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7:05 p.m.-Pearl Harbor \($194.6 milAfter we make a quick run to IHOP for some non-theater grub, it’s back for the three-hourWWII blockbuster.The theater is nearly full, this time with adults, many of them older couples. This is a film that truly lives up to my wildest fears. It’s cynically made, devoid of a single real moment. Right from the start, the characters give speeches in place of dialogue, all in beautifully lit scenes. Every shot reeks of a multi-million dollar budget. Every conversation is a summary of points necessary to advance the narrative. Everything happens fast. And nothing feels like it means anything at all. The stars, Ben Affleck and Josh Harnett, were recently voted among People Magazine’s Top 50 Bachelors, and they live up to the billing. They look great. In fact, everyone looks great. I never dreamed being in the armed forces could be so glamorous. Plus all those available beautiful, willing nurses to date. In an air corps and nurse squad full of all babes, I was ready to enlist. The actual attack is done well. It’s great, looks real, and is real exciting. And it happens in the nick of time to get our minds off the real drama, where Kate Beckinsale, as the most comely of nurses, has to decide on which man to love, virtuous Ben or his mildly more fun best friend Josh. But nothing in this film hasn’t been flagged for us eons beforehand. Nothing takes time to develop. It’s all instantaneous. And director Michael Bay and his “writers” never let reality or history prevent them from presenting another false, potentially tear-jerking moment. Even FDR pulls himself up and stands! At the end our male models run off into what seems to be another movie Pearl Harbor-the-epic needs a victory. This one features Alec Baldwin, at his absolute worst as Captain Doolittle, he of the famous first raid on Japan. We drop a few bombs on Tokyo. The tragedy we’re expecting happens. And in one of the worst voiceovers I’ve ever heard, Nurse Kate tells us that “the times tried our soulsand through the trials, we overcome.” I’m ashamed to have paid to see this atrocity. I only hope I can save a single one of you from making the same mistake. At this point, I’m feeling pretty crazy. There’s a half-hour break before A.I. starts and I take advantage to get a quick look at two more of the hits. 10:10 p.m.-The Fast and the Furious \($137 million grossed in 6 is about drag racing. All the actors are young, ethnically diverse and totally non-distinctive. All the women have bare midriffs. All the cars are fast.Varoom! 10:25 p.m.-Swordfish \($68.9 million was enthusiastically recommended by the teenage attendant cleaning up after Pearl Harbor. The criminals do evil things. John Travolta is insane, at his post-Tarantino parody worst. Halle Berry is bare, though briefly. Now I know why the cleanup boy was smiling. 10:45 \($77.6 million We settle into the back row of a halffull theater of younger couples. I watch a preview for Legally Blonde for the sixth time and wonder why I can’t be seeing that instead. And then, suddenly, something I didn’t suspect happens. A real movie. The first thing that struck me was that I was watching a skillfully made film with real emotions, good acting, and affecting dialogue. Okay, the first few minutes of narration is silly, but I was watching the narrative unfold with no idea where it was going, the way it’s supposed to work. The premise actually held my interest. In a world of mounting environmental stress, there are fewer human beings and a growing need for laborand for love. Robots fulfill the first. The boy robot \(played well by Haley Joel Osment, who was so wonderful in is an experiment, grafting emotionin this case true loveonto a robot boy. This movie is by no means perfect. It’s a collaboration of sorts, as every human being who reads a newspaper or magazine must know by now, between the deceased Stanley Kubrick, who developed the story, and director Steven Spielberg. Kubrick’s detachment from human warmth is an odd mix with Spielberg’s inherent optimism. Spielberg is always sentimental. Kubrick was not. The various parts of the film don’t really fit. And Spielberg, as always, never stops when he’s ahead, adding a whole concluding sequence that isn’t needed at all. But without giving things away, the shot of the little boy robot, the Blue Angel, and the Ferris wheelthe scene that should have ended the filmis profoundly beautiful. After an entire day of films that didn’t make me think at all, I’m still thinking about it. Sixteen hours of films and not much to like. But are movies really worse today? My friend kept pointing out that most movies have always been terrible; we just get to see the best of the lot in revival theaters and on cable TV. And if you avoid the blockbusters, there’s plenty of interesting films to see this summer, like Memento, Sexy Beast, Startup. Corn, Lumumba, and others. They’re just not at the multiplex in Pflugerville. As I left the theater, totally exhausted and walking back to my car on wobbly legs, I kept thinking about the last line of A.I. David, the robot boy, is lying next to his mom and the voiceover says that he “closed his eyes and went to the place where dreams are born!” And I thought about the banal end of Kubrick’s last film, Eyes Wide Shut. And how much more appropriate this line was to end the career of the man who gave us Doctor Strangelove, Lolita, Paths of Glory, and 2001:A Space Odyssey. For that alone, on this lost Saturday, I gave thanks. Paul Stekler teaches at the University of Texas where he’s working on his own summer blockbuster film about the annual watermelon seed spitting contest in Luling, Texas. 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 8/17/01