The Lost Art Of The Summer Blockbuster

In the last couple of days Movies In Focus re-watched Renny Harlin’s Deep Blue Sea (1999) and Martin Campbell’s The Mask Of Zorro (1998). These films probably don’t rank high on anyone’s ‘favourite movies list’ but they’re two slices of cinematic comfort food that I return to every couple years. What really hit me about these films was the pacing – they take their time to set-up the plot and have solid characterisation. The action isn’t over-the-top and the CGI isn’t headache inducing.

Deep Blue Sea might have quite a bit of (dated) CGI, but it’s not excessive. Thomas Jane makes for a tremendous lead and while the plot may be silly, it’s damn good fun. Zorro is a quite a rich film, with handsome production design, great stunts and a lush score. Antonio Banderas is charming, Catherine Zeta-Jones has never been better and Anthony Hopkins has a good time in a mentor role which is cut from the Connery cloth. The important thing about these – there’s not a superhero to be seen!

Both these films were respectable summer hits, with Deep Blue Sea scoring $75 million in the US and $164 globally (from a $60 million budget) and The Mask of Zorro banked just under $95 million (the same number as its budget) and $250 million worldwide. They might not be the billion dollar behemoths that Hollywood is used to today, but they made bank and turned a profit.

I used to love going to the flicks in the summer, catching movies every Friday night. There was a thrill, an excitement that you’d see something entertaining and enjoyable. The tide tuned in the early 2000s, around the time of The Matrix sequels and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films. This is when studios realised that audiences would accept subpar effects, that they could throw anything onscreen and audiences would flock to it. The floodgates opened and the summer blockbuster was swallowed by a computer generated hell.

Oh, to be returned to a simpler time.