Another summer of superhits may be on its way
Armed with sequels, remakes, musicals, adventures, and oodles of fantasy, Hollywood is hoping for a slam-bang summer at the box office.
Will the dream come true? It could happen. Movie theaters boomed last summer, after a slow winter and spring.
And there are signs of another surge this year. Ticket sales soared in March, according to Variety, the show-business newspaper. Now the studios have begun a major publicity blitz aimed at propelling as many films as possible into the big time during the warm-weather months.
It won't be easy, though. These days, box-office grosses are generally dominated by a handful of superhits, at the expense of everything else. Last year, just two films - ''Raiders of the Lost Ark'' and ''Superman II'' -- gobbled up 25 percent of total revenues. True, 25 other pictures generated at least $1 million each between July and the middle of August. But that's small change compared with the feats of ''Superman II,'' which once pulled in $5.5 million on a single day.
Naturally, the moguls and whiz kids are yearning for a replay of the ''Raiders'' and ''Superman'' success story. That's one reason for the spate of remakes and sequels about to be unleashed.
The other reason is sheer lack of imagination. Nostalgic for the good old days of two or three years ago? Get ready for ''Rocky III'' from Sylvester Stallone. Grab your ticket for ''Grease II'' and ''Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.''
Continuing in the deja vu vein, the most lavish musicals of the summer, including ''Annie,'' are based on long-running Broadway hits. The silly new Steve Martin comedy, ''Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid,'' borrows footage from classic Hollywood melodramas. Even the family-aimed ''E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,'' by Steven Spielberg, apparently began as a follow-up to his blockbuster ''Close Encounters of the Third Kind.'' Sci-fi specialist John Carpenter has remade Howard Hawks's classic ''The Thing.'' And the venerable ''Superman II'' is due for reissue, along with those golden oldies, ''Raiders'' and ''Star Wars.''
Of course, the new movie subjects are not all stuck in self-imitation. But even the more original efforts fall into similar patterns. The fantasy trend continues with ''Tron,'' a computer-based adventure from Walt Disney Productions , and ''The Secret of NIMH,'' a feature cartoon about intelligent rats, made by a group of former Disney animators. ''Blade Runner'' is a futuristic melodrama from ''Alien'' director Ridley Scott.
''Conan the Barbarian'' is John Milius's epic about a beefy hero created decades ago in the proto-comic-strip stories of Robert E. Howard. The ghostly ''Poltergeist'' is a seamless collaboration between the wistfulness of producer Steven Spielberg and the toughness of director Tobe Hooper, both of whom have a longstanding yen for otherworldly themes.
Other adventures include ''Firefox'' (Clint Eastwood steals an airplane) and the mercenary ''Megaforce.'' Teen-agers, a key Hollywood target, will be the likely audience for ''Summer Lovers,'' a follow-up to the dreadful ''Blue Lagoon'' by director Randal Kleiser. ''Young Doctors in Love'' hopes to capitalize on the popularity of TV soap operas. ''Tex,'' from the Disney people, is Tim Hunter's adaptation of a novel by S.E. Hinton, a favorite author with young readers.
Woody Allen will be back with ''A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy'' (aimed at an older audience), hoping to recoup after the disaster of ''Stardust Memories.'' Also for older filmgoers: ''The World According to Garp,'' with Robin Williams as the title character of John Irving's overrated novel; and ''An Officer and a Gentleman,'' Paramount's sop to those who aren't thrilled by the idea of ''Grease'' and ''Star Trek'' sequels.
Will all this celluloid add up to the summer of Hollywood's dreams? Or will audiences yawn and stay away, spending their dollars on cable-TV hookups and video games? It's too early to tell. ''Conan'' got off to a good start, but reviews for ''Annie'' were disappointing. It could go anywhere from here.
Writing in the New York Times, show-biz specialist Aljean Harmetz reports a Hollywood consensus that ''Rocky III'' will climb to the top of the summer heap, along with both Spielberg fantasies, ''E.T.'' and ''Poltergeist.'' That seems a safe speculation. The earlier ''Rocky'' pictures combined audience-pleasing fun with big box-office performance.
