By Marc Glassman
For more than thirty years, since Jaws transfixed crowds in 1975, summer blockbusters have become a staple in the film industry. Before the nights turn chilly and filmgoers start to hanker for more adult fare, it’s time to turn our thoughts to the movies that pleased audiences this past season.
2007 will be remembered as the summer of the trilogies. The Pirates of the Caribbean, a surprise hit several years ago, wrapped up with the appropriately titled At World’s End. A highlight—perhaps the only one—was supplied by Rolling Stones legend Keith Richards playing pirate Johnny Depp’s dad; famously, Depp had patterned his performance on the iconic guitarist’s foppish, decadent persona. Ocean’s Thirteen also felt like a franchise playing out its last bauble, or, more appropriately, poker chip. Just as Depp’s diffident pirate felt used up, so did George Clooney, Brad Pitt and their pals once again recreating the cool moves invented by Frank Sinatra’s Clan back in the Swingin’ Fifties and Sixties. The best entertainment in this Ocean finale was supplied by an over-the-top Al Pacino as a Vegas shark. In comparison, The Bourne Ultimatum came up trumps. Despite the revelation of Bourne’s identity in the film’s concluding moments, the excitement surrounding Matt Damon’s spy-on-the-run hasn’t wound down. Be prepared for more Bournes in the future.
Harry Potter has moved way past trilogy status. The boy wizard, his pals Hermione and Ron, the dark villain Voldemort, the magical school of Hogwarts with its many eccentric teachers and, of course, the Muggles, have become part of the public imagination. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth movie, was a huge hit; one of the many pleasures in the film was the set of flashbacks that gave context to the stories while reminding viewers that the casting of Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Emma Watson as Hermione and Rupert Grint as Ron was absolutely brilliant. So, too, was the addition of Imelda Staunton to an ensemble that already reads like a who’s who of British drama: Michael Gambon, David Thewlis, Julie Walters, Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman and Ralph Fiennes. The sixth Potter movie, the Half-Blood Prince, begins shooting this fall.
Where fantasy goes, animation follows. This season saw another entry in the Shrek franchise; like many live-action films, it was the third, but hardly the last. Though the story of the lovable ogre has long since moved past its best due date, Shrek continues to charm audiences. William Steig, Shrek’s creator, may be rolling over in his grave, witnessing the dumbing down of the character, but his heirs must be happy.
In fact, it was a great summer for animation. The Simpsons Movie came out to great acclaim from critics and crowds alike. Tackling ecology and conspiracy theories, the film had some satirical bite but producers Brooks and Groening were canny enough to retain the look and feel of the beloved TV show. The result, predictably, was a run-away hit. Another success was scored by the Pixar/Disney release Ratatouille. The tale of a rat who becomes a great chef in Paris is truly bizarre but somehow Brad Bird and a host of great animators made the story more than palatable to a mainstream audience. Finally, for lovers of truly imaginative, sci-fi Japanese animé, the season featured a critical success, Paprika. Hopefully, more people will see this great film on DVD.
The summer had several surprise hits. The unheralded Knocked Up, an outlandish comedy about pregnancy and a misaligned relationship, turned out to be charming. Sicko, Michael Moore’s denunciation of the American health care system defied critical reproach and became a huge box office success—for a documentary. And Hairspray, a baby-boom musical that looked like it could flop, became successful with critics and the public, all of whom embraced John Travolta’s astonishing turn as a rotund, middle-aged Baltimore matron.
All in all, summer 2007 was a good season. Now on to something completely different: The Toronto International Film Festival.