Hello, one and all! It's time once again to take a step back and think back on a previous Hollywood summer. This time, we're hitting the summer of 96 and its cinematic offerings.
What do you remember from that summer? For me, that was the summer I graduated from high school. But, before college started in the fall, my mom decided to give me a gift...My last summer of freedom. She decided that I didn't have to work or have a job that summer. I could just enjoy it, since it was probably going to be my last chance at a "free" summer.
So, what did I do with my summer of freedom? Well, I remember a lot of friends, doing a short road trip at one point, and a lot of playing of the Sony Playstation, as like most young men at the time, I was obsessed with Sony's little gray box. Many nights were devoted to Tekken, Twisted Metal and Resident Evil. I was also a humongous fan of anime at the time, so i remember scouring multiple video and comic book stores for elusive titles. It was the summer I discovered Oh My Goddess, which became the basis of my first article here at Retro Junk.
In particular, I remember scouring for bootleg videos of anime that had not yet come to America, or had been released in America but were butchered or edited. The original, unedited and uncensored Japanese TV version of Sailor Moon was a particular interest to my friends and I, as the show had debuted on U.S. TV the year before, and we had heard a lot of talk of how entire episodes had been cut out, and there was quite a bit of violence cut from the show.
Yes, people, this was pretty much my summer of 96...
So yeah, my summer was made up of blasting zombies, and cartoon Japanese middle school girls in obscenely short skirts fighting cheesy monsters...It seemed cooler back then than it does now.
So, now that I have that out of the way, let's look at the movies that made up the summer movie season of 1996!
TWISTER RELEASED: MAY 10
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A storm chasing couple on the brink of divorce (played by Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt) are forced to join together when a series of deadly tornadoes all of a sudden decide to hit one after another in a single area. They had developed an advanced severe weather alert system together in the past, and decide to use these twisters in order to test it. Along the way, they'll have to deal with some cartoonishly evil rival storm chasers, and rediscover their love for each other.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Like everyone else at the time, I went to see this one for the special effects, expecting some cool weather-related sequences. And what did I get? A bickering couple, some obnoxious side characters, dumb villains...Oh, and some cool weather-related special effects sequences. But those weren't enough to save what, to me, was a big wasted opportunity. I just didn't care about anything in this movie other than the effects, and those weren't good enough to save the film for me.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: I actually hadn't watched this since back when it was in theaters, so I was looking forward to giving this movie a second chance, and see if it has improved with age. The short answer? Nope. The movie is as dumb as I remember it being when I was sitting there in the theater. The movie is loud and dumb, the "advanced weather alert robot" that the main characters create looks like a hi-tech garbage can, the villains are unnecessary, and the whole thing just doesn't work.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE RELEASED: MAY 22
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: The classic TV show got a 90s update with this big budget adaptation. When a classified mission goes wrong, all of the agents involved are killed, except for Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise). When Ethan tries to report what happened to his superiors, he falls under suspicion of being the reason behind the failed mission. In order to clear his name, Ethan must go outside of his own agency, and do things his own way.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Outside of a little movie about aliens and the 4th of July (which we will get to later), this was probably the second most hyped movie of the summer season. I saw it opening weekend, and I remember finding it to be complex, but pretty rewarding. It wasn't the "end-all blockbuster" that it was hyped to be, but I remember admiring the action sequences and the fact that it was a summer movie that was actually trying to tell a story. That was something I needed after Twister. Sure, the plot was probably too complex for its own good, and it was frequently ridiculed for that fact. But all in all, I enjoyed it.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: The Mission: Impossible film franchise is still running to this very day, with a new sequel hitting next month (I'm writing this in late June). In retrospect, this is probably my second least favorite film (Mission: Impossible II being my least favorite), but that doesn't mean it's bad. It just means that I think some of the sequels (especially Ghost Protocol) have done it better. Looking back on this film, yeah, I can see why the complex plot turned some people off. Still, the movie does have its fun moments, and the action is still pretty intense. It's just been eclipsed by the later films.