As for Spielberg, he has been batting 1.000 (with one exception) ever since ''Jaws.'' His colorful ''E.T.'' is a grade-school version of ''Close Encounters, '' a friendly adventure that just misses ideal family-film status with a few vulgar words and a sci-fi medical sequence. And ''Poltergeist,'' while not for young children, is the best ghost story in years. Even if ''E.T.'' proves too sentimental and drawn out for some viewers, it's hard to imagine ''Poltergeist'' not continuing the Spielberg dynasty of superhits.
To finish with the biggest question of all, is there any art among all this entertainment? The answer is probably yes, if you count clever new ways of manipulating dusty old genres. The summer lineup is crammed with spooks and spacemen, music and teen drama - all staples that have fed Hollywood for years. Any enduring values that emerge will almost certainly reflect fresh approaches, not fresh material. The outlook is for a brash and boisterous season, not a bold or innovative one. German drama about sisters
After years of working with her husband -- Volker Schlondorff, director of ''The Tin Drum'' -- actress and filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta has emerged as a major cineaste in her own right. Her new release, Marianne and Julianne, ranks with some of the best work by her West German compatriots Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
''Marianne and Julianne'' are sisters. They share a fierce dedication to social awareness and change, but differ drastically on tactics. The story begins when Marianne, a revolutionary, asks Julianne, a worker within the system, to take over the rearing of her little son. It continues through a long period when Marianne is imprisoned and her dismayed sister tries to defend and comfort her.
Though the plot is rooted in the present, it includes flashbacks to the sisters' adolescent and childhood years, when their personalities were substantially different from their present ones. Past experiences are evoked as elements in the personal drama of the characters, not as easy psychological solutions to complex mysteries of human behavior.
Like the recent Schlondorff drama ''Circle of Deceit,'' the delicate ''Marianne and Julianne'' explores the relationship between politics and personality. It provides no ready-made answers to the questions it raises, or even to the hard dilemmas of the plot. Splendidly acted and immaculately filmed, it treats its characters as real and complicated people caught in real and complicated times. It is the most expressive and intelligent West German drama in recent memory. Wooster Group retrospective
Film has become a valuable tool in the legitimate theater, especially in the hands of image-oriented directors. Some of the most fascinating film-and-theater work is now on view at the Performing Garage in New York, where the Wooster Group is staging a retrospective of three major shows.
The earliest is the stunning ''Nayatt School,'' a recognized landmark for the Wooster Group and one of the most thrilling theater pieces I have ever seen. In the original production, several cast members were children. When they grew too old for their roles, director Elizabeth LeCompte replaced them with an ingeniously subjective film by Ken Kobland.
For the current engagement, the children and the film appear together, brilliantly magnifying some key themes of the play: the passage of time, the ambiguities of performance and ''real life,'' the meanings and mechanisms of memory. Though some clarity is sacrificed, the combination of real and filmed performers also enhances the overwhelming emotional power of the work.
''Point Judith'' continues the troupe's exploration of film as a theatrical element. At one point, a movie is projected onto the performing area. Later a film spills right off its screen, flickering over the face of an actress. And eventually the entire show fades into a celluloid shadow.
Finally, in the more recent ''Route 1 & 9 (The Last Act)'' -- an abstract and controversial work that has proved offensive to some viewers -- sections of the play ''Our Town'' appear on TV monitors. Meanwhile the performers mime a ghostly party that contrasts with (and comments on) the Thornton Wilder classic, which itself becomes a profoundly ambivalent soap opera. Incidentally, the provocative ''Route 1 & 9'' has been selected for presentation in Amsterdam as part of the 1982 Holland-American Bicentennial.
Continuing through mid-June, the Wooster Group retrospective is a major multimedia event, despite the problem of dubious taste in some scenes. Considered as a single sequence, the three shows have a striking unity of theme and approach as they combine extraordinary performances -- by Spalding Gray, Ron Vawter, and Willem Dafoe, most notably -- with the innovative directing of Miss LeCompte and the film contributions of Ken Kobland.
Perhaps ironically, Kobland's work with the Wooster troupe is far more dazzling than such an independently made picture as his recent ''Landscape and Desire,'' and makes a good case for theatrical collaboration as a stimulating exercise for the budding filmmaker.