Last night saw one of the few, if only, films I’ve genuinely excited or interested in seeing this summer: Taking Liberties. In itself, this is quite a sorry state of affairs. Normally June, July and August can be relied upon to provide at least one or two enjoyably entertaining blockbusters with maybe the same number of quirky, independent or serious movies. Instead I’m getting excited about a wry look at civil liberties in Britain, and Michael Moore isn’t anywhere to be seen.
Ok, so complaining about a summer release schedule is somewhat akin to commenting the gastropub is a touch overpriced. But for me so far, this year has been one of the worst in recent memory for the quality on offer. The only film I’ve seen I’ve really raved about has been Kevin Macdonald’s wonderful Last King of Scotland. The last film I’ve seen that I’ve truly enjoyed was Zodiac.
Neither may be your typical blockbuster, but there’s no real blockbuster to get truly excited about. Compare this to a few years ago when you had the likes of Pirates of the Caribbean and Shrek alongside films such as The Constant Gardner and Sin City, while throwing in flicks like the underrated Inside Man and enjoyable cult sci-fi Serenity. Flipping through this year’s schedules since January and up to the end of the summer, and there’s little to compare on the same level.
The love of the sequel in Hollywood’s another common moan but it seems in 2007 we’ve really reached saturation point. Spiderman 3, Pirates 3, Hostel 2, Fantastic Four 2: The Rise of the Silver Surfer, Harry Potter 5, Ocean’s Thirteen, Shrek 3, Die Hard 4. It’s pretty depressing viewing, with only Bruce Willis’ latest outing as John McClane giving any cause for optimistic, largely based on the hope that it won’t remotely try to take itself seriously in any way, shape or form.
Not that this deters the movie-going public. The Silver Surfer took a respectable 29 million in its opening weekend, while the Pirates juggernaut’s over 250 million and shows no sign of slowing down. And, frankly, as long as the bums on seats keep coming, its unlikely Hollywood will cut down on adding numbers. It’ll take two or three high profile crash and burns before they’ll counter the idea of trying something different. Indeed, in the current climate, you could give a five-year-old the director’s chair for Pirates 4 and it’d still do the business at the box office. The question is how long will the current climate last for?
Sooner or later the audience will cotton onto the fact they’ve either just watched a rerun or inferior version of the original or another, similar film. Harry Potter aside, as it actually has an already-written largely decent source, the rest of the sequels largely pale in comparison to the original. The first Pirates was a gem: a blockbuster that had humour, intelligence, action and a cracking storyline. Third time around some of the ingredients may still be there but is it really any better than the original? Whilst it can’t be classed as a turkey, the feeling isn’t the same as the one you get after the first one.
Spiderman 3’s budget of $350 million could have easily been used to fund 3 new blockbusters plus a quirky smaller movie. Would living without the poor third installment of the webslinger been such an ordeal, especially if we were introduced to a fresh set of characters to fall in love with?
This isn’t dismissing all sequels out of hand. Alien did the right thing by bringing in the gung-ho James Cameron after Ridley Scott’s cool, terrifying movie, Cameron’s Terminator 2 is probably up there with the greatest sequels of all time and then there’s the daddy of all second visits: The Godfather part 2. But generally once a franchise starts motoring past its second installment, the ideas start to dry up and we’re left with a sub-standard cut and paste of previous plots that usually don’t make for a terrible move, just a distinctly average one (examples in case: Terminator 3, the Godfather part 3. I’m probably one of the few who actually liked Alien 3).
But there is a bit of hope on the horizon, both sequel-wise and on a more general level. The 3rd Jason Bourne film may just buck the average-threequel trend and Christopher Nolan’s second Batman film, The Dark Knight, could well be even better than Batman Begins. Away from the sequels, we’ll have to wait until next year in the UK for the Coen Brothers’ new offering, No Country for Old Men and by all accounts its closer to Blood Simple than it is to Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, which is reason to get excited indeed.
But until that time, go see Taking Liberties, then hibernate for the rest of the summer will all the DVDs you said you’d watch but haven’t quite got time to see. And if you are poking your head round the cinema door, Bergman’s Seventh Seal is re-released on July 20th, which is well worth anyone’s hard earned cash.