With year-round block­busters, sum­mer­time fades

The Washington Times Daily - - LIFE - BY JAKE COYLE

NEW YORK | Does the summer movie sea­son still ex­ist?

It was once an air-con­di­tioned oa­sis that drew lines around the block of au­di­ences ea­ger for the roller-coaster ride of “In­di­ana Jones,” the shark bite of “Jaws” and the buzz of a lightsaber.

But in a time where the meg­amovie busi­ness is year-round, that once-hal­lowed sea­son of moviego­ing — maybe the quin­tes­sen­tial big-screen, pop­corn-eat­ing experience — no longer means the same thing.

The summer block­buster didn’t wilt away. It grew too big to con­tent it­self just with May through Au­gust. Stu­dios, see­ing open real es­tate else­where on the calendar, have in re­cent years be­gun spread­ing out their spec­ta­cles through­out the year. Like a King Kong that broke its chains, the summer movie now lum­bers down ev­ery av­enue. It’s block­buster gentrification; there’s a Godzilla on ev­ery block.

This year al­ready has seen one $1 bil­lion movie (“Beauty and the Beast”), and “Fate of the Fu­ri­ous” isn’t far be­hind. Oth­ers await the cool, vaguely more “se­ri­ous” breezes of fall, in­clud­ing “Thor: Rag­narok,” “Justice League” and “Blade Run­ner 2049.” Even “Star Wars,” as if saying good­bye to the kid­die ta­ble, has fled summer and taken up res­i­dence in De­cem­ber.

Notwith­stand­ing some very an­tic­i­pated movies, that’s left a summer movie sea­son with­out the same sunny glow it once had.

“What’s miss­ing this summer is some­thing out of left field that blows people away,” said Jeff Bock, se­nior box-of­fice an­a­lyst for Ex­hibitor Re­la­tions. “We haven’t had that for a few sum­mers, to be hon­est — that true block­buster that comes out of nowhere. What we get is pretty known com­modi­ties and huge fran­chises.”

For a great many of the summer’s big­gest movies — “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2,” “Alien: Covenant,” the fifth in­stall­ments in the “Pi­rates of the Caribbean” and “Trans­form­ers” fran­chises, “Won­der Woman,” “Cars 3,” “De­spi­ca­ble Me 3,” “Spi­der-Man: Home­com­ing” — the main ob­jec­tive will be to sat­isfy fans of the fran­chises. Oth­ers are hop­ing for some­thing fresher. Edgar Wright, the Bri­tish writer-di­rec­tor of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” is a bat­tlescarred vet­eran of that machine, hav­ing spent years writ­ing and de­vel­op­ing Marvel’s “Ant-Man” be­fore de­part­ing it over cre­ative dif­fer­ences. This summer, he re­turns with “Baby Driver” (June 28), his “mu­si­cal car chase movie” about a fresh-faced get­away driver who ob­ses­sively sound­tracks his high-speed chases.

“It ended up be­ing very for­tu­itous to come out of a heart­break­ing experience and jump straight into some­thing I had al­ready writ­ten, I re­ally wanted to do and was my dream movie,” said Mr. Wright. “Maybe the day af­ter I left the other movie, lit­er­ally one of the first emails I got from [pro­duc­tion com­pany] Work­ing Ti­tle just said ‘Baby Driver next?’”

Fol­low­ing its en­thu­si­as­tic re­cep­tion at SXSW in March, “Baby Driver” was pushed by Sony Pic­tures from Au­gust into the heart of the summer.

“It won’t be like any­thing else that’s out in the cin­ema at that time,” said Mr. Wright. “It’s up against the be­he­moths like ‘Trans­form­ers,’ ‘De­spi­ca­ble Me’ and ‘Spi­der-Man,’ but it’s not like any of those movies.”

Oth­ers are try­ing to re­ori­ent the summer movie. Christo­pher Nolan, who, given his suc­cesses, en­joys a rar­i­fied po­si­tion in Hol­ly­wood, will trot out his World War II tale “Dunkirk,” about the Bri­tish evac­u­a­tion in France. Largely shot with IMAX cam­eras, “Dunkirk” is the kind of grand his­tor­i­cal epic that rarely ap­pears in summer, let alone any other time of year.

Some films find rein­ven­tion in a shift in per­spec­tive. Sofia Cop­pola’s “The Beguiled” (June 30), adapted from the 1966 Civil War novel by Thomas P. Cul­li­nan, takes a more fe­male view of the story of a Union sol­dier who takes shel­ter in a Con­fed­er­ate girls board­ing school than the 1971 ver­sion star­ring Clint East­wood. Ku­mail Nan­jiani’s “The Big Sick” (June 23) is a funny and ten­der rom-com, only told with more re­al­ism than usual in the genre and a less fa­mil­iar cul­tural con­text. Mr. Nan­jiani plays a Pak­istani-Amer­i­can stand-up try­ing to evade an ar­ranged mar­riage, and is in­spired by Mr. Nan­jiani’s meet­ing of his wife and col­lab­o­ra­tor, Emily Gor­don.

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