7 Summer Movie Memories: 2002
In today’s edition of 7 Summer Movie Memories, we hop a decade into the past. 2002 was a personal turning point for me as a filmmaker, as the end of 2001 brought Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Fellowship of the Ring brought my newfound obsession with cinema. I spent most of 2002 catching up with the filmographies of a few directors I had been a casual fan of up to that point: The Coen Brothers, Ridley Scott, and Tim Burton. Really, nothing this Summer had me all that excited, as I was more looking forward to Christmas releases like The Two Towers and – to my eventual dismay – the 20th James Bond film, Die Another Day.
Quick Reminder of the 7 Summer Movie Memories Protocol: These movies are picked to represent their summer movie season as a whole, even if I’ve not seen them, although theatrical viewings do carry more weight as personal experiences.
1.) May 3 – Spider-Man
I say that I wasn’t overwhelmingly anticipating any release this year, but this was one project I had followed for at least a decade before its release, from rumors of James Cameron’s version that would have starred Michael Beihn, to a version possibly directed by David Fincher. I had my own idea of what a Spider-Man movie should look like, and wasn’t ecstatic about the casting of Tobey MacGuire (I preferred Jason Schwartzman, though I’m not sure I stand by that). At the end of the day, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man works as a fun and competent live-action cartoon with a servicable romance arc. It plays things safe on every level – aside from its unorthodox casting – and borrows major plot beats from Superman: The Movie and especially Tim Burton’s Batman, from which it also borrows score and title elements. Of course, the film nicely set the stage for the far superior Spider-Man 2 and I think I can even say sober-mindedly that the much-maligned Spider-Man 3 matches this first film’s goofiness and overwrought emotion. Looking back, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man franchise was a fun diversion, but I’m more than ready for the hot-shotted reboot we’ll be seeing this July 4th.
2.) May 16 – Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
Ah, the great hope. Was the culture-wide disappointment of The Phantom Menace a fluke? Had George Lucas figured out how to please the fanboys? At the time, I really dug Attack of the Clones. It had a ton of action, lots of satisfying spectacle, and a neat Jango Fett / Obi Wan Kenobi fight. Upon repeat viewings, however, it’s become clear that Attack of the Clones might just be the worst of all the Star Wars films. Now, of course, I’m of the naive mind that any Star Wars is better than no Star Wars, but when you compare the video game plotting and Saturday morning romance of Episode II to the high stakes and character work in The Empire Strikes Back, it’s impossible not to cringe. All that said, the film did do its job and delivered a colorful and boyant first theatrical viewing.
3.) June 14 – The Bourne Identity
Was anyone expecting this, Matt Damon’s first foray into the role of action star, to spawn one of the most successful movie franchises of the decade? I sure wasn’t. I was not ready to buy Damon as an action star, but I can explain. During this time, rumors were heavily circulating that Warner Brothers wanted Matt Damon as Batman in Wolfgang Petersen’s Batman vs Superman project, and I was in full revolt against this casting decision. A ridiculous reason to drag my feet into a Matt Damon spy movie, sure, but give me a break: I was nineteen. Whatever the case, I was pleasantly surprised by the low-tech, gritty thrills of Doug Liman’s adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s slightly obscure spy novel, and was quite excited for its 2004 sequel.
4.) June 21 – Minority Report
Although I was delving deeply into new favorite directors like the Coens and Ridley Scott, I had yet to really return to Spielberg, in whom I hadn’t taken much interest since Amistad. I was, however, becoming more and more interested in the works of Philip K. Dick, which put this on my radar, along with the fact that it was not a clear franchise picture. Though I entered with middling expectations, it didn’t take long for the film’s overexposed cinematography and excellent suspense sequences to win me over. Although it seems we’re nearing an age in which the name “Spielberg” can no longer sell an unestablished property, it’s refreshing to think that just ten years ago, something as unique and imaginative as Minority Report could become a successful summer popcorn film.
5.) July 3 – Men in Black 2
Speaking of successful popcorn films, the Summer of 1997 gave us one of the most breezy and witty entertainments of the decade: the original Men in Black, pitting a hilarious and sharp Will Smith against Tommy Lee Jones’ space age relic. I think most of us were optimistic going into Men in Black II, despite the five year gap we had seen since the original. I was sorely disappointed, however, to find that the original film’s fantastic, loaded sci-fi premise had given way to such an out-of-touch, stale sequel. It seemed as if the film refused to admit the very eventful half-decade that happened between 1997 and 2002, with Smith’s J character spouting wrestling catchphrases made popular in 1998. Instead of playing into the series’ clear roots (Ghostbusters), it attempted to play with falsely weighted paradoxes, illustrated by a shoe-horned love story between J and Rosario Dawson’s character. One of the great missed opportunities in summer movie sequel history.
6.) July 12 – Reign of Fire
Speaking of missed opportunities, here was one of my most anitcipated movies of the year. A dystopian, Road Warrior-inspired action film set in a future ruled by dragons still stands as a great idea, but unfortunately, clear studio meddling and uninspired directing turned a great pitch into a boring, cheap, and muddy mess. Reign of Fire insists to contain a massive, apocalyptic story in the character arc of a single character, played as an adult by Christian Bale, and the film’s neat and tidy open and close is probably its most frustrating flaw. I still think there was a chance to create a fine expanded universe from this script, perhaps focusing on Matthew McConaughey’s bald, bearded, dragon killer.
7.) August 2 – Signs
I was thankfully invited to see this movie without being exposed to much of its marketing. I felt The Sixth Sense was overrated (though I’ve come around since), and I really liked Unbreakable, but not nearly enough to put M. Night Shyamalan high on my radar. Again, recall that I was not a full-fledged cinephile at this point, and hadn’t been keeping up with internet movie buzz since about 1999. So, when I walked into the theater to see Signs, I was not expecting the perfectly paced, character-driven horror movie that we got. Detractors can say what they will about the answers the film provides to its own questions, but it’s impossible to call the film as elusive as recent science fiction “disappointments” like Super 8 or Prometheus. The film’s final act takes very bold moves, relying on a close marriage of theme and plot, something that savvy audiences don’t often take well to. Regardless, Signs is a fantastic ride, and Shyamalan’s best film, along with Unbreakable. James Newton Howard’s fantastic score brilliantly underlines a masterfully controlled tone from Shyamalan, who has a long way to go to recapture this kind of magic.
Honorable Mentions: Road to Perdition, Insomnia, Austin Powers in Goldmember
Most Well-Reviewed: Insomnia
Top Grossing: Spider-Man
Favorite Score: Danny Elfman, Spider-Man
Favorite Action Sequence: Jet Pack Chase, Minority Report
Favorite Performance: Joaquin Phoenix, Signs
Favorite All-Around Film: Minority Report
2002’s Summer movie season was a bit like 2001’s, in that it was overshadowed by highly anticipated Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter films scheduled to hit in the Winter. However, 2002’s Summer movies far exceed the quality of those of 2001, and offered some solid, original, and fun theatrical experiences.
That’s it! As always, be sure to browse Film Nerds, and when you’re done with that, check out Aspect Radio. I just finally caught up with Miller & Lord’s 21 Jump Street, and have revisited Ben and Corey’s episode on that very funny film. Also, do yourself a favor and head over to Twitter and give me a follow, @WonderMillFilms! There you can learn about our newest film, The Nocturnal Third, and get all kinds of other neat content. Thanks for reading!