DRAGONHEART RELEASED: MAY 31
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A noble knight (Dennis Quaid) once worked for King Einon (David Thewlis). When young Einon was wounded in battle, the knight found a way to save his life by going to a local dragon, and having the dragon offer part of his heart so that the King could live. After that, Einon grew up to become a corrupt and tyrannical ruler. The knight blames the dragon's influence for the king's change in behavior, and vows to slay every dragon he can find. When he is finally reunited with the dragon in question (voiced by Sean Connery), the two actually decide to team up and battle the evil king in order to save their land.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This was back in the day when CG was still relatively new, and we had never seen a CG dragon as a main character in a film before, so I was quite excited at the possibilities. And yes, I remember liking the dragon quite a lot, especially Connery's vocal performance behind the special effect. As for the movie itself, I didn't exactly find it terrible, but it was considerably lacking in tension. The plot just didn't have enough driving force, and I remember finding the evil King more odd than threatening. Still, there are some good moments here, and I remember finding the ending to be surprisingly emotional.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Yes, this is a pretty goofy movie, but it still has some charms. It's really a mix of some great ideas and a lot of stuff that doesn't work. I still find the main villain a wash, but Dennis Quaid works well with the CG dragon, and even has good chemistry with Connery's performance. With a stronger script, this could have been a really memorable summer movie. As it stands, it's not perfect by any means, but it's more fun than I thought it would be when I watched it again recently.
THE ROCK RELEASED: JUNE 7
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A group of military villains led by a disgruntled general (Ed Harris) threaten to attack San Francisco with a deadly nerve gas from within Alcatraz Prison. They have taken the tourists within the abandoned prison hostage, and threaten to start taking lives unless their demands are met. In order to stop the villains, an FBI agent and chemist (Nicolas Cage) must team up with the only man who ever successfully escaped from Alcatraz (Sean Connery again).
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This was back when Micheal Bay was just another action director, instead of the guy who ruined the Transformers for myself and many other fans. At the time, I thought this was a fantastic entertainment. It was fast paced and exciting, without being stupid like Twister, and without being overly complex like Mission: Impossible. It struck a good balance between action and character development. Cage and Connery had good screen chemistry here, and they got some funny one liners off of each other. All in all, this was the first truly successful summer movie of the year in my eyes.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Not much has changed. I consider this to be Michael Bay's best film, and one of the few of his that I can watch more than once. It's held up remarkably well, and it also serves as a sad reminder of the talent that Nicolas Cage once was. (He had just come off of an Oscar win when he did this movie.) The action is still strong, the humor is still funny, and it's really just a fun thrill ride movie that has managed to hold up a lot better than I initially thought it would.
THE CABLE GUY RELEASED: JUNE 14
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A man recently dumped by his girlfriend (Matthew Broderick) gets more than he bargained for when he signs up for Cable TV. The Cable installer who shows up at his house (Jim Carrey) is a bizarre and lonely individual who won't leave the guy alone, and starts showing up everywhere in the man's life. Eventually, the cable guy starts destroying the man's life one aspect at a time when the man rejects his friendship.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This was the first big stumbling block in Jim Carrey's rising career, and I think the very dark tone of the film confused his fans. Up until now, he had mostly played goofballs. Even his Riddler in the previous summer's Batman Forever was more funny than threatening. Here, Carrey plays a very disturbed and mentally unhinged individual, who is prone to violence. While the movie did have some laughs, I remember finding it very disjointed in its mix of traditional wacky Carrey antics, and its pitch black satire on loneliness and the effect that the media can have on people. I could see what director Ben Stiller was trying to pull off here, but I didn't think it worked.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This is still a very odd and uneven movie to me. Doing some research on line, I learned that the film was initially intended to be a much lighter comedy, which would star Chris Farley. When Stiller came on board as director, he altered the tone, made it much darker and cynical, and placed Carrey in the title role. Again, I understand the kind of movie he was trying to make here, but it never comes together. The tone is confused, and tries to blend psychological elements with silly humor. I can see why this didn't fly with a lot of the star's fans back in the day.
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME RELEASED: JUNE 21
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Victor Hugo's classic tragic story gets the Disney animated musical treatment! A deformed bellringer at the Notre Dame cathedral named Quasimodo (voice by Tom Hulce) is kept under the strict and watchful eye of the cold and ruthless Frollo (the late Tony Jay), and is kept locked away in a bell tower with only three comic relief stone gargoyles for company. But then he meets the lovely gypsy Esmeralda (Demi Moore), who gives him the courage to live his own life for the first time. When it turns out that Frollo has sinister plans for the gypsies, Quasimodo must team up with a soldier named Phoebus (Kevin Kline), and brave the outside world.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I'll admit, when I first heard Disney was going to attempt an animated musical of Hunchback, I laughed. It didn't help matters that the prime time cartoon, The Critic, had done an episode where Jay Sherman went on a date to see a really awful Broadway musical of the story. Regardless, I went into the movie with an open mind, and I ended up loving it. While the movie did take some drastic departures from Hugo's story, it still had a very dark and somewhat somber mood to the film that was very different for Disney. I mean, it has a musical number where the evil Frollo basically sings about his sexual lust for Esmeralda, and how he's afraid that his lust is going to send him to hell. How did this get a G-rating, again? I remember this movie was considered somewhat of a disappointment for Disney, but I was a very vocal supporter of the film.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Of the "lesser" Disney animated musicals that came out after Lion King, this one is easily my favorite. I absolutely adore the art style, and to this day, it's one of the more gorgeous animated films to come out of the 90s. And like I said, this movie is incredibly dark for a Disney animated film, which is why it probably turned a lot of people off. This is a movie that really should not work in any way, and yet, it's beautiful and one of the most underrated films of Disney's output in the last 20 years.
