Been there, done that: get ready for a summer of movie sequels

Jonathan Baer

Amid an unsteady economy, a possible NFL lockout, and vacations threatened by volatile gas prices, one industry remains strong: the movies.

Hollywood is hard at work approaching one of its prime seasons. As a result, the next couple of months will be chock full of big budget spectacles, familiar characters, and a movie lineup aimed at making the summer of 2011 the highest grossing summer Hollywood has ever seen.

“(The 2011 summer movie line-up) is going to be a bloodbath,” said actor and director Jon Favreau, in an interview last November with the Los Angeles Times. Favreau’s “Cowboys and Aliens,” a sci-fi cowboy flick, is Favreau’s follow-up to his two immensely popular “Iron Man” films, and is slated to release on July 29.

“There’s never been a summer like this next summer,” Favreau said.  “It’s going to be bloody [for the filmmakers and the studios].  As we were sticking thumb tacks in a calendar we realized that this is going to be looked back upon as Omaha Beach,” the beach in Normandy where the Allies landed on D-Day during World War II.

Directors, producers, and Hollywood executives should rightly fear the 2011 summer movie season. With 14 big-budget studio movies crammed into a 12-week period, chances are, many of the films will not recoup their large budgets.

At the same time, with the summer of 2011 filled with sequels, prequels, spin-offs and remakes, the upcoming movie lineup promises to entertain audiences across the nation.

“My theory is that Hollywood will continue to play it safe with swollen, optimistic movies about breasts and guns for a while,” said Louise Newlin (’13). “The tent-pole movies (that promise big returns) with an established fan base are a safer purchase in this economic turmoil.”

Making movies has always been a risky business. That is why, more than ever, the movie industry is depending on past successes to lure audiences to the theatres. With the summer loaded with sequels of recognizable moneymaking franchises, such as “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Harry Potter,” “Transformers” and “X-Men,” it is clear that the studios are trying to play it safe.

“I’m a firm believer in the idea of sequels and franchises,” said Ely Loomis (’13), a member of Urban’s Movie Club.  “Even if writers and a director [screw] up the story of a sequel, that doesn’t mean it still won’t be exhilarating. With a multi-million dollar budget for special effects, the movie will still be fun to watch.”

In the midst of the highly anticipated blockbusters and safe sequels, there is a common trend: lack of originality.

This summer, Hollywood is even bringing back franchises from nearly a decade ago.  Movies like “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” “Spy Kids 4” and “The Smurfs” are examples of studios trying to attract past generations of moviegoers by using familiar characters.

Hollywood is also trying to get fans from different mediums.  Highly anticipated movies such as “Green Lantern,” “Thor” and “Captain America” are all based on comic books, displaying the studios’ attempt to reach out to broader audiences through new characters.

Yet, even with a summer movie lineup crammed with superheroes, wizards, and pirates, hardcore cinema enthusiasts have more to look forward to than just explosions and mythical beings.

“The films I’m most looking forward to are probably ‘The Tree of Life’ and ‘Super 8,’” said Loomis.  “Of course I’m pumped up for all the super hero blockbusters, but the ones that I think will be some real quality film making will be these two.”

“The Tree of Life,” a film written and directed by Hollywood recluse Terrence Malick, is highly anticipated by critics. The film, which is set to wide release on Jul. 8th, won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival on May 24th.

The producers of “Super 8,” J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg, are two Hollywood luminaries. “It’s got conspiracy theories, a band of spunky children, and a terrifying invisible monster,” said Newlin.

In the midst of action packed sequels, prequels, spin-offs and remakes, these films might very well become the exception to the norm this summer.

“There will always be crappy movies clogging up playbills,” said Newlin. “They make it harder to get good movies green-lit, but I strongly believe that the best concepts will always find a way to get filmed.  They may not always make it to wide release, but people who are interested in seeing better quality movies can find them.”