Summer Ramblings

June 22, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

In the northern hemisphere, the calendar has turned from spring to summer, bringing on thoughts of hot afternoons under a blazing sun and lazy, sultry evenings with thunder rumbling in the distance. For me, summer is nature's refund for winter. I enjoy the seasonal changes - there's something to appreciate about nearly every month of the year (well, maybe not February) - but the period between June and August is the best. Just not necessarily for movies.

By the official start of summer, the majority of the "hot" films have already been released. Oh, there are still a few more to come - War of the Worlds and Fantastic Four are just around the corner - but, after that, the air will come out of the balloon. Take away Star Wars and this could be the weakest summer roster in recent memory. There's not a lot to get excited about. Sure, there are some blockbuster-caliber movies, but how many of them have you counting the days until they open? This is a reactive summer - people decide to go to the movies then pick what looks most appealing. It's not an anticipatory summer in which viewers circle dates on the calendar because they're excited about something that opens.

The experience of seeing a movie during the summer is different than during the winter. There's no need to bundle up to go to the theater. It stays lighter later, making 9:00 pm shows more appealing than their 7:00 counterparts. (Before I started reviewing, I found it a little depressing to go into a theater when it was still light outside.) And, of course, what's playing on the screen generally doesn't require a lot of brain power (although that's increasingly becoming a year-'round trait).

Summer used to be the time for drive-ins in the Northeast, but most of them are gone. Land is too valuable to be used for a big parking lot. One famous drive-in near where I live was converted into a multiplex. Most of the parking lot was preserved, and, if you know where to look, you can see where the screen used to be. My memories of drive-ins are those as a kid in the back of a station wagon. If I were older, I'm sure I would have more interesting stories to tell than how I fell asleep during Jaws.

Speaking of Jaws, it was 30 years ago that the movie literally scared people from going into the water. It didn't matter whether the name of a seaside town was Amity, Point Pleasant, or Clearwater - beach-goers became skittish about venturing past the knee-deep point. Shark attacks are rare (although one happened off Long Beach Island a couple of weeks ago - a juvenile great white took a chunk out of a swimmer's leg), but what happened on beaches 30 years ago is a testimony to the power of cinema.

Summer is the season of Spielberg and Lucas. We get them both this year, possibly sharing a release schedule for the last time. They're on the upper side of middle age now, and no longer filled with youthful energy. With Revenge of the Sith, Lucas has closed a book, and who knows what (if anything) he'll work on next. Star Wars is done. Fans will mourn, then move on. Meanwhile, Spielberg is venturing into foreign territory. For the first time, his aliens will have teeth. No more of the touchy-feely extraterrestrials of Close Encounters and E.T. It's time to see how Spielberg would have done Independence Day.

In this tiny corner of cyberspace, I am halfway through posting my 1990-91 novel, The Price of the Crown. It should all be up around the time that the first weekend box office tally for Fantastic Four is revealed. For the most part, the comments have been positive, and there has been plenty of constructive criticism. Although I received one e-mail claiming that, considering what I have written, I am no longer in a position to badmouth any movie's story or dialogue.

What's up for ReelThoughts in the near future? A discussion of whether the comic book boom is going bust. Why big-time movie trailers are on the TV schedule. A look back at the first new season of "Doctor Who" in 16 years. A half-time glimpse at 2005's Top Ten. A perspective about the correlation between actresses who don't fear nudity and the likelihood of winning an Oscar. Another guilty pleasure/overrated classic pairing. And when The Price of the Crown is available in its entirety, I'll offer a spoiler-filled personal view of what I thought went right and wrong, and why I made certain choices regarding life and death. (This is not one of those books where all of the characters are alive at the end.)