For a bonus, here is the Hunchback musical from The Critic episode that debuted mere months before Disney's film came out.
THE NUTTY PROFESSOR RELEASED: JUNE 28
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A sweet natured yet obese college science professor named Sherman Klump (Eddie Murphy) becomes desperate to lose weight after he feels he blew it with the girl of his dreams (Jada Pinkett Smith). He creates a formula that will help him lose weight quickly, and it works, turning him into the slim and fit Buddy Love. However, Buddy is a cruel and egotistical ladies man, and eventually a Jekyll and Hyde story comes into play as the kind Sherman and the obnoxious Buddy fight for control over the same body.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: At this point, Eddie Murphy's career had pretty much been in freefall for quite a while. When this film came out, I remember it launched somewhat of a comeback for him. I enjoyed the movie back in the day for its special effects, and for Murphy's multiple performances. He not only played Sherman and Buddy, but also Sherman's entire family, and even a white Richard Simmons-like fitness personality on TV. It harkened back to Murphy's Coming to America, where he also played multiple characters. The film had inventive special effects, a likable hero, and a lot of charm.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: While the memories of the movie were eventually tainted by an unnecessary sequel that came out a few years later, I still do find this enjoyable. In fact, it's one of the few remakes that I actually find better than the original. The original Jerry Lewis film was about a nerd who became cool with the help of a magic formula. The remake deals with obesity and self image, which I think is something a lot more people can relate to. Have parts of the movie aged badly? Definitely. I don't find the family dinner scene as funny as I used to. Still, Murphy is very sweet and likable as Sherman, and it's still a lot of fun to watch.
INDEPENDENCE DAY RELEASED: JULY 3
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A modern day update on the numerous alien invasion films, this one finds a large cast of characters, including the President (Bill Pullman), a former scientist (Jeff Goldblum) and his Jewish stereotype father (Judd Hirsch), a conspiracy theory crackpot (Randy Quaid) and a fighter pilot (Will Smith), all coming together when Earth is attacked by massive flying saucers that blow up some of our greatest landmarks in an organized attack. Humanity has a will to survive, however, and Earth will take back its independence and fight back against the invaders.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Even before this movie came out, this was pretty much already guaranteed to be the film event of the summer. The early trailers that were playing in the winter of 95 that featured the White House being blown up by a massive mothership immediately got everyone's attention, and became one of the most talked about movies of the year. I saw it opening night, and while I had a great time, I honestly think the audience I saw it with had a big part of that. Much like Jurassic Park back in 93, the audience was completely into the film and having a great time, and it was impossible not to get involved. I knew I wasn't watching anything great, but it was mindless fun for me. Not only did this go on to become the big movie of summer 96 as everyone predicted, but it turned Will Smith into a film star overnight.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Unlike Jurassic Park, this movie has not held up without that opening night audience. I actually find it hard to sit all the way through this movie, as it's very dragged out and feels a lot longer than it needs to be. The characters are very thin, and not written very well. And now that the wonder of the effects have worn off, the movie has kind of lost all purpose for existing. It's a movie very much of its time, and while I know it still has its fans, I can't count myself as one of them.
MULTIPLICITY RELEASED: JULY 17
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: An over stressed and overworked man named Doug Kinney (Michael Keaton) finds a way through a local scientist to clone himself, so that he can have his clones do his work, and he can have more time for himself and his wife and child, and the things he wants to do. When the clones start making clones of themselves, and there are multiple Dougs walking around, things naturally get confusing and complicated.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: With a great and easy to relate to premise (who hasn't wished there was more of you around when things pile up), a likable star in Micheal Keaton, plus the great Harold Ramis in the director's chair, I assumed that this movie would be a slam dunk. And while I didn't find the movie bad, it just wasn't nearly as good as it could have or should have been. It felt like the movie didn't do enough with its own comedic premise. It was a pleasant yet forgettable film that just didn't seem to be trying all that hard once the novelty of multiple Micheal Keatons sharing the screen wore off.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Not much has changed. Catching up with this movie, I found it as bland and as forgettable as I did back in the day. You know, it's a real shame. This is such a great idea, and one that really should have struck gold. And while Keaton is likable here, the script just doesn't work as hard as he obviously is playing multiple characters. This one ranks as a disappointment, and deserves to be forgotten.
