Movie Wars: The Cinema Summer Of 2002

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To correctly gauge the anticipation of "Star Wars: Episode II The Attack of the Clones," here's the guy you want to talk to.

He's seen every entry in the series several dozen times. He owns more than 500 pieces of "Star Wars" merchandising by his count, and about 10,000 by his father's count. And he named his cat Padme, the real name of the character Queen Amidala.

Meet part-time Payson resident and high-school movie critic Matthew Burkett, my 17-year-old son, who probably knows as much about writer/producer/director George Lucas' space yarns as Lucas himself.

And the first surprising thing he'll tell you about "Episode II," which opens at Sawmill Theatres May 16, is that the film's must-see quotient even among hard-core fans is lower than it's ever been.

"I'm looking forward to it, but the anticipation doesn't seem to be there, for me or any other 'Star Wars' fans," he said. "'Episode 1' (released two summers ago) disappointed a lot of people with some really horrible dialogue, characters that you didn't care about and, of course, the hugely despised JarJar Binks. But even though they're skeptical," Matthew said, "they're hoping 'Episode 2' will have a stronger connection in quality and storyline to the original trilogy."

That hope is sturdy enough that, despite his reservations, Matthew is still planning to stand in line for as many hours as it takes to snag a first-showing ticket. Why?

"It's 'Star Wars,'" he said matter-of-factly. "I grew up watching the original movies, and now it's sort of a tradition. Even when they aren't so good, it's a lot of fun to see the new ones and compare them to the other films in the series."

His anticipation is "very much" higher than it might otherwise have been, he added, because of a last-minute change of heart by Mr. Lucas.

"N'Sync is no longer in it," said Matthew, the editor-in-chief of The Viewpoint, the newspaper of Mesa's Mountain View High School. "I've heard that, while Lucas filmed them for some scenes, they've been cut. I'm very, very, very happy about that."

The whole summer-movie enchilada

The summer of 2001 reaped a record $2.95 billion for the studios and from the looks of it the summer of 2002 will be just as prosperous.

"I don't know if we'll be smashing records, but we're sure going to come close to it," predicted Brian Deveny, director of operations for the Sawmill Theatres, "You've got Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, 'Star Wars,' Spider-Man, 'Men in Black 2,' Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks. You've got all the biggies coming out this summer. It's going to be a heck of a summer."

As for the creme-de-la-summer, here are Deveny's picks for the top five must-see motion picture events, in order, scheduled for Sawmill over the next four months:

1. "Star Wars: Episode II: The Attack of the Clones" Ten years after "Episode I," Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor), Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) and Anakin Skywalker (newcomer Hayden Christensen) are once again thrown together to battle look-alike warriors. Opens May 16.

2. "Spider-Man" Nerdy Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is bitten by a radioactive spider, resulting in a genetic alteration that allows him to scale walls, shoot a web-like substance from his wrists, and take on the evil Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). Opens May 3.

3. "Men in Black 2" Agent J (Will Smith) needs help to rid the planet of some particularly nasty alien visitors. J must find Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), restore his memory and bring him back. Opens July 3.

4. "Scooby-Doo" In this live-action take on the popular Saturday-morning cartoon, the computer-animated Great Dane and his human pals (Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar) attempt to solve a mystery at a college resort. Opens June 14.

5. "Minority Report" Steven Spielberg's adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story is set in a futuristic world where the police can arrest killers before they commit their crimes. One accused cop (Tom Cruise) tries to stop his future crime before it happens. Opens June 28.

But wait! There's more!

Here's a sampling of other summer flicks also certain to appear on a Sawmill Theatres screen near you:

"Insomnia" (May 24) Sleep-deprived big city detective Al Pacino is sent to a small Alaskan town to investigate the murder of a teenage girl.

"The Bourne Identity" (May 31) Matt Damon is fished out of the Mediterranean sea, his body riddled with gunshot wounds and with no memory of the past.

"The Sum of All Fears" (May 31) After nuclear bombs are detonated in Europe and Baltimore on Super Bowl Sunday, CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Ben Affleck, assuming Harrison Ford's role) tries to stop World War III.

"Bad Company" (June 7) Spy flick starring the unlikely comedy team of Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock.

"Windtalkers" (June 14) Nicholas Cage's film about Native American "Code Talkers" during WWII was originally set to open last August, got bumped to the fall of 2001 and, after 9/11, got bumped again to this summer.

"Lilo & Stitch" (June 21) Disney's annual animated summer offering.

"The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course" (June 28) Starring that crazy croc-chasing Aussie Steve Irwin, this comedy is Deveny's pick for the summer's sleeper hit.

"The Road to Perdition" (July 12) Tom Hanks, working opposite Paul Newman, plays a gangster with a heart of gold. From "American Beauty" director Sam Mendes.

"K-19: The Widowmaker" (July 19) Harrison Ford-Liam Neeson actioner from director Kathryn Bigelow.

"Austin Powers 3: Goldmember" (July 26) Starring Mike Myers, Heather Graham. The snaggle-toothed international man of mystery tries to find his long lost parents.

"The Country Bears" (July 26) We've seen movies based on books, songs, TV shows and commercials. This Disney entry is the first to be based on an amusement park ride. More incredibly, the human star is ... Christopher Walken?

"Signs" (Aug. 2) Starring Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense"). A 500-foot array of circles and lines are found mysteriously carved into the crops of a family farm.

"Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams" (Aug. 7) Starring Antonio Banderas, Daryl Sabara, Alexa Vega. The adventures of super spy kids Juni and Carmen Cortez continue.

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