The Movies of Summer 1994
Will summer 94 give you more?
Well, here we are, already about halfway through the 90s. Hope you all have been enjoying this throwback to the cinematic summers of the past.
For me personally, the summer of 94 finally showed some improvements after the last two, which had sort of seen me depressed. Things were finally starting to improve for me at school around that time, I was enjoying my new house and neighborhood, and I had started to write more regularly at the time. I was heavy into writing fiction at the time, which is something I am hoping to get back into very soon in the present. Back in the day, I was writing everything from movie scripts to short stories. Heck, at one point I even wrote an entire 13-episode cartoon series! I was writing every day at the time, and although I eventually fell out of it, I still hold a lot of great memories of that time.
In terms of pop geek culture, the summer of 94 is when I discovered Japanese anime, as well as video game RPGs, like Lunar: The Silver Star for the Sega CD, and Final Fantasy II and Secret of Mana for the SNES. Lots of great memories associated with those games from this summer.
But, I know what you're all here for. Let's look back at some nostalgic summer blockbusters, and see which ones make the cut, and which ones deserve to be buried in the past.
BEVERLY HILLS COP III
RELEASED: MAY 25
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) returns to Beverly Hills to solve yet another murder of a personal friend. This time, the victim is his boss back in Detroit, and when Foley starts to dig deeper into the crime ring responsible, the trail leads him to the Wonder World theme park, where some criminals are making counterfeit money from somewhere within the park.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I was a fan of the first two movies back in the day, but the third movie had little interest to me, as I thought the whole idea of setting the film around an amusement park sounded kind of lame. Still, a friend of mine wanted to see it, so I went with him. It was exactly what I expected. An unnecessary sequel that had run out of ideas, complete with a lead star who seemed like he could barely hide his contempt for the project up there on the screen. It was lifeless, drab and unfunny, and continued the losing streak at the box office that Murphy was experiencing at the time.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: If you need a visual representation of a sell out project, you need look no further. Murphy looks bored in this one, and is hardly even trying. If you read up on the behind the scenes story behind the film, you can learn about how Murphy clashed with the film's director, John Landis, over the tone of the film. Nobody looks like they had any fun making this, the script stinks, and again, the whole idea of Axel Foley in an amusement park is just lame. The only winners in this situation are the actors from the first two movies who were smart enough to refuse to be in this one.
RELEASED: MAY 27
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: There had been talk of a live action Flintstones movie since back when I was in Elementary School in the 80s. In 94, the movie finally became a reality. Fred Flintstone (John Goodman) finds himself promoted to associate vice president of the rock quarry he's worked at for years, only to learn he's being used as a scapegoat for an evil scheme being cooked up by two crooked employees of the company (Kyle MacLachlan and Halle Berry) who plan to embezzle money. Meanwhile, neighbors Barney (Rick Moranis) and Betty Rubble (um...Rosie O'Donnell) want to adopt a kid, and the friendship of the Flintstones and Rubbles is tested when Fred and Wilma (Elizabeth Perkins) forget who they are, and shun their friends for wealth. Seriously, doesn't this sound like too much plot for a Flintstones movie?
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Being a fan of the cartoon when I was a kid, I remember having a mixed reaction to this film. On the one hand, the sets and special effects did a great job of bringing the world of Bedrock into live action. Really, it probably couldn't have been better. On the other hand, there was the overly complex plot, and a couple questionable casting choices (again, Rosie O'Donnell as Betty). Still, I remember enjoying it for the visuals at the time, and while I wasn't a huge fan, I enjoyed it enough. Maybe I was just in a forgiving mood after Beverly Hills Cop III.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Fun fact - The script for the Flintstones movie was in development so long, that almost three dozen (36) people worked on it over the years, with only three writers getting final credit. You would think with that many people, someone could have come up with a better main plot than an embezzling scheme. Not only do kids not care about that sort of thing, but it has no place in a Flintstones movie. Now that the novelty of the sets and effects have worn off, I find this movie hard to watch. Oh, the filmmakers got certain things right (Goodman made a great Fred), but seriously, after waiting so long, the fans deserved better than this.
