Apart from a few instant classics such as 21 Jump Street and The Dark Knight Rises, most of 2012’s movie crop has been about as successful as Rick Perry’s presidential campaign. If such clunkers as The Avengers, Rock of Ages and The Lorax are any indication of what’s to come in blockbuster filmmaking, we may as well learn to embrace nonsensical plots, nonexistent character development and soulless special effects as the new norm. That being said, this fall’s selection of big-budget powerhouses may be able to turn this terrible tide.
When October kicks off and Halloween stores begin to pop up in every strip mall in town, Tim Burton stands to make massive gains, both at the box office and in our hearts, with Frankenweenie, a remake of his 1984 short film of the same name. After striking out with the hollow Alice in Wonderland and the lackluster Dark Shadows, Burton returns to his roots as the king of dark comedy. This latest film, which hits theaters Oct. 5, blends the stop-motion magic of The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride with the spooky black-and-white aesthetics of Ed Wood as it tells the story of a boy who tries to revive his dog from the dead. Judging from the film’s trailer, the eerie visuals and subject matter on display make Frankenweenie an ideal project for Burton, who has finally decided to take a break from the overused Johnny Depp and the overwrought CGI effects that have spoiled his recent works. If nothing else, the movie at least promises to provide a trip down memory line for those of us who have long treasured the veteran director’s initial short.
Nostalgia appears a common theme among this season’s cinematic offerings. Take for instance stuntman-turned-director Dan Bradley’s remake of Red Dawn. Like the 1984 original, Bradley’s film, which arrives in theaters Nov. 21, centers around a group of teenagers who must fight for their lives and their homespun American values when enemy combatants storm their home town and institute a tyrannical military occupation. Whereas the initial film was an anti-Soviet battle cry in the midst of the Cold War, the revamped version pits its heroes against a North Korea invasion. Although the film’s apparent guns-a-blazin’ jingoism may sit poorly with some audiences, its solid cast, which includes Josh Hutcherson, Chris Hemsworth and Drake & Josh’s Josh Peck, has the potential to elevate silly material into a powerful patriotic action movie.
Even if Red Dawn doesn’t rise to the occasion, Agent 007’s Nov. 9 return to U.S. theaters in Sam Mendes’ Skyfall promises to light up the screen with some spectacular setpieces, special effects and sex appeal. Starring the unrivaled Daniel Craig as Bond and No Country for Old Men’s Javier Bardem as the film’s primary villain, this tale of intrigue and shifting loyalties looks to be a good, old-fashioned spy movie, with scores of exotic locations thrown in for good measure.
Some of the fall’s biggest hits-to-be have a bit less to offer. Millions of teenage girls will scream with joy as Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner hit the screen Nov. 16 for the last installment of the Twilight franchise, but for those of us who see boring vampire epics as better fodder for drinking games than trips to the Cineplex, Breaking Dawn: Part 2 will earn only eye-rolls and snarky comments.
Along similar lines, Taken 2, Wreck-it Ralph and Rise of the Guardians, all of which plan to vie for top-tier positions at the box office, seem poised to hammer audiences with clichés, stilted characters and cheap thrills. Nevertheless, for a film season that typically functions as a wastepaper basket for ghastly Oscar bait and gaudy horror movies, fall 2012 deserves credit for bringing us bursts of nostalgia amid the garbage.