For the cultured film connoisseur, the summer months are kind of like a retread to middle school: A long, arduous break between the most active months of your year. Summer is a time for blockbusters; buildings on fire, fast cars, lusty leading ladies — you know something’s got to get hijacked. There is nothing more to blockbusters than an escape during those putridly hot months that divide up Michigan’s putridly long winters. They strike at the core of what makes America great: our longing to see Will Smith fight robots. Nay, our confidence that the movie industry won’t let us down every time we want to see him fight robots … or aliens … or robotic aliens. This summer was no different — blockbusters dominated the landscape. Thank you, America.
Released: May 19
As if the success of “Finding Nemo” last summer wasn’t enough to prove the power of computer animation, Dreamworks’s ogre sequel raked in some green of its own. What could have turned out to be a half-hearted effort instead rivaled the original in terms of humor and originality. From Shrek to Donkey, all the characters clicked with audiences. Best of all was the addition of Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), who upon first appearance would seem to be everything that the first movie derided, but became a humorous foil for Shrek and his noble steed.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Released: June 4
Described by some as the greatest fantasy film ever made, the “Harry Potter” franchise took a step towards the macabre storytelling and brash imagery of the later books with “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” In direct contrast to the first two films, “Azkaban” feels much darker and much more visceral than any storytelling thus far. The characters have aged, and as a result, the story was forced to mature. Combined with a strikingly adept visual style and emotional force displayed by the entire cast, “Azkaban” will surely propel the series toward unparalleled heights.
Lion’s Gate/IFC/Fellowship Adventure Group
Released: June 23
Hyped beyond expectation even before it saw stateside release (due in large part to a triumphant visit to Cannes), filmmaker Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a critical examination of the Bush administration’s actions in the wake of Sept. 11, was clearly the most talked-about film of the summer. Released amid controversy from both the left and the right wings, “Fahrenheit” is the epitome of Moore’s career: a scorching, personal statement on the state of war in the U.S. and abroad, with a touch of his own sense of humor, pop culture gaiety and in-your-face filmmaking tactics.
Released: June 30
“Spider-Man 2” found mild-mannered Peter Parker (Toby Maguire) juggling his chaotic double-life as both an overworked student and the overworked superhuman crime fighter. With superb performances by both Maguire and new villain Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”), better known as the tentacled “Doc Ock,” “Spider-Man 2” added depth to the characters and the original storyline, and easily shrugged off the sophomore slump this summer.
20th Century Fox
Released: July 16
Through the lens of a proven formula (Will Smith + July – “Wild Wild West” = Blockbuster) “I, Robot” appeared to be 20th Century Fox’s golden goose of the summer. Unfortunately, to their dismay, it fell flaccid and ultimately became one of the summer’s true letdowns. Set in the year 2035, robots are an everyday household item and everyone trusts them, except one man (Smith) who investigates a crime he believes was perpetrated by a robot. He discovers a threat far more serious to the human race. In the end, the biggest problem with “I, Robot” became its staleness and inability to advance past rudimentary facets of science fiction. The chase scenes and action did little to push the envelope in the CGI-based industry and recycled much of the style and charisma of most science fiction films.
Released: July 9
Riding high off the success of last winter’s “Elf,” former “Saturday Night Live” staple Will Ferrell attempted to make a giant leap forward as a comedian by commandeering the often unfocused “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.” Set in late 1970s San Diego, Calif., Ferrell plays Burgundy, the city’s top-rated anchorman, who finds his position threatened by a hotshot young female journalist (Christina Applegate). Despite the fact that it was nearly missing a plot, “Anchorman” was filled with enough one-liners to make even the most critical eighth-grader grin. Still, Ferrell’s oft-imitable act couldn’t hold the ship afloat alone.
— Compiled by Adam Rottenberg and Alex Wolsky
The Michigan Daily discovered in November 2004 that several articles written by arts editor Alex Wolsky did not meet the newspaper’s standard of ethical journalism. Parts of these stories had been plagiarized from other news sources. Although the article below has not been found to contain plagiarism, the Daily no longer stands by its content. The co-author had no knowledge of the plagiarism. For details, see the Daily’s editorial.