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Drums Please!

by Kevin J Johnson

It’s summertime, folks! Barbecues, theme parks, fireworks, and picnics: what do all of these have in common? None of them are movies, the American pastime our culture has bequeathed to the global masses. The studios pull out all the stops this time of year, and this summer has the potential to be one of the best cinematically in recent memory. Arguably, we’ve already begun with this spring’s release of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, extending a trend that includes 300, THE HUNGER GAMES and FAST FIVE.

What follows is a general overview of Summer 2014, and what tropes, traditions and tactics we can expect out of Hollywood and Indieville. I present this to you, dear reader, in the spirit of a certain box office champion of the summer. And here we go!

“Here it is, the groove slightly transformed”

Remakes, reboots and adaptations have been a staple of Hollywood since forever, though it was Nolan’s BATMAN BEGINS that showed studios how to reinvigorate a stale franchise. Now we have GODZILLA (5/16, WB), TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (8/8, Paramount) and MALEFICENT (5/30, Disney’s remake of Sleeping Beauty) all getting a do-over with the best that today’s visual effects and social marketing have to offer.

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We also have three rebooted franchises getting sequels with THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (5/2, Sony), 22 JUMP STREET (6/13, Sony), and DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (7/11, Fox). I can’t forget about HERCULES (7/25, Paramount), which continues the tried and true strategy of taking a public domain character (Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, Dracula) and giving them a big-budget reimagining. Plus, it has Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, so that’s an instant win (let’s hope).

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All of these films have the potential to be crowd pleasers, although NINJA TURTLES strikes me as a money grab, pure and simple. Gareth Edwards, whose MONSTERS (2010) was a fantastic debut, flat out loves Godzilla as does Thomas Tull, CEO of Legendary Pictures who financed the production with Toho Company’s blessing. You can see the dedication to the aesthetics of the classic in the trailers and promo materials. NINJA TURTLES on the other hand seems more about using cutting-edge VFX for VFX’s sake, but I could be wrong.

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Films cost more than ever, and the risks are high. Should any of these films falter, a production company could fold, never to return. Studios miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars in unsold merchandise and ancillary revenues. Prints and advertising (P&A) can outweigh the production budgets, so taking a chance on an original concept is not something today’s Hollywood does without having an auteur (Nolan) or pre-branding (Marvel) of some sort. Films have to be pre-sold more than ever, so we’ll be seeing more remakes and reboots.

That being said, studios are relearning a hard lesson: make good movies. No amount of brand recognition can make up for a shoddy script, and Facebook and Twitter are better off as friends rather than foes. My money’s on GODZILLA to be the biggest of this bunch, but I have an overall good vibe about the rest of these. Okay, maybe not the Turtles flick.

Tomorrow: summer’s indie films…

All this week KJ will be playing guardian of the summer movie galaxy, come back tomorrow for part 2 where he’ll have picks for all the indie film fans out there…