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Published: Wednesday, 8/29/2007

5 lessons from summer 2007

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

My summer of love is over.

What a relief.

It'd been so unseemly, so right out there in the open, flapping in the wind, flaunted for all the world (and northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan) to see. It was the summer, as a co-worker put it, "the Xanax kicked in" - the summer I learned to stop worrying and love sequels, threequels, talking animal pictures, and the general air of creative bankruptcy known as the summer movie season. It was the summer I wrote more four and five-star reviews than was probably necessary or sane.

I plead mercy.

The bell curve was thrown.

I didn't review the interminable snooze that was Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the morally deficient Hostel II, the tapioca Evan Almighty, or the pathetic I Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. But I also didn't review the somber thrills of Rescue Dawn or the second Harry Potter picture (The Order of the Phoenix) to be worth a hoot; and I actually enjoyed a Michael Bay movie (Transformers) for the first time. So you may say I was easy. Promiscuous even.

But so were you.

The summer 2007 box office, we learned a few days ago, was the biggest cash grab in history - hitting $4 billion for the first time. Apparently you liked more movies than usual this summer, too. Or perhaps those carpet-bombing marketing campaigns just made you feel more obligated. Adjusted for ticket prices, in terms of attendance, it was only the sixth most successful summer ever. And yet, an unprecedented eight films broke $100 million, two hit $200 million, and four made it past $300 million, which is amazing, and lots of sunny days spent in dark rooms. I don't know about you, but here's what I've learned since Memorial Day:

Please, people: Next time you want to text during a movie, shine a flashlight in my eyes instead. Why be discreet about it?

The nature documentary Arctic Tale (which opens Friday in Toledo, after many delays) couldn't get a boost even after being plastered all over Starbucks coffee sleeves, and the sleek CGI-animated penguins of Surf's Up did a fraction of the business the crudely sketched Simpsons Movie managed. Either our tolerance for flightless birds has expired or global warming sounds tantalizing. And frankly, you guys are tough to read: Al Gore doing a Power Point presentation on the environment a summer ago yielded a hit and an Academy Award. Leonardo DiCaprio walking the same talk (The 11th Hour) has been a bust.

Not a summer goes by when I don't hear the conventional wisdom: Sequels are never as good as the originals. Perhaps. But The Bourne Ultimatum, Live Free or Die Hard, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Ocean's 13, even Spider-Man 3 - what we have here are talented people honing an idea, or in the case of Ocean's and Die Hard, taking the business of fun seriously. Yes, sequels are generally cynical. But as studios show less willingness to commit to movies that lack name recognition and more anxiousness to sign the original cast and crew to multi-picture deals, filmmakers are not dutifully meeting obligations or killing time until they shoot a small personal art-house film. Their best chance is the present.

As in Judd Apatow, the writer-director-producer-svengali whose casual combination of the naughty and the smart made Knocked-Up and Superbad the most sneaked-in R-rated movies since those heady '80s days of Porky's and Private Lessons. How did he do it? By giving us studio products that managed to appear as if they were made when the suits weren't watching. The flip side: Ambition and sun rarely mix. A Mighty Heart, Michael Moore's Sicko - well, that's just bad timing.

We reside on information islands, in narrow-casted worlds. TV is too splintered now to produce a show everybody can discuss; a classic Casey Kasem American Top 40 would sound nonsensical in an iPod universe; Netflix has made the public act of browsing a video store a private matter. We live in a micro-focused universe, yet movies remain a communal art - arguably the last art where millions of Americans are fluent, where we gather together coast to coast, and take in the same thing.

Even if we don't discuss it.

These days, a good summer film like Hairspray might become a breakout hit, but the flood of new movies every week doesn't allow that communal feeling to linger as long as it did. We don't go back to see a film two or three times anymore because we'd miss something else. Which is why the wee Irish musical Once may be the future. It held on all summer and become a relatively huge success without becoming cultural lingua franca - a word-of-mouth hit in a day when no one talks to each other.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com or 419-724-6117.



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