Friday, June 1, 2001

Summer 2001: Where Have All The Ideas Gone?

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that many of today’s filmmakers are losing their inspiration.

Those who share a similar opinion about Hollywood’s latest offerings need not to look any further then the schedule of summer movie releases that have been laid before us. Of the more than two dozen major releases being planned for the June-to-August calendar, around half of them are either sequels, remakes, or adaptations of existing source material. While familiarity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, too much of it can easily lead to a feeling of repetition that can quickly turn off many viewers. Now, with so many releases on the horizon devoted to revisiting far-too-familiar territory, many can’t help but wonder: where have all the fresh ideas gone, and are moviegoers even interested in all the retreads being offered at the movie house this year?

Summer got its early start with sequels just a couple of weeks ago, when “The Mummy Returns” was released to theaters, and managed to reel in a staggering $68 million at the box office, the most ever for a non-holiday opening weekend. While the critics blasted it, just like its predecessor, as much as 90 percent of moviegoers polled during the first three days of the movie’s release gave the film positive marks. But was the wide turnout spurred by the fact that the movie was a sequel to a big 1999 hit, or by the fact that the summer’s blockbuster schedule was getting off to an early start? It’s hard to say. While many enjoyed the first picture and were ready to embrace a second, most are obviously in gear for some traditional summer thrills, especially since, judging from the poor turnout of earlier this year, little of that has so far been offered.

That theory will be better tested with the many similar releases that are steadily approaching release. The first of these big films is the screen adaptation of Eidos Interactive’s successful game franchise “Tomb Raider,” starring Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft, a treasure-seeking bombshell who comes against numerous obstacles in her search for ancient artifacts. Its release will soon be trailed by “Doctor Dolittle 2,” which surprised many by being made in the first place, and “Scary Movie 2,” an obligatory follow-up to last year’s gross-out spoof of horror flicks. Bigger and much more anticipated films will follow in both July and August, consisting of “Jurassic Park III,” “American Pie 2,” “Rush Hour 2,” and even a remake of the classic “Planet Of The Apes.” Movies like these will undoubtedly see healthy opening weekends, but their immediate success will be tested by the longevity of their theatrical runs. In the recent past, most sequels, remakes and adaptations have drawn in big bucks quickly and then died out even faster than expected.

Studios have always shared the same intent when it comes to summer motion pictures—make money and give moviegoers lots of big and loud visual thrills—and indeed, it’s easy to see why they would choose to unleash so many familiar endeavors on us during this season. However, the madness doesn’t stop there; in fact, the multiple sequel/remake releases of summer are actually only a small amount compared to the several others that are either currently in planning stages or awaiting release. Many, for example are already aware that “The Matrix” has two sequels in production, and George Lucas is currently very busy at putting the finishing touches on his fifth installment of the “Star Wars” saga, with one more to follow.

Hollywood is suggesting that they have either run out of fresh ideas, or just don’t care anymore. In any case, it’s a wonder that anyone wants to try too hard to revisit so many familiar places in cinema. Why, exactly? Because on the whole, sequels and/or remakes just aren’t as successful as either their predecessors or other movies out the. Take “Hannibal” for instance; it was a huge success during its opening weekend, but lost a good percentage of its turnout by the second weekend, and few (if any) could argue that it was better than “The Silence Of The Lambs.” Hollywood’s last sequel kick was in 1997, when “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” “Batman & Robin,” and “Speed 2: Cruise Control” were all released back-to-back, and each, despite very healthy openings, dropped like flies and disappeared from the theaters without a trace. Their failures knocked some sense back into the heads of producers, writers and directors, and for a good long while afterwards, sequels and/or remakes seemed to be far in between. A repeat in these kinds of failures may be necessary for filmmakers to move on to undiscovered territory.

In the meantime, at least, there is a possibility for light at the end of the tunnel. Steven Spielberg, a pioneer in film directing and one of the most unique of his kind, will be releasing his latest endeavor, the much-anticipated “A.I.,” at the end of June. Also following suit is “Moulin Rouge,” a richly textured musical starring Nicole Kidman that, not surprisingly, has a soundtrack already topping the charts. And though Disney hasn’t exactly been the most creative when it comes to animated blockbusters, their latest offering, the kinetic and PG-rated “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” will be released on June 15 following already-positive word-of-mouth from Hollywood insiders. Bets like these can easily be seen as simple solutions for those who are fed up with all the recent retreads and lack of inspiration.

Written by DAVID KEYES

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