THE FRIGHTENERS RELEASED: JULY 19
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Five years before he hit it big with the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Peter Jackson brought us this paranormal thriller/comedy about a con artist (Michael J. Fox) who has ghosts in his employ that he sends out to haunt homes, and then he comes and pretends to get rid of the ghosts. But when the town becomes threatened by a mysterious and malevolent spirit that resembles the Grim Reaper and starts killing off the locals, he becomes the only one who can save the people, and must use his ability to communicate with spirits to help everyone.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Having long had an interest in ghosts and the paranormal, and also due to the fact that there had been few films about ghosts back in the day (Not like now, where paranormal thrillers make up over 90% of the horror genre.), I was instantly drawn to the film almost as soon as I saw the first trailer. And while I remember critics being very harsh with the film (Siskel and Ebert were particularly brutal toward it), I absolutely loved it and had a tremendous amount of fun watching it. The movie did a great job mixing humor and horror, and the story behind the evil spirit killing the locals was actually quite interesting to me. The movie was a huge bomb at the box office, but I was a huge fan.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: I find this to be a very underrated film. There are some great one liners here, some genuine laughs, and it even gets to be pretty suspenseful at times. The special effects have also held up pretty well. This was I think the first time Jackson was given a big budget, and he uses it well. This is a movie that needs to be discovered by most people, and I am happy it has gained a cult following over the years.
JACK RELEASED: AUGUST 9
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A young boy named Jack is born with a strange disease that causes him to age four times faster than normal, so that by the age of 10, he appears to be 40, and is played by Robin Williams. His parents have been sheltering him his whole life, fearing that the world won't accept him, but Jack's home school teacher (Bill Cosby) convinces them that they should let him go to public school. As Jack tries to fit in with the other kids, expected shenanigans and tear-jerking sentimentality ensue.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Remember when Francis Ford Coppola was considered a master filmmaker? It seems like once the 80s happened, his career went into a freefall, and it pretty much crash landed with this overly sentimental and sappy comedy. I remember sitting in the theater and wanting to gag at times. Sure, Williams had a tendency to be sentimental, sometimes overly so, in his films. But here, he just seemed to be trying too hard to be pulling our heartstrings. I kind of felt like my emotions were being assaulted. This movie felt like it needed more honesty.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Yeah, this one is hard to watch. I remember being disappointed with it back in the day, but catching up with it, this movie is just shameless. I know that Patch Adams movie Williams did gets a lot of criticism for being shameless in its sentimentality, but this is just as bad. Williams was a tremendous talent, but these kind of scripts seemed to attract him like a bee to honey, and that wasn't always a great thing. Still, as bad as this movie is, it's nowhere near as bad as...
THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU RELEASED: AUGUST 23
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A man named Edward Douglas (David Thewlis) is lost and sea, rescued, and brought to the mysterious island of Dr. Moreau (an embarrassing Marlon Brando), who is doing research with combining humans with animals to make monstrosities. Throw in an over the top Val Kilmer, a midget clone that follows Marlon Brando around everywhere (and was the inspiration for the Mini Me character in the Austin Powers films), and a script that barely follows the original H.G. Wells novel, and you have a bomb in the making.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Having read the book long ago, I was interested in how a movie would work. Yeah, there had been a film in the 70s, but I hadn't been able to track it down. Needless to say, this movie was a crashing embarrassment to watch. Everybody camps it up to levels unheard of, the movie doesn't have an ounce of suspense, and the whole thing is just ripe for parody. (Wait till you hear Kilmer's Brando impersonation...) Yes, this is a bad movie, but it's just so fascinating, you can't look away.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Seriously, do you have to ask? This movie is just one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen. Everybody looks humiliated to even be on camera. And they should be. And then you have the scenes where the human-animal hybrids get their hands on assault weapons, and the movie just gets even sillier. This is one of the notorious bombs of the 90s, and if you ever sit down and watch it, you'll know why.
And so, the summer of 96 closes on a tremendously silly and sour note. But what does 97 hold for us?
Well, Will Smith continues his war on aliens, we return to Jurassic Park, Harrison Ford is an ass-kicking President, and Batman stumbles and stumbles hard.
It's all waiting for you next time, so join me, won't you?