In case you haven’t noticed, summer ’99 already has blasted off in Hollywood, and from early indications, it promises to be even more aberrant than usual. Consider the following:
The first Hollywood blockbuster, George Lucas’ “Star Wars” prequel, doesn’t even belong to Hollywood. The mind-boggling largess from the movie and its merchandising components will flow straight up to the Lucas lair in Northern California, with only a pittance sticking to the distribution arms of 20th Century Fox.
Not one of the major studios can boast that it has an especially dominant slate for the summer. Scan the list of early favorites and you’ll find they’re more evenly distributed than usual.
At the start of summer, two of the studios, Universal and MGM, are still re-structuring themselves for the coming onslaughtand Disney also is fielding a new team. Indeed, it’s hard to remember a time when there were so many rumors of executive shuffles.
As far as Hollywood is concerned, the most engrossing performances are being played out at the Katzenberg-Disney trial in Century City, not in the summer movies.
Missing from this summer are a few staples: There are no major sequels, the exception being the “Austin Powers” circus. Who can recall this much hoopla surrounding a movie that grossed only $ 54 million in its initial incarnation? Then there’s “Tarzan,” which seems like a sequel, but is yet another animated iteration of the loincloth legend.
Also missing are errant asteroids or erupting volcanoes. For the first summer in memory, there will be no dueling movies with identical premises.
Survey the summer schedule and it’s also hard to find films like “The Truman Show” or “Bulworth” that will give the critics something to “discover.” Stanley Kubrick’s final effort, “Eyes Wide Shut,” may have to be their sole preoccupation.
Indeed, the studio race seems up in the air. Having scored so remarkably last summer, Fox’s principal hopes for summer ’99 may be focused on “Fight Club,” which has to be relegated to the sleeper category. Sony signaled hopes for a big summer a year ago, but “Big Daddy,” the Adam Sandler film, would appear to be its lone sure thing.
There’s no “Armageddon” from Disney. Paramount had a terrific summer ’98, but its biggest hopes for summer ’99 reside with “The General’s Daughter” starring John Travolta. Similarly, DreamWorks must pin its prospects around “The Haunting” from Jan De Bont.
On the face of it, the companies that seem to be on an uptick this summer are Universal (“Notting Hill,” “Bowfinger” and “American Pie”), Warner Bros. (“Wild Wild West” and “Eyes Wide Shut”) and, of course, New Line, which seems to be relishing its off-the-wall “Austin Powers” promos.
There’s always at least one studio management that seems in jeopardy at the start of summer — remember what happened to Casey Silver at Universal — but this summer may be the exception. That’s because so much turmoil already exists at the start of summer that the performance of individual films may prove irrelevant.
Take Universal: It’s an open secret that Edgar Bronfman Jr. and Ron Meyer have talked to a variety of players in recent months about assuming controls of the studio. Included on that list are Brian Grazer, Armyan Bernstein and even Harvey Weinstein. The Weinstein discussion, sources say, though denied by Universal, would have involved a mega-buyout of Miramax, but it hit a wall even before Michael Eisner had a chance to veto it.
Who will end up running the Universal studio? That remains a mystery, but it won’t depend on the box office results of “American Pie.”
The MGM derby also has come alive yet again, with several key players deep in conversation about the future of that company and its delicious library. Kirk Kerkorian clearly has gotten restless yet again and has anointed his new team of dealmakers, Alex Yemenidjian and Chris McGurk, with the responsibility of coming up with some cosmic ideas. As history reminds us, Kirk always gets what he wants.
What all this adds up to is that Hollywood will put on a damned good show in summer ’99. Some of the excitement may even take place onscreen.