After the Fact (or How I Spent My Summer at the Movies)

By my count, some 60 films were released into Triangle theaters be-
tween mid-May and Labor Day.  Call it the Summer of Spew(tm), where 
enough blockbusters for a year were crammed into a single quarter.  
Blink and the film that *you* wanted to see would be somewhere else, 
moved to a different theater, or, even, a different city.  The multi-
plexes were packed, which was murder if you wanted to see a film on 
your favorite screen.  ("Hi, are you showing JUDGE DREDD in THX?"  
"Do you really care, Sir?")

The stuffed schedule sent studios scrambling.  Producers rushed to 
finish films like DIE HARD and WATERWORLD and it showed in a some-
times sloppy product.  Advertisements were everywhere.  I don't know 
which was worse:  seeing the same trailers in theaters, or watching 
the same fast-food commercials on television.  The audience ate it up 
in droves, of course.  Lines were long, houses were packed, and the 
final figures would rival last year's boffo box-office.

The season started early (May 12) with the release of Tony Scott's 
CRIMSON TIDE, a tense thriller that turned out to be *far* more even-
keeled than almost anything that followed.  One week later, Memorial 
Day brought out the big guns:  John McTeirnan's dynamite DIE HARD 
WITH A VENGEANCE and Mel Gibson's bold BRAVEHEART.  Both needed 
editing, sure, but they were solid counterpoints to such unexciting 

June was bustin' out all over.  Clint Eastwood's BRIDGES OF MADISON 
COUNTY was surprisingly touching, while JOHNNY MNEMONIC passed like 
a bad vowel movement.  CONGO was bongo, but *still* managed to pull a 
record opening thanks to Taco Bell.  The hyper, homoerotic BATMAN 
FOREVER was the in-joke of the season and one of *my* favorites.  No 
duh.  Disney's POCAHONTAS was a snooze, as was the next week's MIGHTY 
(IL POSTINO) was quaint, but BELLE DU JOUR was dated.  Ron Howard's 
APOLLO 13 was a blast, while Danny Cannon's JUDGE DREDD was [choose 
one: blasted/dreadful/hardly Sly].

The storm eased a bit in July, with a host of underwhelming releases 
that included the cliche-ridden SPECIES, the dreary, non-musical 
FIRST KNIGHT, and the silly-but-not-arrestingly-funny NINE MONTHS.  
I also coughed on SMOKE, which others found far more addictive.  One 
entry was so bad that it was good:  the delightfully awful UNDER 
SIEGE II.  (Stallone could take a cue or two from Seagal.)  Two good 
finds were Amy Heckerling's clued-in CLUELESS-- a Jane Austen 
adaptation, no less!-- and Frank Oz's quite polite INDIAN IN THE 
CUPBOARD.  The largest hype machine, WATERWORLD, was actually okay.  
Kevin and Kevin pulled off some cool action sequences amid a 
production design to die-- or bathe-- for.
After WATERWORLD-- which, in all fairness, should've stayed in the 
editing room another month-- the summer season calmed down con-
siderably.  August audiences didn't notice the difference, though, 
and they made hits out of such dreck as SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT, 
MORTAL KOMBAT, and DANGEROUS MINDS.  The remaining weeks of the 
season were not without their rewards.  August + Labor Day saw the 
arrival of several fine films from "the fringe."  They starred pigs 
(BABE), kids (KIDS), Catholic brothers (THE BROTHERS MCMULLEN), big 
Mexicans (DESPERADO), free-associating fashion designers (UNZIPPED), 
and a bunch of THE USUAL SUSPECTS.

And so it ended with a whimper.  No FUGITIVE to chase grosses into 
the fall; no "300" club candidates ala FORREST GUMP or THE LION KING; 
and, most distressingly, no obvious Best Picture candidates.  When do 
we get to see some *good* movies?  Spring was lousy and Summer was 
the same, only more.  Too much of too little.  In fact, the most 
successful film of the season, BATMAN FOREVER, was more marketing 
than movie.  With BATMAN 4 already on the boards-- and the promise of 
yet another self-perpetuating pop-culture event in 1997-- moviegoers 
may never need an attention span again.

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