Sizzling Marathon Summer Blockbusters Rule the Multiplex

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Movie Reviews,   From Issue 639   By: Mark Leffler

14th June, 2007     0

Siskel and Ebert used to have a rule of thumb regarding the length of movies: if it's good it can't be too long. It it's bad, it can't be short enough.

That maxim should have been heeded by some of the directors responsible for the spate of marathon summer blockbusters that have been ruling the multiplexes since Memorial Day.

First there was Grindhouse, the exploitation homage from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, which clocks in at about three hours.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the third movie in the series starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly debuted worldwide with a running time of over three hours. Meanwhile, Spiderman 3 runs just under two and a half hours. Unfortunately it feels longer.

What's up with Hollywood anyway?

Summer movies are supposed to be targeted at that most coveted of demographics, the teen market. Teens are notorious for having short attention spans. So why are movie directors force feeding them these marathon movies?

Call it the Peter Jackson effect. After the success of the Lord of the Rings franchise (and these are not so much movies as marketing franchises) it was evident that other movie series could reap some of the massive teen coin that George Lucas mined with the Star Wars series.

Watching the spectacle that is Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, one wonders if a little judicious editing could have yielded an excellent two-hour movie rather than a three-hour plus orgy of special effects and recycled plotlines.

The same can be said of Spiderman 3. There is little to fault in the execution. They're just too damned long.

Could it be that with all the accompanying marketing blitz that promotes the tie-in video game, fast food toys, lunch boxes, blankets, T-shirts, etcŠ. the producers are worried kids will feel cheated with a ninety minute movie.

Director Sam Raimi, who earned his stripes directing the Evil Dead series, delivered two first rate flicks with Spiderman and Spiderman 2, finding just the right balance between the story of Peter Parker and the web-slinging adventures of his alter ego, Spiderman. Toby Maguire and Kirsten Dunst delivered solid performances as Peter and his girlfriend Mary Jane Watson.
But in Spiderman 3 Raimi serves up a trio of less than thrilling villains (Thomas Hayden Church as Sandman, James Franco as The Green Goblin, and That 70's Show's Topher Grace as Venom) and a too-long-by-half movie that like Pirates 3 should have been edited down to a great two-hour movie.

In each movie the special effects are stunning and state of the art, but they still go on too long.

Pirates offers up a spectacular climactic battle but it's undermined by a convoluted plot. Spiderman 3's effects are breathtaking, but not a significant improvement over the similar effects from the first two movies.

To some extent reviewing movies like Pirates of the Caribbean: AtWorld's End and Spiderman 3 is an exercise in futility. These franchises are critic-proof. If you have one or more children in the house, you will fork over the cash for them to see these movies. The same thing will happen when Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Transformers hit the screens later this summer.
And this says something interesting about the current state of the entertainment business.

The accountants at Disney will be working overtime to tally up the take from all the pirate booty marketed by the boys in the sales department. Stan Lee and Marvel comics may have hit a gold mine with franchises like X-Men and Spiderman but no one can touch Disney when it comes to marketing a franchise.

As of June 10th Pirates 3 had grossed over $750 million worldwide. And that's not counting the lunch boxes and action figures and posters and decoder rings. The final box-office will probably be over one and a half billion just in ticket sales. Adding in the merchandise should double that.

It's doubtful that anyone will walk away from either Pirates of the Caribbean or Spiderman feeling they didn't get their money's worth. To be fair, there is an awful lot of action and excitement up on the screen. But for pure movie-going fun, moviegoers should catch the comedy hit of the summer, Knocked Up.

Knocked Up is the product of the demented but fertile mind of Writer/Producer/Director Judd Apatow. Apatow toiled away in obscurity in television for a while, producing the critically acclaimed but low-rated TV comedy Geeks and Freaks. He finally his pay dirt with Anchorman, starring Will Ferrill and The 40 Year Old Virgin, featuring The Office's Steve Carrell.

With Knocked Up, Apatow returns to the familiar terrain of dumb but loveable lugs and the women who love and tolerate them. In a recent interview on PBS' The Tavis Smiley Show, Apatow explained that much of Knocked Up's comedy comes from his marriage. One of the premises of Knocked Up is that marriage is like Everybody Loves Raymond, without the jokes. Which is a pretty funny observation. Sad and true, but funny at the same time.

This time out the main schlub is played with Kosher Komedian Seth Rogan, hardly a leading man in the mold of Leonardo Dicaprio or Jude Law. Rogan plays Ben Stone, a twenty-something slacker who lives with four slacker buddies who are working on a website that will detail the exact moment in time at which nude scenes with famous actresses occur in films. Alison (Grey's Anatomy's Katherine Heigl) is a reporter for E! Network who hooks up with Ben after a night of drinking. One thing leads to a mother and the movie is about two people trying to decide if they can form a life together based on a random hookup and unplanned pregnancy.

One of the funnier moments in the film is when Ben talks with his father about his anxieties about parenthood. His father, played with dry aplomb by Harold Ramis, master of the wry smirk, tells him that becoming a father was the greatest thing he ever did.

Ben is stunned. When his father repeats the statement, Ben replies, "Now I just feel sorry for you." Like Homer Simpson says "It's funny because it's true."

Knocked Up is a ROTFLMAO comedy that works for today's teens (humor based on stoners and internet porn) but doesn't insult the intelligence of older viewers. Apatow has found a niche making romantic comedies that work for both men and women. Knocked Up has much of the charm of an underappreciated John Hughes movie, She's Having a Baby, from 1986.

Apatow could be the Frank Capra or John Hughes of his generation.

May he make many many more movies in the coming years.

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