A Bad Case of Summer Movies

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By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 20, 2007

10.You can't see the screen because the light from all the kids checking their text messages is too bright.

You're just settling in for Explosion No. 2, which looks to be a good one, and you think that Explosions Nos. 3 through 6 will be better yet, with the inevitable 7 through 9 downturn, and then 10 and 11 will be stunners and then . . . all the explosions go away. In their place, miracle of miracles, is shaft after shaft of pure white light illuminating the ceiling, like something out of a Cecil B. De Mille religioso-orgy pic, blurring and ultimately banishing those wonderful expanding-gas sequences on screen. It's all from their cells: "U r sooo kwoool! XXXXXXXX," "so what up 2nite?," "hear connor got grounded again? that sux!" They have to stay in touch. They're so febrile, so swarming, so tribal that they cannot bear to be out of contact with the Matrix for even the duration of a movie. God love them, they are the future of us all but . . .

How can a fellow concentrate on his explosions? Which leads to . . .

9.You saw that same explosion last week.

Explosions -- like widths of ties, skirt lengths and hairdos -- follow cycles of fashion. Sometimes we're in a big burning jag; sometimes we just blow things up real good. What this means is that at any given time, from film to film all the explosions will be the same. We seem to be in a burning cycle now. Now I enjoy a human barbecue as much as the next fella, heck maybe even more, but of late, there's just been too much burning flesh on screen. I favor a return to deconstruction by rapid gas expansion and, in fact, I will stand by it. All I am saying is, give TNT a chance.

The issue underneath all this, of course, is computer-generated imagery. In the old days, as nobody cares, they really blew stuff up or burned it, and they got extremely good at making harmless puffs of propane stand in for Dow Chemical's best, or a few hundred pounds of flash powder doing a passable imitation of a 155mm howitzer shell landing next to you. The secret, of course, was the sound. When the propane goes, it goes fssssssssss, but if you overlay a hungry, gulping RUSSSHHHHHHHHHH on the soundtrack, the hair on your fingers curls up and falls off.

Nowadays, they can disassemble the universe any darn way they want to, all on a hard disk bunkered down in some anonymous building in the Valley. The unintended consequence: Sometimes liberation ruins art, even popular art, rather than improving it. And anything goes means they don't discriminate.

The best summer movies find either new ways to use the magic boxes or do it in such a realistic way, you do not realize you're looking at pixels dancing in the amber of cyberspace. That's bad, not good. It leads to other ills such as . . .

8.Your butt has turned to 75 pounds of cold, wet sand.

And why is that? Because what started early this morning is still on the screen. If anything goes, it also goes on and on and on and on. I guess it's part of the gestalt of the summer movie: If you can do anything, why should you ever bother with any notion of self-discipline. Look at "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" -- it's 168 minutes long. You could read a book in that space of time. I think I once wrote one in that space of time. Then there's the recently released "Spider-Man 3" at 140 minutes! "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is estimated to run about 2 1/2 hours as well. You'll be surprised to note that there are glaciers in the parking lot when you get out. Global warming came and went, and now the new ice age is here.

Why? You'd think common sense would dictate shorter movies with more turnover. Keep them doggies rollin', move 'em on, head 'em up, head 'em up, move 'em on. But no. By the mysterious forces of the marketplace, length is clearly no longer part of the equation. More important is the sense of import that length confers on a confection. And, the longer the movie, the hungrier you get and the more you notice that . . .

7.The cost of refreshments for a family of four could build a small hospital in Darfur.


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