Friday, June 8, 2001

Summer 2001: An In-Depth Preview of Things to Come

Though the summer movie season is widely considered to be a three-month excursion into blockbuster territory starting in June, it actually just recently began kicking off in early May, when Hollywood studios began to see how major motion picture releases during the month were quickly becoming major hits. For the past decade, major revenue began generating off of the Memorial Holiday weekend, and just two years ago, both “The Mummy” and “Star Wars Episode 1—The Phantom Menace” proved beyond a shadow of a doubt just how eager moviegoers were starting to get for their favorite movie season. Now it seems everyone wants a piece of the action; last year, Academy Award winner “Gladiator” was May’s hot ticket, and just these past two weeks, the highly anticipated “Pearl Harbor” ate up a good percentage of weekly box office receipts.

But the heart of summer doesn’t begin until June, a month that, unlike May, has always been a resting ground for the big budgeted, action-oriented material that studios like to release. And keeping in alignment with the past, those kinds of films are rapidly unleashed on the world through the very end of August, just one or two weeks before the biggest turnout crowd—teenagers—jump back into school. Similar patterns will be repeated this year, even though a few of the biggest “summer” pictures have already been released.

In the following list, we shed light on (count ‘em) 14 of the most anticipated and recognized motion pictures scheduled for release this summer. Read on and learn....

Evolution (Opens Today)
“That looks like a big loogie!”, comments one of the stars of “Evolution” as he gazes at a large alien being rising from underneath the surface of the Earth. That line, of course, has been featured in the movie’s trailers, and if the laughter spurred by those few scenes is anything to go by, this will likely be one of the summer’s funniest treats.

Dubbed a cross between “Men In Black” and “Ghostbusters” (the latter was suggested initially because the director of “Evolution,” Ivan Reitman, actually made that film, too), the story takes place as a large meteor from outer space, containing one-celled organisms, crash lands onto earth and begins spawning creatures, who evolve so rapidly, it astonishes the humans who observe them. Rounding out the cast are David Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Julianne Moore and Sean William Scott.

Swordfish (Opens Today)
When was the last time you can think of a summer movie that actually required you to use your brain? That looks to be the situation with “Swordfish,” a crime thriller revolved around espionage that stars John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, and features supporting roles from Halle Berry and Don Cheadle. The director is Dominic Sena (“Gone In Sixty Seconds”), but it’s not his fast-paced action sequences or intricate stunts that immediately attract our eyes—it’s actually the apparent influence of “The Matrix” on many of the special effects techniques (some, obviously, utilize the infamous “bullet time” approach).

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (Opens June 15)
Those who lost faith in Disney animation after it seemingly collapsed under the weight of its own ceaseless formula will be happy to learn that the studio’s streak of completely original stories, began in December by “The Emperor’s New Groove,” continues with their latest offering, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire.” Penned by Tab Murphy, the man behind the scripts of both “Tarzan” and “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame,” this part-science fiction and part-historical epic tells the tale of an expedition seeking to discover the lost legendary city of Atlantis, only on this occasion, they have references substantial enough to find it! The voice talents include Michael J. Fox and the late Jim Varney, while the animated visuals, in traditional Disney fashion, continue to push the envelope on a technical basis. The studio is hoping to turn “Atlantis” into their biggest animated hit in years.

In truth, though, Disney will have a very difficult time in making the movie a success. Three reasons: 1) it will be competing against “Tomb Raider” on its first weekend; 2) people are still racing to see Dreamworks’ “Shrek”; and 3) the MPAA slapped the film with a PG rating, which is only the second time a Disney cartoon has ever been given one (the first was the 1985 commercial disappointment “The Black Cauldron,” which, incidentally, was also the last animated feature before this one filmed in the 70mm format).

Tomb Raider (Opens June 15)
Eidos Interactive is known most for giving birth to the British bombshell Lara Croft on the PC, and after four highly successful game releases (not to mention massive media uproar over some notable physical attributes of the title character), it was imperative of them to greenlight a major motion picture based on the material surrounding the character. The result stars Angelina Jolie as the feisty relic hunter herself, who raids tombs searching for long lost artifacts, and often battles hordes of dangerous foes on her journey. In this particular scenario, however, Ms. Croft is in search of an item that can actually put a halt to time itself, and many others, needless to say, want to get their hands on the treasure as well.

Traditionally, cinematic endeavors based on either video or computer game material suffer from a bad case of plot idiocy. It will be interesting to see if this offering will combat that trait or surrender to it.

Doctor Dolittle 2 (Opens June 22)
Even though its predecessor was very successful during its theatrical run, few, if any, believed that “Doctor Dolittle” would get a movie sequel. Perhaps that’s because the idea that animals could talk with very advanced human vocabularies was beginning to wear out its welcome, especially after seeing the subject applied to a situation in which toilet humor was the prime tool for presentation.

