It's a scary world out there. Let's go to the movies.
What with the country still mired in a slow-boil war overseas and the threat of domestic terrorism always lurking in the backs of our heads, who can blame people for wanting to hide out in the dark security of the movie theater? This summer is no exception to the traditional seasonal preponderance of escapist fare, offering up such predictably reality-avoiding films on the docket as the high-profile "Shrek 2," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," "Spider-Man 2" "Catwoman" and "I, Robot." Yet, more and more, the place the movies invite us to escape to from the headaches of today is not the world of the future, or of fairy tales or comic books, but the world of the past.
It's no secret that Hollywood has, for a while now, seemed more interested in looking backward than forward. What summer would be complete without the period costume drama? This year, there's Clive Owen on horseback in "King Arthur" and Reese Witherspoon in 19th-century finery in "Vanity Fair." Naturally, there are remakes, too ("The Manchurian Candidate" and "Around the World in 80 Days"); sequels galore ("The Chronicles of Riddick," "Before Sunset," "The Bourne Supremacy" and "Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement," to name a few); a prequel ("Exorcist: The Beginning"); even a few rereleases ("Donnie Darko -- The Director's Cut" and, in a well-timed answer to "The Passion of the Christ," the return of "Monty Python's Life of Brian").
More interesting, perhaps, is the so-called re-imagining and its postmodern ilk, films that, like the recent "Starsky and Hutch" and this summer's "The Stepford Wives," appropriate, digest and, with a healthy amount of irony, regurgitate the past, and the not-too-distant past at that. Even a film like the hilarious "Napoleon Dynamite" (whose very name suggests the blaxploitation films of the 1970s), while set in the present day, makes ample use of such winking time-capsule touches as fanny packs, moon boots and aviator glasses. As its young director, Jared Hess, has said, the time period it's set in is "Idaho."
It's as if Hollywood has been overtaken with the same affection for vintage-looking cheese as the fashionista-fueled fad of trucker hats and "throwback" sports jerseys. Check out, for instance, Will Ferrell's so-uncool-it's-cool hair and mustache in the '70s-set "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" (or Ben Stiller's in "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story"). If you're looking for Afros, there are plenty of them in Mario Van Peebles' homage to his filmmaker father, "Baadasssss!," a film whose very exclamation point bespeaks an earlier, more excitable and innocent time.
Even this summer's monster movie, "Alien vs. Predator," and the disaster film "The Day After Tomorrow," hearken back not just to their more recent antecedents ("Alien," "Predator" and such thrillers as "Armageddon") but to longer-buried cultural gems such as "Godzilla vs. Mothra," not to mention everything disaster-movie producer Irwin Allen ever made.
So, if the world outside your window gets too much for you to handle, run, don't walk, into your friendly neighborhood multiplex/time machine.