Summer 2010: The Summer of No Satisfaction
As a dedicated movie enthusiast, heading to the cinema each week is the equivalent of opening Christmas gifts to a small child. I have giddy excitement over movies I anticipate and will even suffer steadfastly through films I’m certain will be awful. With action and adventure pictures being my preferred genres to view on the big screen, the summer movie season tends to be my absolute favorite.
Moviegoers agree, with summer being the time when studios unveil their grandest tentpoles to huge box-office returns. Larger-than-life pictures roll out in May catching fire over Memorial Day weekend before puttering out after the first weekend or two in August. It’s a tried and true tradition year after year ... until 2009.
In what many film fans puzzled over and lamented, the summer of 2009 was described by one movie blog as the “Summer of Suck.” It was a season full of disappointments. Recall this is the summer that brought you “Wolverine,” “Indiana Jones,” Terminator Salvation, “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” films. The list doesn’t look bad on paper, but the finished products were less than dazzling.
Recall that famous quote, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I suppose this phrase doesn’t get around much in Hollywood because this summer has suffered the same snooze-inducing and blood-boiling goofs of last year. Rather than correct wrongs, studios followed a similar formula yet managed to produce an even worse lineup of films. This summer brought us such near tragedies as Robin Hood, Shrek Forever After, Jonah Hex, The Last Airbender, Grown Ups, and sadly, Iron Man 2.
Before I get clobbered here let me clarify. There were only a few bright spots this summer and Iron Man 2 can be considered one of them, however it wasn’t half the movie many people expected -- it fell below expectations. And if you really give that list a second gander, compared to 2009 there wasn’t much to anticipate at all.
In reflecting on the trends I’m surprised at the number of avoidable mistakes made. In some instances, execs simply needed to acknowledge the data they had and call it a loss. Killers, for instance, was known to be a dud before it hit the big screen yet it was given a respectable June release in hopes of a cash recovery. Another offender was Jonah Hex, a movie viciously maligned from the release of the first trailer.
But Jonah Hex suffered from another stigma and I don’t mean the disfigured face. What is turning out to ring true more often than not is niche fanboy fair does not translate to general audiences. In recent weeks, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World debuted with an embarrassing whisper. Hollywood has obviously made the mistake thinking that because a film like 300 or Iron Man worked, that every little graphic novel or comic book hero could headline his own show. This sort of movie needs to be made, it just doesn’t belong in a summer meant for huge films with broad appeal.
An even more egregious error was the failure at counterprogramming or offering multiple options. It seemed that each week offered middling movies – films that are neither good nor bad- rather than one or more big films. Not so in 2005 when a little picture you may have forgotten called Batman Begins went up against three contenders including a very viable Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The same summer War of the Worlds opened one day before Fantastic Four.
Batman could handle competition, why not Iron Man 2? And even when counterprogramming was offered it was romantic comedies or kids movies, in contrast to the typical general comedies and horror films. In 2008, Step Brothers offset “The X-Files” and The Incredible Hulk countered The Happening. In some cases this year's pictures were far too similar in genre to really be counterprogramming in the first place such as the placement of Grown Ups, a family comedy, and Knight and Day, a romantic comedy, on the same weekend.
And there was a glut of kids’ films that could make even a 10-year-old wretch. I know everyone loves a Pixar presentation but that is not an excuse to have an animated or family friendly picture every other weekend. Plenty of grown folks like me go to the movies to see heroes, explosions, alien invasions and the like. So Ramona and Beezus, “Cats & Dogs 2,” and Nanny McPhee Returns wore thin. Jeers to a summer only memorable for its stench.
Perhaps I’m being too hard on Tinseltown. It occurred to me that perhaps my expectations had been tainted, spoiled rather. Just a few years ago Hollywood introduced superhero movies and they completely and utterly blew previous adventures away visually. The storylines were relatable to the average American who hasn’t heard of Spider-man or Batman. This also marked the plummeting appeal of the A-list star. Moviegoers began to clamor around stories, rather than celebrities.
Or perhaps it’s the economy that has me so jaded. Everything in the world is gloomier with less money in your wallet and I simply want more bang for my last buck. Movies could be making less cash at the box office due to the population being choosier about what they spend outside the home. Or maybe this was all poor planning by the studios and time will heal.
The upcoming year ought to put a smile on any film fanatic’s face. The period launches with Thor at the beginning of May. The entire season hosts the fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean,” The Hangover 2, X-Men: First Class, and Green Lantern. Cars 2: Grand Prix will go head to head with Rise of the Apes. The “Transformers” along with the “Harry Potter” franchise will culminate by end of July. Put the past behind you and cross your fingers for a bright future.