Summer Floppin'

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Summer Floppin'

Summer, at least according to Hollywood, is almost here. With the high-dollar Iron Man set to kick off the blockbuster season tomorrow, now seemed like the perfect time revisit a few of those inevitable, potentially career-crippling box office misfires that crop up every May through August. Don’t get me wrong - if anyone knows that receipts don’t equate to respect, it’s ScreenAnarchy readers. That being said, big budget films that tank hard tend to get the shortest end of the cred stick from all corners. With this edition of the ScreenAnarchy-o-Meter, I’m singling out a few lavish productions which not only bombed but took something of (in my mind’s eye, anyway) an unfair critical drubbing. The only criteria for selection was that the films have release dates post-1988 (’89 being the first year I can recall palpable excitement for the start of summer movie season).

The Abyss - while it wasn’t Ishtar, Cameron’s emotionally-charged underwater sci-fi / drama didn’t exactly set the world on fire or stuff Fox’s coffers with the cold hard cash they likely expected in return for their substantial investment in the then up-and-coming director’s grandiose vision. Critical reception toward the film has never been better than lukewarm at best, though in recent years the film has been embraced by fans that recognize the far-reaching populist cinema Cameron has come to be identified with gestating inside his story of deep-sea divers who discover an alien race living on the ocean floor.

Hudson Hawk - at least partly responsible for derailing Bruce Willis’ career in the early ‘90s, what many at the time considered to be the poster child for vanity filmmaking remains one of my favorite modern-day back-handed physical comedies. A ridiculous cast (including Richard E. Grant and James Coburn) and warbly musical numbers courtesy of Willis and co-star Danny Aiello highlight the bizarre tale of a cat burglar taxed with retrieving a long lost DaVinci parchment fabled to contain the key to alchemy. Poor Michael Lehman never did recover the genius of Heathers after this.

Hulk - anyone else starting to think this property might be cursed? Fans and critics alike railed Ang Lee for his slow-burn, meditative take on Marvel’s classic creation, and the new Edward Norton version spawned a public war of words between its temperamental star and studio Universal. I personally loved Lee’s vision – a bizarre synthesis of somber character drama and event film histrionics, content with both long static shots of moss growing on trees and quick-cut clips of a giant green man mashing scenery with his bear fists. Leaving well-enough alone in this case is an understatement - Hulk is, to me, one of few examples of blockbuster filmmaking fusing successfully with art.

Alien 3 - After spending years in development hell, the third installment in the venerable sci-fi series finally unspooled to much head-scratching and general indifference. After the adrenaline-charged space marine gorefest that was Cameron’s Aliens, audiences weren’t prepared for the bleak visuals and somber tone that permeated debuting feature director David Fincher’s vision for the franchise. The subject of notorious re-cutting, the film never clicked with audiences despite taking the series in a brave, at times politicized direction. Despite the release of the extended version of the film in the exhaustive Quadrilogy set, Fincher's original vision remains buried.

The Rocketeer - director Joe Johnston will probably never be accused of crafting high art but damned if he doesn’t know how to spin a fun film. A pitch-perfect ode to the days of serialized sci-fi, ‘91’s Rocketeer featured then-state of the art effects and a cast of game character players (lead Bill Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin, Timothy Dalton, Terry O’Quinn, Jon Polito…), but audiences stayed away in droves. Maybe a little too saccharine for its own good, the film still packed in plenty of action and a dash of romance. Johnston, who worked as a designer on high-profile projects for years (he crafted the look of everyone’s favorite bounty hunter, Boba Fett), will take another swing at the big leagues with the upcoming, oft-troubled Wolf Man redux.

What I did miss, folks???

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Ard VijnApril 30, 2008 10:21 PM

Wow, great topic and a great list!

I love "The Abyss" and always have, it seemed so tailor-made to my own fantasies that I suspected James Cameron to have some sort of telepathic link with me.

"Hudson Hawk" had me in giggles because of its zaniness and audacity. Definitely overblown and flawed but a lot of it actually works!

"The Hulk" would have been brilliant if they had either:
a/. ...dropped the last ten minutes.
b/. ...made the last ten minutes some sort of sensible.
Hell, I know my hulk but even I got confused! And the jumpy visuals didn't help.

"Alien3" was a staggering disappointment, even more so because the "wajang puppet" method they used to animate the alien was an awesome effect and has never been seen since.
Shame it was only visible for, like, TEN SECONDS!!!

I desperately wanted to love Rocketeer. I certainly liked the setting and general ruthlessness but in the end the "hero" didn't DO anything! It's a guy who finds a rocket and flies dumbly into any trap people set up for him. His biggest achievement? Secretly pulling a piece of gum out of a hole. Wow...

As for my own floppin' loves:

"Dune". Fanboy and layman alike, stop griping and enjoy the scenery!
"Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within". Which has the same problems as Hulk.

And my personal fave: "The Fifth Element".
Outside of the US this was not a flop in the slightest, but stateside it never took off. While I recognize the huge quality dip the movie takes after a virtually flawless first hour, the sheer quantity of things to enjoy here keeps it being a favorite in my list. It matches the tone and atmosphere of seventies Belgian and French sci-fi comics 100%, so if you like those you're in for a treat.

Kurt HalfyardMay 1, 2008 12:15 AM

And Last Action Hero was recently remade as "ENCHANTED" to about the same degree of success. There are moments of hilarity in there, and some pretty good riffs on the genre in general, but ultimately the concept isn't used to the fullest capacity and the writers lose the story in the end. As The Simpsons put it best, "MAGIC TICKET MY ASS, McBAIN."

andrewzMay 1, 2008 3:53 AM

I guess I wasn't focused so much on the critic's reception so much as the "lavish productions" aspect. Ebert gave it 2.5 stars which is 1 star more than I would give. It certainly wasn't Terminator 2 or True Lies which it lies between in Schwarnegger's oeuvre. Perhaps Arnold should only do movies with Mr Cameron.

I remember Last Action Hero's marketing everywhere and commented then that it was one of the first time I saw fast food marketing tie-ins for a product that hadn't even been released yet.

I have to agree with Mr. Halfyard's comment above.

As for Alien 3, I really didn't like it upon release, but I thought it was a fairly good movie upon repeated viewing years later.

Simon AbramsMay 1, 2008 4:07 AM

Once again, I find myself appalled that no one mentioned the Super Mario Bros. movie. Where your heads at? This ain't no game!

Andrew CunninghamMay 1, 2008 4:23 AM

I can't think of a single good thing to say about Hulk. Wooden performances (except for Nolte, who went to the opposite extreme), ludicrous script, incomprehensible action climax, and more than anything, interminably dull.
New one looks much better. Director who has proven he can do solid B-movie action films (thinking more of Danny the Dog than the Transporter films) and a writer/star who actually has talent? New preview out today, still looking solid. Won't be the second coming, might get lost in a busy summer, but ultimately looks like what the first one should have been.

ChevalierAguilaMay 1, 2008 2:44 PM

Agreed with Hudson Hawk and rocketeer, the rest got the hate they rightfully deserved.

sarkoffagusMay 1, 2008 9:42 PM

Sure, THE ROCKETEER wasn't great, but the porn spin-off, THE COCKETEER, was actually pretty good. Too bad Jennifer Connelly was only in the first one.

Collin ArmstrongMay 1, 2008 9:45 PM

mahkiavelliMay 2, 2008 11:18 PM

Good looking out on showing some love for "Hulk" - the editing in that film is brilliant. As for "Last Action Hero", I thought it was pretty damn funny, but it falls apart in the 3rd act.