Dinosaur drama 'Jurassic Park' leads the thundering herd of big new summer releases

June 06, 1993|By Steven Rea | Steven Rea,Knight-Ridder News Service

In one corner there's a 74-foot-long brachiosaur.

In the other, a 75-foot-tall Schwarzenegger.

It's the battle of the bigfoots, and it's coming to a multiplex near you.

With Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park," the DNA-clone dino-fantasy adapted from Michael Crichton's best seller, and Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Last Action Hero," a slam-bang fantasy about a teen-ager who steps into a movie starring a pumped-up juggernaut (in one sequence, a giant inflatable Schwarzenegger literally looms over Times Square), the summer '93 has a pair of blockbusters on its hands.

At least that's what everybody thinks.

"I'm certain that those two will be among the top movies, if not the top movies, for summer," says Dick Cook, president of Disney's Buena Vista Pictures Distribution. "There will also probably be two or three others that no one is talking about that'll end up in the top grouping -- movies that come out of nowhere."

"Is there any way they can fail?" says Martin Grove, film analyst for the Hollywood Reporter, of "Jurassic" and "Hero." "They can fail like any other film, if word-of-mouth is disappointing, because that will kill any movie. But I think it's unlikely. I expect both to deliver."

And they'll need to. Universal Pictures -- which has been long on flops in recent years -- is pinning its hopes on the mega-special-effects "Jurassic Park," which cost $60 million to make and $20 million to $25 million more to print and market. That means that the Friday release -- which stars Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill and a herd of genetically engineered velociraptors and tyrannosaurs who run amok in a theme park -- needs to gross about $180 million to break even. ("Batman Returns," last summer's -- and last year's -- No. 1 hit, earned $163 million in domestic receipts.)

As for "Last Action Hero" -- which opens June 18 and teams Mr. Schwarzenegger with pubescent newcomer Austin O'Brien -- the $65 million adventure from director John McTiernan ("Die Hard") has had disappointing test screenings and last-minute reshoots. But that's happened before, and the films have gone on to earn quadrillions.

'Make plenty of money'

Columbia Pictures Chairman Mark Canton, admittedly not a disinterested party, promises a "Hero" with "surprises and special effects that have never been seen before." As Mr. Canton told the Wall Street Journal, "between international and domestic [revenues], we're going to make plenty of money."

Other folks are also likely to make plenty of money over the summer, a time when Hollywood typically earns 40 percent of its annual box office. More than 60 major studio releases are scheduled to hit theaters between now and Labor Day -- so many, in fact, that several contenders, including "Dave," "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story," "Sliver" and "Hot Shots! Part Deux" jumped the traditional Memorial Day weekend kick-off by as much as three weeks.

While every summer has producers and studio honchos agonizing over the glut, this year seems particularly bad. Variety estimates that there will be 33 percent more titles this season than in 1992.

"You'd have to be nuts not to be concerned," says Ivan Reitman, director and producer of the pre-summer hit "Dave," and of past summer smashes "Animal House," "Meatballs," "Stripes" and "Ghostbusters."

"You try to make sure that your pictures are positioned in the marketplace so that they have the best and longest life they possibly can," explains Mr. Cook of Buena Vista, which is releasing 10 titles -- more than any other studio.

"The marketplace in the summertime always expands to accept as many good movies as there are, and the ones that aren't so good will go by the wayside," he says. "But you know what? They'd go by the wayside anyway."

Most observers feel that the summer will yield three to five pictures that will do extremely well. Along with "Jurassic Park" and "Last Action Hero," the consensus is that Clint Eastwood's Secret Service drama "In the Line of Fire" (July 9), Sylvester Stallone's high-altitude "Cliffhanger" (which produced $20 million in ticket sales during the Memorial Day weekend) and the Tom Cruise legal thriller "The Firm" (June 30) have the best shot at hitting the magic $100 million mark.

Unlike previous years, where most summer blockbusters came affixed with Roman or Arabic numerals, this season's allotment of sequels is on the skimpy side. "Hot Shots! Part Deux" is the likeliest of the summer follow-ups to demonstrate staying power. The other '93 sequels: "Weekend at Bernie's 2" (July 9), "Stakeout 2" (July 30), "Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday" (Aug. 13) and "Son of the Pink Panther" (Aug. 20).

Alarming trend

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