This Summer's Biggest Question Mark: The Simpsons Movie
by Barry Wurst
April 26, 2007
An eventful summer movie season awaits us, as a handful of promising films try to lure us into spending 8 bucks (or more) to stare for two hours and eat a handful of junk food. Ah yes, May must be approaching! This is a fun time for film buffs to guess blindly what will swim or sink during the next four months of film-going. Truly, you never know just what will end up on top and the results are almost always surprising.
Don't think so? Okay hot shot, pop quiz: summer of 1990. You had Die Hard 2, Dick Tracy, Days of Thunder, RoboCop 2, Gremlins 2 and Darkman as the biggest titles in release. The biggest hit of the summer? An out-of-nowhere sleeper starring Patrick Swayze - Ghost. Okay, let's look at the summer of 1997, just ten years ago. You had The Fifth Element, Face/Off, Speed 2, Contact, Breakdown, Con Air, Batman & Robin, and George of the Jungle all competing for the #1 hit of the season. The winner: a Will Smith comic book movie, from a comic most had never heard of, Men in Black.
This summer's line-up, like all the others, appears promising, though I can't help but complain at the number of sequels (c'mon, do we really want 12 sequels?! Sure, I always hoped there'd be a Die Hard 4, but who is really gonna line up for another dose of Rush Hour and Mr. Bean?). Yet, I should honestly admit that my favorite summer movie season, 1989, was chock full of sequels (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Lethal Weapon 2, as well as a return of James Bond, Jason, Freddy, The Karate Kid and the Star Trek crew). Yet, it was the roman numeral-free originals (Batman, Do the Right Thing, The Abyss, Sex Lies and Videotape, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) that made the most money and were the biggest audience favorites.
When The Devil Wears Prada outgrosses The Fast and the Furious III or a (then) longshot like a Johnny Depp pirate movie (remember, that first film was a HUGE gamble) can outgross Terminator 3, you never know who will end up on top, though of course there are a few sure things. It's safe to bet that, whether they'll be any good or not, Spider-Man 3, Pirates 3, The Bourne Ultimatum, Surf's Up and Transformers are all guaranteed to make, at least, $100 million between May and August. Unless one of them is a surprise flop on the level of Battlefield: Earth, these five should make a handful of studio executives filthy rich. Meanwhile, five others with blockbuster potential (Live Free or Die Hard, Knocked Up, 1408, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, and Hairspray) could surprise us all and take the cake (just like Finding Nemo and the first Pirates baffled everyone when they choke slammed The Matrix Reloaded, Hulk, Tomb Raider 2, Legally Blonde 2 and 2 Fast 2 Furious). There's also a collection of potential sleepers (Being Jane, Mr. Brooks, Death at a Funeral, Nancy Drew, and The Invasion) that could thwart expectations and sneak into the top ten.
Yet, the summer's biggest question mark, if not one of the most anticipated films of the season, is The Simpsons Movie. I personally have been eager to see this happen for years, yet, when the first teaser trailer appeared in front of Ice Age: The Meltdown last year, I was completely taken aback. I didn't realize they were making it yet and I figured they wouldn't release a movie until the series was off the air. Now that the release date is secure, there are some more troubling questions - sure, longtime fans of the show (who stuck with it through the seasons that were underwhelming) will go, but are there enough fans still out there, and didn't Simpsons mania peak in the 90's? I can't remember the last time I saw someone wear an "I'm Bart Simpson, Who the Hell Are You?" t-shirt and most fans can recite dialogue from episodes that were on 10 years ago, but from recent years? Not only do I hear fans grumble about recent episodes being uninspired (particularly the disappointing recent Halloween specials - always a highlight before, now they're okay at best) and it seems that a lot have moved on. Also, when the hit movie spin-offs of Beavis and Butthead and South Park hit theaters, those shows were still in their prime. Now, will filmgoers show a Simpsons movie all the enthusiasm of, say the Aqua Teen Hunger Force film? Does anyone even remember how to "Do The Bart-Man"?
The worst case scenario is that, when we finally see it, the movie will end up an uninspired, extended episode of the television series. Truly, even if the film is a hit, it won't have any fan longevity or a shelf life if it's a $100 million dollar grossing stinker (like The Flintstones). On the other hand, I still have hope in the film and here's why: the series has always been sharply satirical and smart, breaking the fourth wall, spoofing everything (including itself) and is the only long-running animated series that can be called frequently brilliant. Most importantly, unlike many animated characters who get their own film spin-off, the population of Springfield is full of three-dimensional, well developed, and downright lovable citizens, odd and flawed as they are, who can, indeed, carry an entire film. If the writers on the film take advantage of the very gimmick of a Simpsons movie, namely, making a film that tosses aside all the rules, mocks the very conventions of modern cinema and tells a character-driven story with heart on top of being a biting satire, then we may really have something here.
Yes, to the nay-sayers who aren't expecting anything from the film, I say this - sure, if it's bad, The Simpsons Movie will be a forgettable, feature-length episode of the series, but if it's as good as you'd hope, and as good as the creators can make it, we could be in for a brilliant, even groundbreaking film. The trailers emphasized physical humor but the secretive nature of the production (from the surprise teaser to the plot details kept mum and sparse) makes me think the people at Gracie Films are about to release something truly special. Obviously, I'm in the camp that is rooting for the film and wants it to be one of the top grossing and best films of the summer, if not the year. A year from now, I may look back at this article and smile, knowing my faith was rewarded, or I may start to weep like Homer Simpson and cry out, "Doh!".