7 Summer Movie Memories: 1997
1997 was quite a watershed for internet movie nerd culture, wasn’t it? The 20th anniversary of Star Wars saw LucasFilm’s infamous reissue of the original trilogy with revamped special effects, functioning as a dry run for the full-on return of Star Wars two years later. It was certainly the beginning of my own internet nerddom, as I had finally had internet access and was keeping up with news of Superman Lives religiously.
Also, my friends who were hardcore Star Wars fans were slowly getting me on board with the upcoming trilogy with long stretches of playing “Dark Forces” on PC. And, speaking of video games, these were also the peak days of “GoldenEye” for N64, which only raised my anticipation for November’s Tomorrow Never Dies… but that’s another season entirely. Again, I went into Summer 1997 full of anticipation, as I spent hours reading about every major special effects-driven event film coming out of Hollywood.
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.) April 25 – Volcano
The Summer movie season had a blurry start this year, as the Star Wars re-releases hit in March, followed by The Fifth Element in April, leading us right up to the second volcanic disaster film of the year. Both were most certainly inspired by the success of Twister and Independence Day the year prior. Dante’s Peak was released earlier in 1997 and clearly, Volcano was to be the “major” of the two lava pictures. There’s really not an awful lot to say about Volcano, other than the fact that I could not wait to see it in theaters, and instantly forgot it the second I left. Granted, it has that legendary moment of John Carrol Lynch sinking right into a puddle of lava, but the rest is rather rote, earnest, and – unsurprisingly – slow. Kudos to Hollywood for trying their hardest to make Tommy Lee Jones into an action hero in 1997.
2.) May 2 – Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Surely, this makes for a much more rollicking summer opener. The strength with which Austin Powers and Dr. Evil took the world by storm is still fascinating, but completely understandable. Not only was the film perfectly timed to coincide with James Bond’s recent return to pop culture in GoldenEye, but it marked the return of Mike Myers to mainstream comedy, as well as the arrival of future comedic giants like Will Ferrell. Quite simply, Austin Powers is hilarious, fresh, and holds up all these years later, despite its sequels running the joke into the ground.
3.) May 23 – The Lost World: Jurassic Park
This was it. This was my reason for breathing in 1997. I’m not going to cover my love for Jurassic Park yet again, but in the years leading up to The Lost World, I spent a lot of time re-reading Michael Crichton’s original book, as well as his sequel. I bought John Williams’ unique and unpredictable soundtrack before seeing the movie, and memorized track titles and score cues like the true mega-dork that I had become. The Lost World: Jurassic Park was, and probably always will be, the most anticipated movie of my life. It was the perfect timing for me as an adolescent, a sci-fi fan, a movie fan, and a purveyor of pop culture. And, walking out of the theater, I liked it more than the original. Of course, now that I’m a bit wiser, I’ll call that overkill. However, I will stand by the fact that The Lost World is a fantastic adventure film with wonderful characters and amazing suspense scenes. It’s darker and less romantic than the first film, but still has a strong emotional core, despite fumbling with tone once or twice. I saw The Lost World in theaters at least three times, and I was swept away at every screening.
4.) June 5 – Con Air
Now, once The Lost World had passed, there was nothing I wanted more than to see a giant, bloated, R-rated actioner. I had become pretty enthralled by the Die Hard knockoffs that became so popular in the 90s, and the previous Summer’s The Rock put Nicholas Cage on top of my “favorite actor” list. Alas, my folks didn’t think it’d be a good idea for me to see an R-rated movie in the theater by myself (apparently my older brother wasn’t as interested as I was), and I had to wait for VHS. The wait was worth it. Con Air is a ridiculous, riotous action spectacular. It’s essentially a Saturday morning cartoon stuffed into an R-rated Jerry Bruckheimer packaging… that is to say, one of the best examples of 90’s Hollywood blockbuster, for better or worse.
5.) June 20 – Batman & Robin
And speaking of worse… Does it get any worse than Batman & Robin? Again, I was tracking the development of every superhero film in the works, and I certainly had my eyes glued to this, the sequel to the enjoyable Batman Forever. Rumors of Joel Schumacher adapting the Animated Series’ version of Mr. Freeze were encouraging, despite the questionable casting choice of Arnold Schwarzenegger. I think we all wanted to like George Clooney in the role of Batman, but something in the trailers just seemed off. We were all shocked to see Bane appearing in the film, and I recall long conversations with friends about whether or not the film would head in the direction of the “Knightfall” stories of the Batman comic books. When it came time to actually see the film, I literally couldn’t believe my eyes. I had to see it twice, just to confirm what I saw. With my head hung low, I walked out of my second viewing knowing the truth: Batman & Robin was the worst movie I had ever seen in my entire life.
6.) July 2 – Men in Black
Although the Summer of 1997 dragged one of my favorite childhood heroes into an icy grave, the season ended up not being a disappointment, thanks in part to this well-crafted piece of sci-fi comedy. Producer Steven Spielberg and director Barry Sonnenfeld took the very popular 90’s idea of the shadowy federal agent and weaved it into the pop culture landscape by combining it with quite possibly the biggest star of his generation, Will Smith. In a very brisk ninenty-odd minutes, Men in Black gives its audience a colorful, funny, and often scary ride, showcasing a wonderful mixture of practical and CG effects. It’s a shame the film didn’t kick off a more enjoyable franchise, as neither 2002’s sequel nor this year’s third Men in Black film really hit the spot.
7.) August 1 – Spawn
Surely there are other more well-known and succesful late-Summer entries I could have picked here, but for some reason, I specifically remember my theatrical experience with Spawn. I was predictably averse to Image Comics, being much more of a Marvel kid. “Spawn”’s demonic monstrosities and adult overtones didn’t appeal to my fourteen year old brain, but I did think his cape was pretty cool. The film failed to even nail that aspect of the comic, and functioned as a horribly dark and cheesy adaptation with an awful soundtrack. I’ll give it some credit for its creature effects, rendering Satan himself as a kind of German Shepherd dog creature, but all in all, Spawn was a depressing way to end the Summer.
Honorable Mentions: Air Force One, Contact, Six Days Seven Nights, Face/Off, Cop Land, Hercules, Conspiracy Theory
Most Well-Reviewed: The Full Monty
Top Grossing: Men in Black
Favorite Action Sequence: Trailer Over Cliff, The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Favorite Score: John Williams, The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Most Obnoxious: Six Days Seven Nights
Personal Must-See: Cop Land
Funniest Sequence: Mustafa’s Death, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Favorite Performance: Jeff Goldblum, The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Favorite All-Around Film: The Lost World: Jurassic Park
In the Summer of 1997, a Film Nerd was born. That year, thanks to Coming Attractions (the movie trailer show on E!), as well as nerd-savvy FoxTrot comics, internet fora, and in-the-know buddies, I became deeply interested in all angles of moviemaking. This passion lasted for a few years, before being squelched by adolescent anxieties. Regardless, I think 1997 holds up as not just a great year for Summer movies, but a great year for cinema in general. For every Lost World, there’s an L.A Confidential or a Jackie Brown. And yet, the year has been defined by one of the most successful movies of all time, a Summer movie bumped from the Summer. In Winter of 1997, Titanic changed the game.
Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out the fruits of my young Film Nerd experiences over at the site for my first feature film, The Nocturnal Third! Also, keep your eyes on the main page of Film Nerds, as I’m sure there are some great podcasts coming up on Brave and other 2012 Summer movies!