Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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Charles Owens

April 23, 2014

The big screen will be extra busy this summer with a crowded slate

— — As of this writing, a lot of science fiction fans are getting excited about a little movie that apparently will start filming next month somewhere deep in the Abu Dhabi desert. Several media reports are suggesting that this faraway location could be subbing as the new Tatooine in director J.J. Abrams upcoming reboot/continuation of the popular “Star Wars” franchise.

With all of the Internet interest surrounding the still-untitled “Episode 7,” which is bringing original stars Harrison Ford, Mark Hammil, Carrie Fisher and others back to the big-screen space saga that made them famous 37 years ago, you would think that folks are forgetting that a number of other big summer movies are already playing or are now only weeks away from appearing on the big screen.

Take “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” as an example. It’s already broke box-office records for the month of April. And the month of May promises to bring us both “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and “Xmen: Days of Future Past,” among several other high-profile potential blockbusters that are coming to a theater near you.

Also doing quite well this year is a welcomed number of biblical-themed movies, including “Noah,” “Son of God,” “God’s Not Dead,” and now “Heaven is for Real.” It is good to see a movies with a moral message on the big screen. Later this year we will get “Exodus: God of Kings,” with Christian Bale taking on the role of Moses. But the more traditional popcorn flicks will continue in late June and early July with big names such as “Transformers: Age of Extinction” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

There are probably far too many movies coming out this spring and summer for one person to see — unless of course you go to the theater every weekend and see a different one each Saturday and Sunday. Given all that there is to choose from, I can see why some may be overlooking the current slate in anticipation of the first new “Star Wars” without the direct involvement of creator George Lucas.

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Back in the day, the summer movie schedule wasn’t quite as crowded. In fact, one could usually expect only one or two big summer blockbusters for the season.

My first big summer blockbuster experience came back in May of 1977 when the original “Star Wars”  was released locally at the old two-screen cinemas in Green Valley. Going to the movies back then was a big deal. You didn’t have an Internet to surf, and the local cable company in McDowell County only had 13 channels. High definition didn’t exist, and trying to pick up channel 6 with rabbit ears in McDowell County was much easier said than done. We were only analog back then, as the digital age was still many, many years away.

As was the case with J.J. Abrams, the big, space-fantasy adventure was an experience that would help shape my childhood and forge a love of all things science fiction. Living in McDowell County, we couldn’t travel to Bluefield every weekend to see every big movie — after all the drive was a good hour and back depending upon traffic on U.S. Route 52. And the summer blockbusters we see today were few and far between back then. Sometimes you would end up with only one big movie a summer, as was the case with “Star Wars.”

But getting out of the heat and into an air-conditioned theater is still kind of a summer tradition for a lot of families. And given all of the money “Captain America” has made in early April, some folks apparently cannot wait for the big summer blockbusters to begin.

If you can find the time and don’t mind wasting a lot of money on high ticket prices, there will be plenty to enjoy on the big screen this spring and summer. I, for one, look forward to seeing how Caesar and his army of super-intelligent primates end up taking over the world and enslaving the remnants of humanity in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” Will questions finally be answered, including how the Statue of Liberty ended up buried in a desolate wasteland at the end of the original 1968 classic with Charlton Heston? Did someone — maybe the apes — launch a nuke? And will Gwen Stacy really die, as she did at the hands of the Green Goblin in the classic 1973 comic book, in “The Amazing Spiderman 2” movie. These and other questions could soon be answered.

Yes, going to see summer blockbusters are a tradition for many families. That’s why it feels a little odd now when some of the bigger movies of the year — such as “Noah” and “Captain America” — are opening in March and April when it is still cold outside, instead of June and July when the heat is on.

Oh well, a good movie is still a fun way to waste two plus hours regardless of when it is released.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.

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