Cruise collaboration. It will be interesting to see how effective Cruise can be as a bad guy.

Then the dog days hit... The two big releases of the August 11-13 weekend are both ugly-looking sequels: a second installment of The Princess Diaries (which I won't see: two Garry Marshall films in one year is one too many) and the comic book-inspired Alien Versus Predator, which sounds like a fanboy's wet dream, but will probably be a nightmare for anyone who cares about things like plot and character development. Yet I hope it makes money, because the rumor is that if it's profitable, Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver may be back on board for an Alien 5. Personally, I'll be rooting for the aliens, since I have never been impressed by the predators.

August 20 sees the long-delayed release of Zhang Yimou's Hero, starring Jet Li, in what has been described as the most inventive and visually impressive martial arts film since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This one has languished on Miramax's shelves for about two years. Open Water will also go wider on this day.

After that, it's a month of dining on cinematic dirt. Nothing looks promising until the September 17 release of the science fiction adventure Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Its debut was postponed from its original mid-summer slating to place it in a less competitive marketplace. It's just as well that late August and early September are so barren - it will allow me to go on my honeymoon and attend the Toronto Film Festival without worrying about missing something good at my local multiplex.

When all is said and done, the summer of 2004 will probably result in shattered box office records, but also a high level of disappointment. Blockbusters are ripe to discourage, but we have a right to expect more hits than misses, and that hasn't been the case with this year's crop. Or at least, that hasn't been the case so far. Who knows? Maybe the quality of the real summer movies will eclipse all of the missed opportunities of the late spring.