RELEASED: JUNE 10
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: I think Homer Simpson said it best..."I saw this in a movie about a bus that had to speed around the city, keeping its speed over fifty, and if its speed dropped, the bus would explode! I think it was called 'The Bus That Couldn't Slow Down.' " All I can add to that is that it stars Keanu Reeves as the hero cop, Dennis Hopper as the mad bomber, and it launched the career of Sandra Bullock.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This movie seemed to come out of nowhere back in the day and win everyone over, and for good reason. After a disappointing start to the summer movie season, this movie was the jolt of adrenalin that audiences needed. It was exciting and relentlessly fast paced, more than living up to its title. It was the kind of escapist thrill ride that every summer movie season needs, and it worked wonderfully for me back in the day.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Really, not much has changed. This is a fun and well executed movie. Sure, you can nitpick the movie to hell and back, but where is the fun in that? This is the kind of mindless action film that I can sit back and have a great time with. It helps that the movie is well made, and the cast seems to be having as much fun as the audience. A great nostalgic action film all around.
CITY SLICKERS II: THE LEGEND OF CURLY'S GOLD
RELEASED: JUNE 10
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: In this sequel to the 1991 hit comedy, Mitch (Billy Crystal), his friend Phil (Daniel Stern), and Mitch's brother Glen (Jon Lovitz) set out to discover gold when they discover an old treasure map left behind by Mitch's mentor on the Western trail in the last movie, Curly. Along they way, they are joined up by Duke (Jack Palance), who just happens to be Curly's twin brother, and is in no way a desperate attempt by the filmmakers to bring Palance back after his Oscar-winning performance, and having his original character die in the first movie.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: You may remember from my 1991 article that I was a fan of the first film, so I was really looking forward to this. If Beverly Hills Cop III is a sell out project, then this is just a desperate attempt to make a sequel to a movie that didn't need one in the first place. First of all, while I love Jon Lovitz, he is no replacement for Bruno Kirby in the first film, and never quite fits in with Crystal and Stern. Second, the whole "Curly's twin brother" thing seemed desperate even when I was almost 17. Third, the movie seemed to go nowhere, and was just a bunch of aimless scenes trying to disguise the fact that the writers had no real story to tell after the first movie.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Boy, the summer of 94 is not off to a good start, is it? Catching up with these movies, I had forgotten how disappointing the season had started off. But let me tell you, after sitting throw two desperate sequels almost one after another, all the memories came flooding back. This really is a sequel that didn't need to be made, and exists simply out of corporate greed. Crystal and the writers made the original as a stand-alone film, and there was no need for a continuation. To be fair, there are a couple laughs in this film, but it's definitely a pale imitation of the original.
RELEASED: JUNE 17
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Will Randall (Jack Nicholson) is a meek and aging New York book publisher who strikes a wolf with his car one snowy night. When he investigates the animal, it suddenly attacks and bites him. Ever since that event, Will's personality has changed. He is more aggressive at work and energetic, and even has the the courage to start a romantic relationship with his boss' much younger daughter (Michelle Pfieffer). But then, more terrifying and violent effects begin to take hold of Will, and it seems that he might slowly be turning into a wolf himself.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: To my mind back then, this movie sounded like a slam dunk. You have a legend like Jack Nicholson starring in a modern day take on the Wolf Man story. Not only that, but the film was being directed by another legend, the great Mike Nichols (The Graduate). And while the movie was certainly not bad, it certainly does not live up to the talent both on and behind the camera. I felt the movie was at its best during the first half, which focuses on Will's changes at work. There was a touch of satire here, as well as some suspense as we knew that he would have to start losing control eventually. The second half, I thought, kind of flew off the rails when it tried to be a more traditional horror film. It wasn't terrible, but it didn't match the fun of the first half, and it wasn't very scary.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This still isn't that great of a movie, but I do admire it. Nicholson is great here, and he has great romantic and erotic chemistry with Pfeiffer. And again, I really like the scenes that cover his changes on the job, and standing up to his boss and other employees who have pushed him around. I'm still not a huge fan of the second half. There are some very silly plot developments piled on during this part, and Nichols, while a great director, does not seem all that comfortable working with horror and gore. He knows how to generate suspense, but when he has to go all out and give us the monster, he kind of loses his way. Still, while the film may be uneven, it can be enjoyable for the performances.
