Summer movies: Reviewed

By Richard Pulfer

Fighting a battle against the Hollywood slump, many studios are relying on the name power of nostalgia instead of actors and actresses.

From May to August, Hollywood released nine movies with links from popular television shows and even classic films of the past. Kicking off with “House of Wax,” a remake of the Vincent Price classic, and ending with “Dukes of Hazzard,” the latest in a long line of television adaptations, the box office was dominated by both remakes and adaptations.

Some movies were financial duds, like “The Honeymooners,” while others, like “War of the Worlds,” found box office success. Overall, the domestic gross profit of all nine films exceeded $800 million, according to the Box Office Mojo Web site.

“One of the things I tell my class is nothing is more conservative than a million dollars,” said communications assistant professor Gretchen Bisplinghoff. “When you have an industry that puts that much money on the line, they’re going to look for something with a bankable, built-in audience.”

But the success of many remakes and adaptations has done little to reverse the box office slump, a trend that finds ticket sale figures 9 percent below last year’s ratings, according to box office analysts at Exhibitor Relations.

“I think people are capped out,” said Jeffrey Chown, communication professor. “The first ‘Spider-Man’ was interesting, but once they got around to ‘Fantastic Four’, people were bored.”

Changes in technology could also be partially to blame for both Hollywood’s slump and the industry’s further reliance on formulas and genres. Quicker DVD releases and changes in movie rentals have been noted among the possible reasons for declining movie audiences.

“I think it’s because we are getting into another complex moment,” Bisplinghoff said. “Keep in mind that Hollywood is [cyclical]. We’re hitting another complex moment, like in the ‘50s, when television first hit. New technologies are pushing into movies. People now have to think, ‘Do I want to see this on the big screen? Do I want to see it on DVD? Can I rent this?’”

Hollywood doesn’t always subscribe to the old television show idea.

“The irony is that movies like ‘E.T.,’ ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Titanic’ didn’t follow patterns and became the biggest successes. They were all wild ideas,” said Will Pfeifer, assistant features editor and columnist at the Rockford Register Star. “These movies [remakes and adaptations] represent safer investments.”

These safe investments might not translate into the type of box office success stories the movie industry needs to beat the slump, while many times the wild ideas, Pfeifer mentioned, are overlooked. In particular, movie critics and analysts are finding a shrinking market for independent movies in the backdrop of an industry focused heavily on marketing.

“Well, there are plenty of ideas out there,” Chown said. “I don’t believe the right ones are being advanced. Hollywood is wary of concepts that aren’t pretested in other mediums, such as video games, comic books and television.”

More remakes and television-based concepts are hitting production for next summer’s release. From “I Dream of Jeannie” with Jessica Alba to “Get Smart” with Steve Carell, Hollywood seems to show no signs of slowing. But whether these developments will repeat or defeat the infamous box office slump remains to be seen.

“Hollywood is slow to adapt,” Bisplinghoff said. “This summer was a wake-up call.”