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Summer films have potential

Brian Doxtader | Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven (May 6)The Good: “Gladiator’s” Ridley Scott returns to familiar territory, though this time the setting is the 12th century Crusades. Scott is an excellent director, so expectations can safely be set fairly high for this epic summer action film. “Gladiator,” while undeserving of its Best Picture statuette, was still a cut above the summer fare and thus it’s not unreasonable to hope that “Kingdom of Heaven” will be the most rousing and intelligent blockbuster of the summer.The Bad: The hope is that Scott doesn’t rest on his laurels and re-hash this as “Gladiator: The Crusades.” The presence of Liam Neeson and Jeremy Irons is a good thing, but on the whole, this isn’t nearly as strong of a cast as Scott has had in the past. Orlando Bloom is a largely untested actor and has not yet shown the presence and charisma of the director’s past leads which include Russell Crowe, Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver. The Ugly: Can Orlando Bloom carry a film by himself? That’s the real question of “Kingdom of Heaven,” which is banking on the young actor’s star power. Johnny Depp stole the show in “Pirates of the Carribbean,” so it is natural to consider “Kingdom of Heaven” as Bloom’s first real test as a lead actor. It remains to be seen whether or not “Kingdom of Heaven” will turn Bloom into a true superstar, but if any film is going to do it this will likely be the one.Moment to Look For: The inevitable “Cecil B. DeMille” shot, where Ridley Scott shows off just how massively impressive his set is, and how high his production values are.

Star Wars: Episode III (May 19)The Good: Twenty-eight years after the first “Star Wars” film hit theaters, George Lucas finally completes his six-part serial. Lucas promises that this will be the darkest and most violent of the series, which is increasingly appealing after the kiddie-fare of “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” and the cringe-worthy romance of “Episode II: Attack of the Clones.” The Bad: “Attack of the Clones” was an improvement over “The Phantom Menace” but the film was sunk by three key elements: bad script, bad acting and too many computer generated images (CGI). Lucas wrote this script, as he did for Episodes I and II as well as the original “Star Wars.” Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman return, though their romance will hopefully be more muted and less mawkish. Additionally, the trailer for “Revenge of the Sith” indicates more, rather than less, CGI. While it all but impossible to believe that Episode III won’t be a blockbuster smash, whether or not it is a good film remains to be determined.The Ugly: None of the prequels thus far have caught the flavor and excitement of the original films which transported viewers into the myth of a galaxy far, far away. While various excuses can be made for Lucas and his decline into mediocrity, his best bet to silence critics would be to deliver a great film on the level of “The Empire Strikes Back.” Moment to look for: The inevitable return of Darth Vader with the black armor, his breathing and James Earl Jones’ rumbling intonation.

Batman Begins (June 17)The Good: Eight years after the travesty that was Joel Schumacher’s “Batman and Robin,” Warner seeks to reinvent the character as a dark, brooding avenger he was in Tim Burton’s original. In that pursuit, they hired Christopher Nolan – whose credits include “Insomnia” and “Memento” – as director and Christian Bale as the star. The supporting cast is incredible and includes Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman and Ken Watanabe. “Batman Begins” promises to be the first Batman film in which hero is more interesting than the villains.The Bad: Though kudos must be given to Warner for being willing to take risks with this franchise, it remains undetermined as to whether or not the dark, lower-key approach to Batman will fly with summer audiences who are used to seeing bright, energetic comic book movies a la “Spiderman 2” and “X-2.” “Batman Begins”will undoubtedly be the darkest and most brooding film in the series, but that’s not a guarantee that it will be a quality film.The Ugly: Frank Miller, whose comic book credits include the seminal Batman comic “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Sin City,” wrote an excellent origin story for Batman, “Batman: Year One.” After the undeniable success of the film version of “Sin City,” it’s a bit of shame that this film is not a direct adaptation of Miller’s graphic novel.Moment to look for: Gary Oldman as a young Commissioner Gordon, Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. This is the best supporting cast any Batman film has ever had and is in the hands of a very capable director.

War of the Worlds (June 29)The Good: Steven Spielberg practically invented the summer blockbuster and with “War of the Worlds” he returns with one of the biggest budgets of all time – an estimated $200 million – and a plot literally out of H.G. Wells. The Bad: Spielberg and Dreamworks have held much of this film as close to the chest as possible, which means that the trailer, while interesting, doesn’t give much away. Furthermore, the film seems to stray from H.G. Wells original novel, understandably, and Orson Welles’ infamous radio play. Spielberg also seems to be relying on the power of Tom Cruise, as he is definitely being marketed as the undeniable star.The Ugly: Can Spielberg top such past summer hits as “Jurassic Park,” “E.T.” and “Jaws”? It’s been a few years since Spielberg has truly delivered an awe-inspiring film, as his last few have been relatively modest including “The Terminal” and “Catch Me If You Can.” It’s time to find out if Spielberg still remembers how to play in the house he helped build. Audiences certainly hope that he can deliver on past promises with a truly inspiring blockbuster.Moment to Look For: The actual appearance of aliens and some of the best special effects that $200 million can buy.

The Fantastic Four (July 8)The Good: One of Marvel’s best franchises is brought to life by director Tim Story. “The Fantastic Four” looks to be more fun than some of Marvel’s other superhero films – “X-Men” in particular – but it remains to be seen whether or not it can reach the benchmark set by “Spiderman 2.” A summer is not complete without a superhero movie or two and between “The Fantastic Four” and “Batman Begins” comic book and adventure fans should be more than satisfied.The Bad: Tim Story’s previous directorial credits include last year’s abysmal “Taxi.” Screenwriter Michael France wrote two other superhero films, “Hulk” and “The Punisher,” neither of which were very good. In a summer with a lot of high-potential films “The Fantastic Four” could be completely lost in the shuffle.The Ugly: The casting here is questionable with Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba in lead roles. Furthermore, a film like “The Fantastic Four” will be judged on its special effects. If the CGI is passable then this could be quite a fun summer film – if they are not, it could be a disaster.Moment to Look For: The spaceship crash which grants the Four their powers has the potential to be spectacular.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (July 15)The Good: Tim Burton directs Johnny Depp in the second adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel, which the director promises will be closer in tone and spirit to the book. Unlike the original 1971 film, this version will not be a musical, though it will have musical elements courtesy of Burton’s long-time collaborator Danny Elfman.The Bad: Burton’s vision has always been a little off-kilter, which might not sit well with younger audiences. The director has had several past summer successes, but not a truly great blockbuster since 1989’s “Batman.” His last remake was the barely passable “Planet of the Apes,” but he may be slightly better suited to Dahl’s material. The Ugly: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will likely live or die based on Depp’s performance which looks to be just as quirky as ever. The two have worked together in the past, often with great success in “Edward Scissorhands” and “Ed Wood,” but whether or not Depp can embody Willy Wonka remains a mystery. Gene Wilder’s performance in the original was so memorable that it’s hard to imagine anyone – even an actor as talented as Depp – topping it.