Early lessons of the summer movie season

[7 June 2010]

By Barry Koltnow

The Orange County Register (MCT)

Everything in Hollywood is accelerated.

Fame comes faster. Wealth comes faster. Sex comes faster.

And, in some cases, failure comes faster.

Since most people learn through their mistakes, one can assume that learning also comes faster in Hollywood.

We’re just a few days into June, but it is not too soon to conclude that the month of May was an exceptionally good learning period for Hollywood.

Here are just some of the lessons learned in the first month of the all-important summer movie season.

1. “Iron Man 2”: By the time you read this, “Iron Man 2” will have made $600 million at the worldwide box office, so it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to make a case that this movie was terrible. It would be even more difficult to admit that I was wrong. But I believed back when it opened, and I still believe, that as a big-budget summer movie, the sequel paled in comparison with the original. To me, this movie represented everything that is bad about most sequels — all style and no substance. In an attempt to cash in on a genuine and unexpected phenomenon, filmmakers threw so many bells and whistles into the mix that they forgot what made the original so special. The unfortunate learning experience here is that my opinion does not impact the box office at all. I can’t really say that I was surprised by this revelation.

2. “Letters to Juliet”: Released as counter-programming to the big summer action flicks “Iron Man 2” and “Robin Hood,” this unashamed “chick flick” has done impressive box-office numbers (not summer blockbuster numbers, but certainly respectable), and generated some unexpectedly favorable reviews. Hollywood power brokers only care about money so they learned an important lesson: If you release it, women will come.

3. “Robin Hood”: Hollywood learned that just because a director (Ridley Scott) and an actor (Russell Crowe) captured a magic moment once before (“Gladiator”), it doesn’t mean they can do it again. I think people were wary of this movie from the start, and not just because Crowe is a surly human being who was miscast as a beloved movie character. The actor playing Robin Hood should be someone the public likes, not just respects. People also questioned the premise. Everybody loves the Robin Hood legend, so why would anyone want to pay to see a “prequel” about a legend before he becomes a legend? They should have called it “Robin of Locksley,” and let the movie-going public discover it quietly. Once you put the words “Robin Hood” into the title, there are heightened expectations.

4. “MacGruber”: I hate to brag, but I predicted in a column a week before the opening of this movie that nobody was interested in seeing yet another disappointing movie based on a lame “Saturday Night Live” sketch. Although gullible to a fault, the movie-going public will put its collective foot down at some point. The movie made $4 million in its opening weekend, which, in Hollywood terms, is a complete flop. But I’ve got to admit that I didn’t think it was going to make that much money. Apparently, some people are more gullible than others. Either that, or “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels has more relatives than I thought. Who else would pay to see this movie?

5. “Shrek Forever After”: Just when you thought that the “Shrek” creators had run out of sequel ideas, along comes a huge 3-D comeback, and movie executives learned that there is always more green to be made from green ogres. I don’t think you can underestimate the impact that other movies had on this movie’s success. Family fare has been scarce at the nation’s movie theaters this summer, and families flocked to see a familiar face, albeit a green face.

6. “Sex and the City 2”: The movie underperformed at the box office, and some of that could be attributed to the abundance of negative reviews that greeted the opening of this sequel. However, faithful followers of all things Carrie Bradshaw will be quick to point out that those horrid reviews were written mostly by male critics who just don’t get it. It was released on Memorial Day weekend to counter “Prince of Persia,” and it did its job.

7. “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”: Jake Gyllenhaal is very cute, but Harrison Ford was more than cute in the Indiana Jones film series. The lead actor has to be believable in the role, and Jake, while a very good actor, doesn’t possess the gravitas needed for an action hero. It might have helped if the story wasn’t so stupid as to turn off audiences. What we learned on this movie is that even super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer isn’t perfect. Bruckheimer learned that marketing a film with the tagline “From the producer of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ doesn’t guarantee anything.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/126631-early-lessons-of-the-summer-movie-season/