Think, McFly! Think!
At the risk of sounding like I'm 92 instead of 29, they just don't make 'em like they used to.
The 20 minutes I saw of "Back to the Future" on HBO this morning made me long for the movie summers of old, when pesky things like comedy, ingenuity and characters kept getting in the way of all those visual effects. "BTTF," which began as an absolutely perfect screenplay by Bob Gale and director Robert Zemeckis, was joined that summer by "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure," "Weird Science," "The Goonies," "Cocoon" and "St. Elmo's Fire." Go back one summer to 1984, and you get the triumphant trio of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," "Ghostbusters" and "The Karate Kid" -- oh yeah, and also "Gremlins," "Sixteen Candles," "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock," "Purple Rain" and "The Muppets Take Manhattan."
Can we reasonably expect to again see a summer packed with so many classics, cult classics, and childhood favorites? The movies have gotten grander in scale, for sure, but they haven't exactly gotten better. Even the biggest fan of, say, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" would have to concede that just about every movie listed above is far more watchable than Gore Verbinski's nearly three-hour CGI fest. (OK, not "St. Elmo's Fire.")
This summer offers us hope in the form of a new "Indiana Jones" movie (and we've already been dazzled by "Iron Man"), but after May 22, where is all the fun? It's certainly not in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight," which already promised to be bold, brooding and bitter before Heath Ledger died. It's certainly not in "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," a sequel to a rather humorless and heavy-handed fantasy epic. It's not going to be in "The Incredible Hulk," or "The Happening," or "The X-Files: I Want to Believe."
If you want to have fun this summer after Dr. Jones has already come and gone, you have to go see cartoons ("WALL•E," "Kung Fu Panda"), comedies that pander to the lowest common denominator ("You Don't Mess With the Zohan," "The Love Guru"), or a musical scored entirely to ABBA ("Mamma Mia!," of course).
But maybe it's better that no one's trying to make the kinds of blockbusters they perfected in the '80s. Just imagine if "Ghostbusters" or "Back to the Future" were made today -- Will Ferrell, Jack Black and Steve Carell would be making bodily-fluid jokes while the camera swooped into the mouth of a CGI Slimer. Zac Efron wouldn't be playing "Johnny B. Goode" at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, he'd be playing his new hit single, now available from Disney Records! Ugh.
At least Steven Spielberg is having fun again this summer with Indy; he hasn't made a true summer thrill ride since 1997's "The Lost World," for crying out loud. How dare he want to make serious, important films like "Saving Private Ryan," "Munich" and "Amistad." Who does he think he is, the greatest director in the world? (Oh, wait ...)