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???