Nonetheless, those who enjoyed the first movie and wouldn’t mind a little repetition may find all the laughs they need this summer through this picture. Eddie Murphy returns to the role that he made his own just two short years ago as well.

The Fast And The Furious (Opens June 22)
Every summer has its own “fast cars” feature, and this year, that honor is bestowed on this Rob Cohen film, a tale about two opposing Los Angeles gangs who use fast and cutting-edge automobiles as weapons against each other. A love story, meanwhile, develops between one member of each of the gangs.

Actor Vin Diesel, who won universal acclaim for his solid performances in both “Boiler Room” and “Pitch Black” last year, tops the cast of characters here, which also features Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster and “Girlfight” star Michelle Rodriguez.

A.I. - Artificial Intelligence (Opens June 29)
Insiders call this movie the “turning point” of Spielberg’s career—perhaps the most important movie he can make following “Schindler’s List.”

What makes “A.I.” so special to for Spielberg, and to the industry itself for that matter, is that the film was intended to be made by the one and only Stanley Kubrick, who finished an 80-page screen treatment for it shortly before he died in early 1999. Warner Bros., of course, wanted to scrap the project totally without Kubrick around, but luckily Spielberg, who was a close friend of the late director during the many years he was contemplating the concept of this project, decided to direct the product himself.

So what will be the result of both the Spielberg and Kubrick influences in one movie? Undoubtedly pure magic, of course.

Cats And Dogs (Opens July 4)
If “Doctor Dolittle 2” doesn’t satisfy the craving for English-speaking animals, then “Cats And Dogs” would be more than willing to step up to the plate. The movie is a CGI-heavy caper in which a slowly-brewing competition between the nations two most popular domestic animals—cats and dogs, respectively—takes a dramatic turn, and all-out war is waged. Just try picturing cats suited up in armor and dogs carrying around machine guns!

Scary Movie 2 (Opens July 4)
Barely a year after they unleashed the larger-than-life horror spoof “Scary Movie,” the Wayans brothers were at it again, working on a follow-up to their highly successful summer comedy. With it under wraps now, many are beginning to wonder just how far the boys will push buttons this time, as if they could push them any further to begin with.

Despite being considered one of the funniest pictures of its genre, the spoof did nothing to relieve the growing tensions between Hollywood studios and the MPAA, who only gave the movie an R rating, but would have undoubtedly slapped it with an NC-17 had it come from an independent distributor. Because most moviemakers recently are beginning to bow down to the public pressure of cleaning up movie content, it will be very interesting to see if this film will, compared to its predecessor, be less or more tasteless.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (Opens July 13)
Like “Tomb Raider,” the “Final Fantasy” game series has a very large and loyal following to its name, making it essential for the material to receive some kind of screen treatment. But fans of the ever-growing franchise know already to expect the unexpected, and they can surely do so when this little picture opens nationwide. It is, after all, one of the few movies ever created completely rendered in CGI animation.

Jurassic Park III (Opens July 20)
Steven Spielberg was not brought back to direct this long-awaited third installment of the “Jurassic Park” series, but Joe Johnston, the man behind “Jumanji” and “October Sky,” filled his place. This may have a serious effect on the aim of the movie series, but early reports suggest that moviegoers need not to worry too much about the franchise being tarnished. Reaction seems to be fairly positive for this one. It is even said that Spielberg himself, who served as a producer here, likes what he saw.

Reportedly, the film will contain several new dinosaur creations for the viewers to feast their eyes on, some of which are said to even have extremely high intelligence that allows them to set traps for the humans. Sam Neil returns to the role he last played in the original “Jurassic Park” film, and William H. Macy also stars.

Planet Of The Apes (Opens July 27)
What do you get when you take a visionary director and give him one of the best science fiction screenplays of all time? Tim Burton’s version of “Planet Of The Apes,” of course! A devoted fan of either of these things is sure to see this particular summer movie as their most eagerly anticipated, and the fast, colorful and elaborate trailers that have already been released anchor those feelings.

The movie will star Mark Wahlberg, Kris Kristofferson and Tim Roth, and will also feature supporting performers like Michael Clarke Duncan and George Clooney. It is even said that Charleton Heston, the star of the first version of the movie, will make a cameo.

Rush Hour 2 (Opens August 3)
At this time, little has been discussed about what will take place in the upcoming sequel to the fall 1999 hit “Rush Hour,” but we do know that the three major players of the first film—Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, and director Brett Ratner—did in fact return for the making of this follow-up. Because the first film delivered a mighty blow at the box office when it was released, you can expect New Line Cinema to heavily promote this picture in the weeks leading up to its release.

American Pie 2 (Opens August 10)
The kids from “American Pie” are growing up, and they’re still just as crazy about sex as they’ve always been. Need we say more?

It’s worth noting that this will probably be the last in a long line of big sequel releases throughout the summer months.

*Note: release dates are subject to change.

Written by DAVID KEYES

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