THE LION KING
RELEASED: JUNE 17 (LIMITED), JUNE 24 (WIDE RELEASE)
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A lion cub named Simba (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas) is born the son of the great lion king Mufasa (James Earl Jones), and is next in line to rule over the Pridelands. However, Simba's scheming Uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) devises a plan with some treacherous hyenas to rule over the land himself by killing both Sima and his father. Simba manages to survive and escape, but goes into exile, feeling guilty over his father's death. While in exile, he meets some wacky animal friends, grows to an adult (Matthew Broderick), and eventually must battle Scar and take his rightful place as king. And an animation legend is born!
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I remember there being a great amount of excitement and hype for this film leading up to its release. And when the movie finally did come out, it just seemed to explode like no other Disney animated film I had ever experienced. And I was right there with the crowd. I absolutely adored this film when I saw it opening night, and would go on to see it many more times during the course of the summer. At the time, it felt like nothing else Disney had ever done, especially the opening "Circle of Life" sequence, which pretty much sold it not as an animated film, but some kind of grand epic. Everybody seemed to be in love with this movie that summer, the likes of which we probably didn't see until much later, when Disney put out Frozen in 2013.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: While some later Disney animated films have surpassed this film to me, it still holds a place in my heart. I view this as the last great Disney (not Pixar) animated film of the 90s, as they were never able to quite top this one in the years to come for quite a while. Some people have turned on this film, or find it and its songs annoying, but I still admire it a great deal. The animation is still beautiful, the voice acting top notch, and I still love the characters.
RELEASED: JULY 1
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: It's another attempt to update an age old hero from the 1930s, and give them a dark and edgy 90s movie adaptation. This time, the hero is The Shadow, a man with the ability to "cloud the minds" of criminals (aka control them), and seemingly make himself invisible. Alec Baldwin portrays The Shadow here, as he tries to save New York City from Shiwan Khan (John Lone), a descendent of Genghis Khan, who wants to finish what his ancestor started and (say it with me) conquer the world.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This is one of those movies that got a lot of hype before it came out, and then quickly fizzled almost the instant it was released. And for good reason. This felt like a desperate attempt to mimic a formula that had worked previously with Batman. Heck, a lot of the sets looked like they are left overs of the Gotham City ones from Tim Burton's films. And not only did Baldwin look extremely silly in his Shadow getup, he wasn't that interesting of a character. This is one of those movies I remember seeing back in the day, but remember little about.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: I'm serious when I said I did not remember anything about this movie when I caught up with it. Heck, I had forgotten this movie had even been made. I was looking up movies of the 90s, came across The Shadow, and I vaguely remembered seeing it, but couldn't remember anything about it other than I didn't think it was that great. Watching it today, it's easy to see why. There's so little suspense or tension in this film, and the performances are kind of silly, despite having some notable names in the cast like Baldwin, Peter Boyle, Sir Ian McKellen, and Tim Curry (giving another over the top villain performance). This is yet another movie from the summer of 94 that deserves to remain forgotten in the past.
RELEASED: JULY 6
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: It's the recent history of America as seen through the eyes of a simple man with a below average I.Q. (Tom Hanks). As a child, he is under the watchful and caring eyes of his mother (Sally Field), who teaches him he can do anything, despite his mental handicap. He also builds a long-lasting love for a young girl named Jenny (played as an adult by Robin Wright). As he grows into adulthood, he experiences Vietnam, meets various Presidents, becomes the wealthy owner of a shrimp corporation, and becomes the witness or participant of just about every major American event of his time.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I had a whirlwind of emotions surrounding this movie when I was young. I liked it when I first saw it, and thought it was a sweet and heartfelt movie. But then, the movie just exploded. Everybody kept on going on about it, was quoting it, and it just became this cultural phenomenon. Over time, I kind of got sick of it. The fact that it went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars for that year over two movies I felt were better (Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption) made me even more bitter toward it. Eventually, I grew to despise the movie, and for a while I refused to watch it.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Now that the attention has long died down and it's just another movie, I have come to enjoy it once again. I think the overhyping of the film really kind of turned me against it for a while. Regardless, this is a fine film with great performances, and much like Jurassic Park the previous summer, this was a revolution in special effects at the time, seamlessly adding the actors into archival news footage. I again find this to be a gentle and sweet movie that kind of got oversold by its fans. If this had just been a regular movie that got some fans and played for a while, I never would have gone through my "despise" phase with this film. Instead, everyone treated it like it was some kind of masterpiece. It's a good movie, don't get me wrong, and I enjoy watching it. But I do think it definitely got oversold back in the day.
