Monday, December 31, 2007

The Last Post of 2007

With today being the last day of the year, I thought it would be a good idea to look back at 2007. Like any other year, in some ways it seems as if it was a remarkable year and in other ways as if it was a wholly ordinary one.

It was certainly a strange year with regards to movies. Indeed, I suspect the summer movie season of 2007 will be remembered as the "Summer of the Threequels." There were no less than six such Threequels released throughout the summer (Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Ocean's 13, The Bourne Ultimatum, and Rush Hour 3). Three of the Threequels were released in May alone (Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End), and it seems to me that audiences expressed nearly universal disappointment in all three. I must confess that I agree with others when it comes to Spider-Man 3 and Shrek the Third, as both fell far short of the earlier films in their franchises. But I was always a bit mystified as to why critics and some audiences expressed disappointment in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. For me it was a fine ending to the trilogy.

With regards to movies, this summer was interesting for more than just the Threequels. For much of the history of the medium, the summer movie season lasted from Memorial Day to Labour Day. This changed in the late Nineties and early Naughts when blockbusters like Twister and Spider-Man were released earlier in May. It seems to me that the summer movie season then shifted to beginning in the month of May and lasting only until around July 4th. The bulk of Hollywood blockbusters would be released early in the summer, usually around May and June, with next to nothing being released after July 4th. This summer appears to have marked a shift back to something closer to the old summer movie season. The Simpsons Movie, Bourne Ultimatum, and Rush Hour 3 could rightfully be counted as Hollywood blockbusters, yet all three were released after July 4. And all three did very well at the box office. What is more, the late summer saw a "teen" comedy that appealed more to people in their thirties and forties. Superbad was one of the surprise hits of the summer. At any rate, the summer movie season of 2007 seemed much longer than any other summer movie season in the past few years and, in my humble opinion, could mark a shift back to something approaching the old summer movie season.

With regards to music, the big news of the year was the reunion of an old band. Plans were for Led Zeppelin to perform for a benefit for the Ahmet Ertegün education fund at the O2 in London on November 26, 2007. Jimmy Page fractured his finger, so on November 1 the show was postponed until December 10, 2007. When Led Zeppelin performed on December 10, it was to nearly universal accolades from critics. This certainly would not be true of the other old band which reunited in 2007. This year The Eagles released their first full album in 28 years. I don't know about critics, but talking to fellow fans and reading various reviews from fans on the Internet, it seems to me that Long Road Out of Eden was a universal disappointment. I must say I was disappointed in it.

Beyond reunions of both Led Zeppelin and The Eagles, I have to say it was an interesting year in music. Indeed, Radiohead not only produced what may be the best album of the year, but took a unique approach to its sales. The band initially released their seventh album, In Rainbows, as a digital download. What is more, fans could choose to pay whatever they wanted for the digital download of the new album, even nothing at all. On average, fans paid $10 for a digital download of In Rainbows. Outside of Radiohead, 2007 saw releases from some of rock music's best artists: Fountains of Wayne (Traffic and Weather), Good Charlotte (Good Morning Revival), Annie Lennox (Songs of Mass Destruction), Modest Mouse (We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank), The New Pornographers (Challengers), Ozzy Osbourne (Black Rain), Smashing Pumpkins (Zeitgeist, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (Magic), and Wilco (Sky Blue Sky). Even with an inordinate number of great albums released this year, the best news (besides the reunion of Led Zeppelin, of course) this year may have been the fact that rap music continued its terrific nosedive in sales for the third straight year.

With regards to television, the 2007-2008 fall season saw the broadcast networks debuting a greater number of genre shows in the wake of the success of Heroes. This season has seen the debut or will see the debut of genre shows such as Bionic Woman, Chuck, Journeyman, Moonlight, New Amsterdam, Pushing Daisies, and Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles. Sadly, most of these shows have not received particularly good ratings and, especially with the ongoing writers' strike, it is doubtful that many of them will survive. That having been said, the single best show numbers among these genre series: Pushing Daisies. Pushing Daisies had received a good deal of critical praise and has already won awards, with nominations for yet more. And while its ratings are not those of a smash hit, they are respectable. Pushing Daisies has consistently won its time slot. The 2007-2008 season has also seen the networks move farther away from police procedurals and reality shows. The trend towards talent competitions continued, with such new entries as Nashville, as has the game show cycle. Of course, for many the big news of the season is the return of Lost, coming back to ABC towards the end of January. Sadly, its already abbreviated season may be even more abbreviated.

