The Heat Is Off

Labor Day marks the end of the Summer Blockbuster Season, that magical time of year when the nation’s multiplexes are stuffed with explosions, comic book characters, and Will Smith saying, “Aw, HELL no!” But before Hollywood puts away its summer toys and starts getting serious for autumn, let’s recall the vivid sights and pungent, bat-like smells that overwhelmed our senses during this most recent Summer Blockbuster Season.

Inhuman, mechanical creatures were at the center of many of this summer’s films — the robot in “WALL-E,” the cars in “Speed Racer,” Kim Cattrall in “Sex and the City” — but the most popular was “Iron Man,” which told the inspiring story of an alcoholic millionaire playboy who reforms himself, and after he reforms himself, he gets the lead role in the movie “Iron Man,” which is about a dude who makes weapons.

“Speed Racer” was a big-budget, live-action adaptation of the cheesy 1960s cartoon series, starring Emile Hirsch as the titular race car driver and Christina Ricci as the large-foreheaded woman who loves him. The film was enthusiastically welcomed by everyone in America who was interested in seeing a big-budget, live-action adaptation of “Speed Racer,” but after those 12 people saw it, there was no audience left.

Snide Remarks summer wrap-up columns:
June 2001
August 2001

There was plenty of audience for “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” though, in which everyone’s favorite archeologist/grumpy old man grapples with Russians, aliens, and punk kids who won’t get off his lawn. Indiana’s father does not appear in the film because somehow, between “The Last Crusade” and now, Harrison Ford actually became older than Sean Connery. “Crystal Skull” was criticized by many for being implausible, especially considering how true-to-life the previous Indiana Jones films had been. George Lucas was said to be so bothered by these allegations that he leapt from a plane in a life raft that landed him safely on the slope of a snowy mountain, which he sledded down until the still-inflated raft brought him to a raging river, which he floated on to safety without incident, whereupon he tore a man’s heart out of his chest without killing him in a giant underground cavern populated by child slaves.

Speaking of the excavation of ancient artifacts, “Sex and the City” stumbled drunkenly into theaters at the end of May, answering the pleas of countless fans who had wondered, ever since the series left HBO four years ago, whether their favorite Prada-clad fornicators were still as shallow as before. Thankfully, the answer was yes, and then some. While films like “Journey to the Center of the Earth” made use of three-dimensional photography, “Sex and the City” broke new ground by appearing in only one dimension (horizontal, if you get my drift).

There was a great deal of fighting in the multiplexes this summer, too — and I’m not just talking about the beating my wallet took at the concession stand! (Am I right, folks?!) “Kung Fu Panda” taught kids the inspiring lesson that if you believe in yourself and work sort of hard, you can eventually beat the crap out of your enemies. “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” shined a satiric light on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and urged everyone involved to stop fighting and start focusing on the real enemy, Rob Schneider. And what about the horrifying, monstrous hell-beasts fighting in the streets of New York? There was Hellboy vs. a giant tree, the Incredible Hulk vs. Abomination, and Carrie Bradshaw vs. Mr. Big, each battle more devastating and horse-faced than the last.

Don’t think the summer was all violence and mayhem, though. We had plenty of lighthearted fun, too! For example, “The Dark Knight” featured a character called the Joker who performs magic tricks at parties! Whee! As you know, this film came with a lot of somber behind-the-scenes baggage involving one of the cast members — Christian Bale, who had a dreadful sore throat in all of his Batman scenes and desperately needed a lozenge. None could be procured, though, because the film’s budget had already been spent on viral marketing ploys like hidden websites and secret online games, all of which helped draw attention to this small, unassuming movie that might have otherwise slipped through the cracks.

Speaking of “jokers,” beloved funnymen Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy both released comedies this summer. Tragically, neither film was funnier than M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Happening,” which attempted to make us scared of things like trees and wind. Watch for Shyamalan’s next movie, in which the monster will be a discarded napkin (until the last five minutes, that is, when we find out the napkin was actually recycled years ago and we’ve been watching its ghost).

No summer would be complete without an upbeat musical, and “Mamma Mia!” filled the technical requirements of that need with a lively story about an ex-hippie who got pregnant during her wild days and had a daughter, who is now only 20 despite the hippie movement having been 40 years ago. (Maybe she was in utero for 240 months instead of the usual nine?) Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, and Pierce Brosnan were among the film’s stars, and they warbled the songs of ABBA with the voices of angels, except for Brosnan, who warbled them with the voice of Sanjaya.

There was a new “Star Wars” movie, too! Remember when that used to be a big deal?

Speaking of long-played-out franchises that produced sequels that no one wanted that weren’t very good and that didn’t have Indiana Jones in them, “The X-Files” and “The Mummy” both reappeared in theaters this summer after lengthy absences during which audiences managed to get along just fine without them, thank you very much. In “The X-Files: I Want to Believe,” Mulder and Scully finally solved, once and for all, the mystery of whether the TV show’s diehard fans had stopped being interested. (Spoiler: They had.) In “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” Brendan Fraser bickered with his son, who is approximately his same age, over whether the film actually contained any mummies, tombs, dragons, or emperors. (Spoiler: tombs and emperors, yes; dragons, only for a minute; mummies, no.)

But summer is over now. The raucous R-rated comedies about marijuana addicts have been moved to the clearance rack, freeing up shelf space for the fall’s onslaught of serious, weighty films about historical figures and people with illnesses. Will Ferrell has been sent to his hibernating chamber, and Tommy Lee Jones is being thawed. We’ll see you when the next Summer Blockbuster Season begins, sometime next February!