RELEASED: JULY 15
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: After Last Action Hero bombed the previous summer, Arnold Schwarzenegger reteamed with Terminator director, James Cameron, for this comedic action film. Here he plays Harry Tasker, a secret agent battling terrorist forces, while also leading a double life to protect his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis), pretending that he's a dull and boring computer salesman. When Harry finds out that his wife is having an affair with a slimy car salesman (Bill Paxton), because she feels she needs more excitement in her life, he decides to give it to her by letting her into his secret life, all the while trying to stop a plot to nuke the U.S. with some stolen weapons.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I remember this movie took me by surprise, as it was much sillier and comedic than anything we had seen from James Cameron before, while also mixing his traditional big budget action sequences. The combination worked for me, and I had a lot of fun with this one. It was a good vehicle for Schwarzenegger to show off by his action and comedy (much better than in Last Action Hero), and both he and Jamie Lee Curtis got off some really funny moments together. It was thrilling, funny and had some very good action sequences, so I was pleased.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This is one of those movies were not much has changed. The movies that Cameron would go on to do after this like Titanic and Avatar would ultimately eclipse this movie to the point that many don't remember much about it. Heck, even I didn't until I caught up with it for the sake of this article. But, rediscovering it was a lot of fun. The combo of action and humor works here, as it never gets too silly or too serious or violent to kill the mood that the movie is going for.
RELEASED: JULY 29
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A meek and shy bank clerk named Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carrey) discovers an ancient mask that seems to have the power to make the wearer's wildest fantasies come true. And since Stanley is a fan of classic cartoons, the mask transforms him into a green-faced living cartoon character who has the abilities to get back at all the people who torment him. Eventually, Stanley will have to use his new powers to save the city and the woman he has fallen for (Cameron Diaz, making her acting debut) when an evil crime boss gets a hold of the mask, and tries to use its powers for evil.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Has any comedian or actor ever had a year like Jim Carrey had in 1994? He kicked off the year with Ace Ventura in February, followed it up with The Mask during the summer, and ended it with Dumb and Dumber in December. All three films were massive hits, and made him one of the biggest comedic stars to come along in a while at the time. I was one of the few of my age group who wasn't a fan of Ace Ventura, but I remember liking this one a lot more. I loved the special effects, and I found Carrey to be very likable and funny in the lead role. Being a fan of classic animation, I also loved the Tex Avery influenced gags throughout the film. This was a big movie back in the day, and at the time, I completely understood why.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This movie has not aged well to me. While Carrey is still likable here, the movie itself feels kind of slow and dead whenever he's not wearing the mask. It's a movie of extreme highs and lows, and my interest kind of sags for long periods when he's not The Mask. The movie's not bad by any means, and I can see why I enjoyed it back in the day. It's just that its flaws are much more visible to me now. The scene-stealing dog is still cute, though, and the best part of the film outside of Carrey.
NATURAL BORN KILLERS
RELEASED: AUGUST 26
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis) are two lovers who go on a cross country killing spree. At each stop they make during their deadly road trip, they kill everyone but one person, who can tell their story. Over time, the two become sensationalized by the media, and become almost heroes to the nation. It's a highly stylized and gory satire on how the current news media can glorify criminals, and make them into celebrities.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I remember there being a lot of attention and controversy surrounding this film when it came out. It was extremely violent and gory, but it also used some really interesting film style choices in order to tell its story, such as the scenes depicting Mallory growing up with an abusive father (played by Rodney Dangerfield) being depicted as a sitcom, complete with off camera laugh track. There's animation, black and white film, as well as old TV clips, which gave the film a highly kinetic and kind of manic energy. I remember really getting sucked in by the film's vision, and finding this to be a fascinating film.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Again, I don't think this is a movie that has stood the test of time. Oliver Stone (who directed the film) tries to do so much that the movie kind of becomes too chaotic for its own good. This also comes across as a one-note movie, hitting the same points over and over again. In my later years, I have seen other movies that have handled the idea of "criminals as media celebrities" much better than this. Still, there are some effective moments here. The "sitcom" scenes are still very powerful and hit the right note, and the performances are strong. But there is just simply too much here vying for the audience's attention, and it gets to be a bit much.
And that will wrap up the summer of 94. What does 95 hold for us? Well, we get a new direction for Batman, Tom Hanks continues his winning streak, and Disney tries to repeat their Lion King success with an animated film about a Native American Princess.
Come back next time for these films and many more!