Fun, fantasy and fright

30 years after Jaws, the summer blockbuster is still going strong

Batman Begins

Batman Begins

This summer marks the 30th anniversary of Jaws, the movie that essentially started the summer-movie-season phenomenon. Besides causing widespread anxiety involving sharks and Richard Dreyfuss, Jaws was the first film to pass the $100 million mark, thus telling the studios that summer was the time to release “the big ones.” We have summer movie previews thanks to Steven Spielberg’s legendary mechanical shark named Bruce.

This summer season has already gotten off to a big start with Star Wars: Episode III­Revenge of the Sith, a great movie that is on track to make something like five trillion dollars. The quality of the film alone assures that this summer will be better than last year’s pitiful offerings. Remember the high hopes some of us had for Alien vs. Predator and I, Robot?

Land of the Dead

Looks really neat
In 1989, Tim Burton released his decent Batman, turning the hitherto campy Caped Crusader into a brooding, barely audible malcontent with a taste for rubber and blue lighting. In 1997, Joel Schumacher, a.k.a. Satan’s Butt, delivered Batman and Robin, a film that desecrated all the good Burton had accomplished with the franchise, making Bat fans long for the days of Adam West and Burgess Meredith.

Now comes Batman Begins with a respectable director (Christopher Nolan of Memento) and perfect casting (Christian Bale could be the best Batman yet), so hopes run high again. No more Batman’s-ass shots!

When I was a kid, I had a cassette tape of the Mercury Theatre radio production of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds starring Orson Welles, and that bastard freaked me out. Tom Cruise gets his chance to do the same with Steven Spielberg’s epic take on the alien tripods. The commercials look great, and there’s a good chance this movie will make us forget Tom Hanks sucking on condiments in Spielberg’s terrible The Terminal.

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory

Batman‘s Burton will try to make us forget Gene Wilder (for one night anyway) with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a film in which Johnny Depp looks to be hilarious—and just a little frightening.

There’s been a lot of zombie action as of late, with the modernized turbo zombie running everybody down. In Land of the Dead, the walking deceased go back to lurching as maestro George Romero (Night of the Living Dead) revisits the genre that he owned before somebody came up with the idea of making zombies run at full-bore speed whilst screeching like cheetahs. It was cool and everything, but zombies are supposed to lurch and moan.

Finally, after a characteristically long delay for a Terry Gilliam film, his The Brothers Grimm starring Matt Damon will finally get a release date. With Gilliam, long delays usually don’t mean bad movies. Studios just wouldn’t feel right unless they screwed with this particular genius on every damn movie he makes.

The Island

Golly, I’m not sure
Thou shalt not screw with legendary films starring Tatum O’Neal, and this deems Paper Moon and The Bad News Bears as off-limits. Director Richard Linklater (School of Rock) will break this law with his remake of Bears, a film that was perfect to start. However, Billy Bob Thornton in the role of Little League Coach Buttermaker (once played by Walter Matthau) seems semi-promising considering his Bad Santa pedigree, so all hope is not lost.

I haven’t lost faith in Will Ferrell yet, but his work in Melinda and Melinda (awful, with him to blame) and Kicking and Screaming (bad, but not his fault) has me worried the downward trend has begun. Therefore, even though the trailer makes me laugh ("I cannot get pregnant right now!"), I’m a bit skeptical about a big-screen redo of Bewitched.

The downward trend started a long time ago for Angelina Jolie, but teaming with Brad Pitt in Mr. and Mrs. Smith (from Swingers director Doug Liman) looks like it provides the possibility of 1) a good time and 2) ample showcase for her super-freakout lips.

The Dukes of Hazzard

As a casual comic book fan, I should be getting all worked up about Fantastic Four. After all, it does feature Jessica Alba in a tight blue suit and a big rock character named Ben Grimm (love that name). Something tells me that this one might go a little overboard.

The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl in 3-D is the latest kids’ movie from director Robert Rodriguez, and I fear it will be headache inducing. While his adult fare like Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Sin City has been spectacular, Spy Kids 3-D marked a bad direction for that particular franchise, and early previews for this one make it look like a carbon copy of that mess.

These movies can go to hell!
More TV shows get questionable-looking remakes this summer, and The Honeymooners looks like the most nightmarish of the lot. Cedric the Entertainer replaces Jackie Gleason (in his dreams), and Gabrielle Union steps in for Audrey Meadows (OK, I can live with that) for a modernization of something that needed to be left very much alone.

Having never been a big Dukes of Hazzard fan, I fully embrace the opportunity to watch Jessica Simpson in cutoffs, but let’s face it: Johnny Knoxville is no Tom Wopat!

In what amounted to a movie-going miracle, I actually liked the last Michael Bay movie (Bad Boys 2). Of course, it was probably the worst-reviewed Bay film of all time (it got skewered worse than Pearl Harbor), but I’ve never been one to ride with the masses. (Well, except for that whole Cabbage Patch Kid thing. They were so cute!) His clone thriller The Island, starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, actually looks like it could be OK, but since it is Michael Bay, he ends up in the “Could Suck” section by default.

There are two recent horror film successes that have left me baffled. The first would be the warm public reception to Saw, one of the dumbest horror movies of recent years. The other would be the cult following picked up by Rob Zombie’s House of a Thousand Corpses, which is the dumbest horror movie of recent years. The reception was so positive to Zombie’s crapfest that a sequel, The Devil’s Rejects: House of a Thousand Corpses 2 got the green light. Saw 2 is on its way as well, but we get a little more time to prepare our livers for the shock.

Also beware of Herbie: Fully Loaded, starring Lindsay Lohan, because there should never be a Herbie movie without Don Knotts or Ken Berry in it, and Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, for reasons best left unsaid. Overall, this looks to be the best summer for movies in a long time, even though it does allow for a movie with Rob Schneider as its star.

Of course, this year’s greatest summer movie would’ve been Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong, but Universal Studios gave it a December release date, so we’ll have to wait.