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Summer’s Here! Really!

Hollywood kicks off the summer season of movies tomorrow

Wolverine is the first of the X-Men Origins films.

20th Century Fox

Above: Wolverine is the first of the X-Men Origins films.

Audio

Aired 5/4/09

Film Chat discussion about the upcoming summer blockbusters.

Ever since "Star Wars" scored an unexpected hit with a May release back in 1977, Hollywood has been looking to starting the summer blockbuster season earlier and earlier each year. So while spring may still be in the air, Hollywood will officially kick off the summer movie season tomorrow with the release of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (opening May 1 throughout San Diego). "Wolverine" is the first of the a proposed multiple X-Men Origins films. "Wolverine" is the first of the big budget, Hollywood tentpole films to open and it looks to own the first weekend in May. The studios have staked out each of the valuable weekends in May with "Star Trek" opening May 8, "Angels and Demons" on May 15, and "Terminator Salvation" nabbing the highly prized and often lucrative Memorial Weekend on May 21. You might notice something similar about all these films -- they are all new additions to existing franchises and not a fresh idea in the bunch. They may offer new takes on the familiar but they are all add-ons to well-established franchises, and are best described as Hollywood products rather than films since that's how the studios view them. The content of the films seems almost inconsequential so long as there's merchandising (check out all the new toy tie-ins at the store for "Wolverine" and "Star Trek") and advertising tie-ins ("Star Trek" has partnered with eInsurance).

This summer's Wolverine is the fourth X-Men film and serves up a prequel rather than a sequel. As the title implies the film focuses specifically on the origins of Wolverine (played again by an appealingly buffed out Hugh Jackman). Sensing a potential goldmine, Marvel Comics is digging deep into its vast collection of characters and planning a series of these Origin films the next being about Magneto. The new "Star Trek" film by J.J. Abrams is also an origin film, and so too in a sense is "Terminator Salvation," which is the fourth film in that franchise.You can listen to my Film Chat about these summer blockbusters or read on.

Originality is not really evident in these summer films because the studios want a sure thing -- or at least what they see as a sure thing -- when they are investing mega-budgets of 100 to 200 million dollars. With that much at stake, the studios don't want to gamble on a fresh idea. They want something tried and true with a built in audience. That's why all of these films follow up previous films that were box office winners. When the studios invest this kind of money they want insurance on their investment and remaking films or making sequels and prequels are their way of getting that insurance.

These Origin films seem inspired in part by the success of "Batman Begins" and more recently "Casino Royale." Both of those films essentially rebooted anemic franchises. In the case of "Star Trek" the rebooting is vital to keeping the franchise alive because the original stars of the TV show are getting old, and if the studio wants to keep this moneymaker going they have to find not only a new generation of actors, but of fans as well. This requires a delicate balancing act. Here's what director J.J. Abrams said at WonderCon to a diehard "Star Trek" fan.

You're a huge fan of "Star Trek" so obviously you're savvy enough to know that if we were just to make the movie for fans of "Star Trek" then we would be limiting the audience enormously and the truth is that because we love this, because we are beholden to you, because the fans of "Star Trek" are what allow us to make a version of "Star Trek" now at all I can assure you we are making this movie for you.

I'd be more convinced if Abrams had been a fan of the TV show but he confessed that he came to the project not being a fan of the original series. But he boasted that the experience of making the film has turned him into a fan.

Terminator Salvation tries to reboot the franchise.

Warner Brothers

Above: Terminator Salvation tries to reboot the franchise.

At WonderCon, "Terminator Salvation" director McG described his reason for revisiting a famous franchise, not the least of which is a profit motive.

A great idea had lost its way and we wanted to come in and restore order. And this doesn't come from a place of extortion but a place of honor and doing it differently taking an idea that had a certain expression and taking advantage of the tools that are available today and trying to take it even higher. And with a little luck we'll be doing it again.

Hmm? So he thinks he's restoring order? Well this latest "Terminator" film definitely looks better that "T3," but I'm not sure that will mean it's great. From the clips shown at WonderCon, it looks big and noisy. Everything on screen looks like something we've seen before, be it robots that look like "Transformers," or machines that look ripped off from "The Matrix," or car chases that look recycled from "Road Warrior".

So brace yourself for a big, noisy, action packed season of summer blockbusters. Hopefully the filmmakers will manage to deliver good movies even if the studios see their work more as extended commercials for collateral merchandise. I hope that didn't sound too cynical, and I remain optimistic that at least one of these blockbusters will deliver more than mere diversion.

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