Of course, the biggest news of the year in both television and movies has been the Writer's Guild of America strike. The writers' primary concerns in this strike are residuals from DVD sales and the Internet. The strike paralysed television in its early stages, shutting down production on the majority of TV series. The strike has now lasted long enough that it is affecting film production. Shooting on Angels and Demons, the prequel to The Da Vinci Code, has been postponed. Shantaram, Johnny Depp's next big project, has also been affected by the strike. So far it appears that little progress has been made with regards to the strike, as the studios and production companies continue to drag their heels in giving the writers what many of us see as being rightfully due them.

In literature the big news was the publication of the seventh and final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The book was plagued by leaks of some of its material to the Internet. Another problem was that some copies of the book actually shipped early, creating yet other problems. None of this affected the sales of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which broke sales records previously held by, well, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. This year also saw Michael Chabon tackling the detective genre with The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, while David Michaelis published a controversial biography of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz.

There were several notable deaths this year. Among the most notable passings were from the literary sphere. I rather suspect that the many media outlets might proclaim Norman Mailer as the biggest literary figure to die this year, and any other year that might well have been the case. But this year also saw the passing of Kurt Vonnegut, whom I think many believe to be the greatest writer of his generation (I know I do). The year saw other very big names in literature pass on: fantastist Lloyd Alexander, columnist and humorist Art Buchwald, thriller writer John Gardner, fantasist Madeleine L'Engle, genre writer Ira Levin, and novelist Peter Viertel.

Television also saw some notable passings. It was certainly not a good year to be a talk show host. Both Merv Griffin and Tom Snyder passed in 2007. The year also saw the passing of comedic actors Alice Ghostley, John Inman, Tom Poston, Charles Nelson Riley, and Dick Wilson (most famous as Mr. Whipple in the Charmin commercials). Two legendary television producers also died this year. Sidney Sheldon created and produced both The Patty Duke Show and I Dream of Jeannie. Dan Curtis created and produced Dark Shadows and several of the finest horror TV movies ever made. The year also saw the deaths of television writer Mel Tonkin, ABC movie critic Joel Siegel, and Mr Wizard himself, Don Herbert.

There were also several notable deaths in the field of movies. Actors such as Yvonne De Carlo, Laraine Day, Betty Hutton, Deborah Kerr, Michael Kidd, Lois Maxwell, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, and Jane Wyman all died this year. The year also saw the death of notable screenwriter Charles B. Griffith. Of course, perhaps the two biggest figures in cinema to die in 2007 died on the same day. On July 30 legendary directors Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni both passed. Directors Bob Clark and Delbert Mann also died this year.

The world of music also saw a number of passings. Beverly Sills was perhaps the first opera star the American public truly appreciated, seeming so approachable that one could hardly call her a "diva." Ike Turner wrote what may be the first rock song, but may sadly be better remembered for his rocky marriage to Tina Turner. With Jay Livingston, Ray Evans wrote songs that would become American pop standards: "Buttons and Bows," "Mona Lisa," "Que Sera, Sera," and "Silver Bells," among others. Livingston and Evans also wrote the theme songs for such classic TV shows as Bonanza and Mr. Ed. Other figures in the world of music to pass in 2007 were The Cyrkle founder Thomas Dawes, opera singer and game show personality Kitty Carlisle, former member of the Mamas and the Papas Denny Doherty, soft rock artist Dan Fogelberg, baritone and Broadway star Robert Goulet, and song stylist Frankie Laine.

Over all, 2007 has been a rather remarkable year. Not only did this summer perhaps boast more Threequels than any other summer before, but it may have marked another shift in the length of the summer movie season. Led Zeppelin reunited and Radiohead introduced a new means for major artists to sell their music. Television saw another cycle under full swing, one towards genre shows, while continuing two others (towards talent competitions and game shows). The writers' strike shut down both the television and motion picture industries. It has been a year quite unlike any other. It remains to be seen what 2008 will bring.


Jim Marquis said...

I couldn't agree more on the (hopeful) demise of rap music. Like Gregg Allman once said "rap is just crap without the c".

Squirrel said...

I loved John Inman!

Terence Towles Canote said...

I loved John Inman too. He was the best thing about Are You Being Served?!