Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France


With hostilities, if not the war itself, in Iraq declared officially over, I figured it was safe to leave my hideout in neutral Ireland and slip back into victorious America for a couple of weeks.

That’s right. I was heading in the wrong direction. This is one more May in which I won’t be crashing the Cannes (use the pronunciation you prefer) film festival. And, since our itinerary doesn’t take us to Seattle, neither will I be attending the Seattle International Film Festival again this year. On the positive side, I will be collecting a huge number of Mother’s Day points.

One thing about spending a few months outside of the country is that it gives you a fresh perspective on the culture. In this case, it has been a reminder that, in America, May is the month of hype. On television, it is sweeps month. And not just sweeps month but the month when many programs are broadcasting their season, and sometimes series, finales. As for movies, it is the beginning of the releases of the blockbuster summer movies.

At this point in my life, it is unusual that I would have seen a major American release before its official release, but it happened with X2, thanks to the facts that 1) it opened in Ireland the same day as the U.S. and 2) movies like this get lots of preview screenings in Ireland. So, arriving in California a few days later, I had the strange experience of experiencing the hype for a big summer movie after I had already seen the movie.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t movie hype in Europe. Like America, it gets its share of print and television advertising as well as press tours and plugs on chat shows. But the saturation of media hype just seems lower in Europe. For one thing, in many countries television networks are restricted by their governments as to how much advertising they can have. And, while McDonald’s is everywhere, along with other similar chains, complete with their product tie-ins, they just don’t have the impact in a country like Ireland that they do in a media-centric culture like the U.S. You’re certainly aware when a new big-budget American movie is coming out, but you aren’t drowned in commercials and interviews as you are if you happen to switch on your TV in the States.

I was barely off the airplane before this fact hit home. Of course, I immediately did what any self-respecting American ex-pat does when he gets stateside; I headed for the nearest Starbucks. On the way, Hugh Jackman, as Wolverine, way bigger than life was suddenly staring at me from the window of some shopping center joint. Before I knew it, I was seeing advertisements for X2 on the television, something that I had somehow missed on Irish TV. The promos were quite good. I found myself thinking, “Hey, that looks pretty good! I should go see that!” It took a few moments to realize that I had already seen it and found the flick entertaining enough but not the absolute best summer movie I had ever seen. Still, the urge to go see it (again) was pretty strong. Apparently, advertising works.

The mother of all hyped films this summer appears to be The Matrix Reloaded, as evidenced by that touchstone of media hype, a Time magazine cover. It feels as though I have been hearing about this sequel since before the original movie came out four years ago. In fact, there have been times over the past couple of years when I figured I must have missed the movie entirely. (It’s not that weird an idea. It’s happened before.) I don’t know what’s taken the Wachowski brothers so long to get this thing to the screen, but it apparently has something to do with some audacious stunt scenes, including a climactic chase scene, in which 300 cars were destroyed and for which an entire freeway was constructed. And in fairness, the second sequel (Matrix: Revolutions) was filmed at the same time and will be out in record time, six months from now, and will play in both regular and Imax cinemas.

Sometimes a sequel is better than the original film. Not usually, but sometimes. (Godfather II, Superman II and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan come to mind.) But within some sort of reasonable range, the original film generally gives a pretty good idea of what to expect in the second film. A lot of people were really taken by The Matrix (I think mostly the same people who read every issue of Wired), and I enjoyed it fine. Its premise of paranoia-justifying global deception and virtual world that more or less resembles a computer game was guaranteed to appeal to geeks of most stripes. And its use of Hong Kong-style flying action sequences were likely to draw in the action crowd. How much can this be improved and enlarged for the sequel? Probably a fair amount, at least in terms of visuals and action. Storywise, the concern is that its imagined world and its basic themes could be stretched too thin, as has been the case in the latest Star Wars movies. Somehow, I’m betting on the Wachowskis because of their obvious love for the story as well as the technology.

Still, the amount of hype—particularly hip and cool hype—seems strangely reminiscent of the late 1990s. The filmmakers have been burning time and money like some dot-com startup with a great business concept that keeps feeding on its own excitement. The difference is that this movie—and its associated video game, CD soundtrack, and DVD—has a definite way to generate revenue. It just has to get people into seats and into shops. They’ve certainly made a good start so far. Heck, that cover story may even have added a few extra dollars to the bottom line of one of the tech boom’s saddest poster children, AOL Time Warner.

-S.L., 8 May 2003

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