It’s the summer movie season. I used to get so excited about this.
There was a time when I really cared about the movies that came out during the summer, thumbing my nose at the pretentious claptrap Hollywood released at Christmas to lure shiny gold statues and show how important it all was. I’d get there first, stand on line, sit in the center of the center row, hunker down with a box of Milk Duds and let it all wash all over me. Even the slide show before the movie (which wasn’t anywhere near as elaborate as the “pre-show” they do today) got me right where I lived. It was my time of year, and I was going to spend it all in a dark room with strangers.
Maybe I’m indifferent to the summer movie fare offered these days because I’m older now, but I don’t think so. I still have a fine appreciation for things that are well-made nonsense. I still love stupid movies, when they’re intelligent stupid movies. I think the last honest-to-goodness comedy I saw in a theatre of my own volition (when my son, in particular, wasn’t making the programming choice for the day) was Galaxy Quest, a Tim Allen movie about a bunch of actors who save the, well, galaxy. I thought it was well written, well directed and well acted, and I wish I’d relished the experience, because it hasn’t been duplicated since. That was in 1999.
I think the problem is that while technology has undeniably improved in the moviemaking business, storytelling has fallen by the wayside. Most “action” scenes are edited to the attention span of a hummingbird on Ritalin, and half the time, you can’t tell what’s going on, but you’ve got to figure it’s really exciting. The writing (you wondered when I’d talk about writing, didn’t you?)? Well, that editing really is impressive, isn’t it?
So far this summer, I have attended, semi-willingly, three stupid popcorn movies, the kind that used to get my heart pumping weeks in advance. The first, Mission: Impossible 3 (and I’m not the first to tell you to beware movies whose last name is “3”) was a nifty little entertainment that shouted and sweated as if it were the opening bell in a new Renaissance of action. It wasn’t. It was Tom Cruise, frothing at the mouth (which is what we’re used to with Tom these days, alas) about how much in love with some woman or another he was, and how he’d do anything to save her. It’s been a number of years, I know, but wasn’t that what Mission: Impossible 2 was about? What happened to THAT woman?
Then, of course, came The Da Vinci Code, less a movie than an obligation. As the last person on the planet who hasn’t read the novel on which the movie was based, I can’t compare the two, but Tom Hanks is certainly a good actor, and Ian McKellen (sorry: Sir Ian McKellen), with his two canes, has such a good time there are pieces of scenery caught between his teeth by the end of the film, but didn’t it all sort of add up to not much? Couldn’t most of the big “surprises” be seen a mile away, wearing irridescent paint and waving their arms?
There is a certain hazard to being a mystery writer who attends action movies or reads mystery novels. We think like mystery writers while we’re watching the movie, and we often figure out the plot ahead of “civilians.” I nudged my wife 20 minutes into The Sixth Sense to ask if she’d caught on yet. She started talking to me again a couple of weeks later.
We have a story sense, because if we didn’t, we’d be in the plumbing and heating business, and actually making a living. So, when a story isn’t executed so well that we’re distracted from the mechanics of the writing, well, our story muscles are exercised. Don’t hate us because we can see the plot twists coming.
Yesterday, both the kids were determined to see X-Men: The Final Stand (whose last name was “3” before Ellis Island, I’m guessing), which despite the critical lambasting it has taken wasn’t all that bad. It actually includes a villain whose point of view is defensible, even if his tactics are not, and he’s played by Ian McKellen (pardon me: Sir Ian McKellen) in a very silly hat. Again, not an awful movie, but like each of the first two in the series, the details of this one will have entirely left my memory within a week of having seen it.
A large number of movies will open this summer. I’m sort of interested in seeing Superman Returns, as an old fan of the flying guy. But do I have to go the first weekend it’s open? Nah. I can wait. Others that I would have stood on line for in years past will have to wait until they’re available on Netflix. I’m not spending that $12.95 a month for nothing, you know.
I don’t even eat Milk Duds anymore. They helped make me the man I am today, particularly around the middle.
My daughter, however, is counting the days until the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie. She can barely wait. And her enthusiasm, finally, is something that I look forward to seeing.