There was a time when, on any given Saturday afternoon, I sat in the balcony of the Laurel Theater and watched what were then state-of-the-art adventure movies.
There was a time when, on any given Saturday afternoon, I sat in the balcony of the Laurel Theater and watched what were then state-of-the-art adventure movies. They were intense. Riveting. And filled with one grand chase scene after the next. Often they were serials that defined the word cliffhanger. Just as Don Winslow of the Navy's car — he was being chased by nefarious villains wearing fez hats and thick mustaches — slams through the blind curve guard rail and soars out into space, jagged rocks waiting below, the scene would cut to the words, "To Be Continued Next Week."
These films embraced the minimalist tradition of screenwriting. Lots of action, harrowing moments wherein Don barely escapes, an abundance of fight scenes, easily identifiable villains. And little dialogue, character development or backstory. This wasn't about Don chatting anyone up — other than yelling to a gorgeous, helpless, terrified blonde to "Take the wheel!" of the careening speedboat while Don crawls to the stern to fight off the dark-visage bad guys who've jumped on board.
Adventure movies then, as now, were loud, exaggerated, fists landing on jaws, guns drawn and fired wildly, Don's date struggling to turn the boat so as to miss a very large tanker steaming directly toward them. The film cuts were as staccato-like as anything produced today; the filmmakers knew our attention spans were, well, short. In fact, if Don began talking too much to, say, his sidekick or his very marginal love interest, you could hear kids getting restless, some making a dash to the lobby for a re-supply of popcorn or Milk Duds.
While movies have changed, the audiences, essentially, remain the same. Hard-core adventure fans (tween and teen boys first, and then the rest) eagerly await the techno-filmmakers to take it to the next level always anticipating a smorgasbord of special effects and CGI delights. What has happened is that the wooden special effects of films past have morphed into a movie magic that has been taken to a new and astonishing realm.
And like their antecedents, these big tent blockbusters are B movies on steroids: huge budgets, top-tier actors and state-of-the-art everything, made to punch the audience audibly, visually and viscerally. And there is no better example this season than "Terminator Salvation." It rocks and makes no apologies for a skinny story which strings together scenes that are beyond anything that could have been imagined when the first "Terminator" was made in 1984 and Arnold Schwarzenneger, as a T-800 terminator, was sent back in time to kill Sarah Conner, who would soon become the mother of John Conner, the future leader of the resistance against the machines (2018).
Of course, as narratives, all these summer mega-movies are thin. And on occasion the sequels implode, cascading into nonsense. But no matter, the young demographic will show up, ever eager to take the ride.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Think of "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" as a Teflon movie. It will matter not a whit what critics might say about it. Parents will take the kids, the kids will be enthralled with the Smithsonian Museum coming to life after sunset, and the parents will smile at some of the inside jokes delivered in the main by Hank Azaria portraying pharaoh Kahmunrah, a decidedly nasty piece of work who has, well, issues.
Ben Stiller is back as Larry Daley, the hapless museum guard from "Night of the Museum." He is now a successful entrepreneur who concludes that he misses the old gang and his old job. When he learns that his midnight buddies have been crated and shipped to the basement of the Smithsonian, he decides to rescue them.
Sure it's all silly and nonsensical; but check out the kids. They love this stuff. And the filmmakers throw in not only past characters from the first movie, which took place in the Museum of Natural History, but move all the action to the Smithsonian and the National Air and Space Museum, signaling the appearance of Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart who takes a turn as Larry's mild love interest. There's also Oscar the Grouch, Al Capone, Darth Vadar, Napoleon, General Custer, Abe Lincoln, the capuchin monkeys, Ivan the Terrible, Rodin's Thinker, the Wright brothers and their spiffy plane (flown by Ameilia) and Owen Wilson in a cameo appearance as Jedidiah Smith, explorer.
For kids it's a ride. For the parents, well, grin and bear it. "Night in the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" has its moments.