Lucas, Spielberg usher in summer with sci-fi wars

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This summer means war between old buddies George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

Colleagues on the "Indiana Jones" franchise, the two will duke it out for the title of galactic overlord on the 2005 science fiction front, Lucas with the final installment of his "Star Wars" saga, Spielberg with his remake of "War of the Worlds" starring Tom Cruise.

"Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith" opens May 19, "War of the Worlds" June 29.

"At least we're six weeks apart, so we won't be competing against each other," Spielberg told The Associated Press.

Other big summer movies include Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell's "Bewitched," Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda's "Monster-in-Law," Adam Sandler's "The Longest Yard," Ice Cube's "XXX: State of the Union," Christian Bale's "Batman Begins," Johnny Depp's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven," Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger's "Cinderella Man," Cedric the Entertainer's "The Honeymooners," the cartoon tale "Madagascar" and the comic-book adaptation "Fantastic Four."

With "Revenge of the Sith," Lucas concludes the prequel trilogy to his original three "Star Wars" movies, explaining how hotshot pilot Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) turns into black-cloaked villain Darth Vader.

Lucas has cautioned fans for years that to connect with the original trilogy, "Episode III" necessarily would end in the darkest of places.

"It is a different 'Star Wars,'" Lucas told the AP. "It is a tragedy. It's a real tearjerker. All the women who have seen it, some of the men that have seen it, cried through it."

Sustaining terrible injuries in a duel with former mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), Anakin is rebuilt as the part-man, part-machine Darth. Being fitted for Vader's legendary costume thrilled Christensen.

"I don't know how to define the sensation," Christensen said about putting on the black robes and helmet. "It was exhilarating and empowering and just all things overwhelming."

The prequel trilogy has drawn scorn from fans who disliked seeing Anakin as a cuddly kid in "The Phantom Menace" and a lovestruck, petulant teen in "Attack of the Clones."

The payoff, though, is the harsh fate awaiting Anakin in "Revenge of the Sith," Christensen said.

"This film has all the right themes," he said. "It's Anakin becoming Vader, it's a republic becoming an empire. It's all very epic stuff, and the way in which it's told and how it ties into the original trilogy is done so perfectly."

While Lucas wages war in space, Spielberg rains destruction from above.

As George Pal did with his 1953 version, Spielberg updates H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" from 1890s Britain to the contemporary United States, partly because turbulent times today provide a relevant backdrop for terror from the skies, and partly for simple cosmetic reasons.

"I can't stand the costumes of 1898," Spielberg said. "There's just something about those high collars, those frou-frou gowns. It's not my style, I guess.

"I think also, we're living in a fearful atmosphere, fearful times, and every version of 'War of the Worlds' that has occurred either in literature, radio or film has occurred during fearful times."

Spielberg also jettisons Wells' premise that humanity's assailants come from Mars, noting that explorations of the red planet have shown that "if life is ever discovered on the surface of Mars, it will be microscopic life."

The film never reveals where the aliens come from. Spielberg figures their anonymity adds to the terror.

"It's just really scary to imagine being invaded, especially being invaded by not only an unknown race bent on our total annihilation, but with no context," Spielberg said. "They don't spend any time explaining why they're here. There's no, 'We needed to move here because our planet has become inhospitable. ...'

"We have absolutely no idea why they've come, why they're doing this to us."

Along with aliens, Hollywood's summer preoccupations include:

Domestic Mayhem

Jennifer Lopez fights for her man against his meddlesome mother (Jane Fonda) in "Monster-in-Law"; Cedric the Entertainer resurrects Jackie Gleason's lovable blowhard Ralph Kramden in a big-screen take on "The Honeymooners"; Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are in each other's crosshairs with "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," a tale of married assassins; Nicole Kidman puts the hex on Will Ferrell, playing a real, live witch cast to star opposite a prima donna actor in a movie version of the sitcom "Bewitched."

Kidman's preparation included a week in front of the mirror, practicing the nose wiggle "Bewitched" star Elizabeth Montgomery used to cast her spells.

"I sat with my mum and dad and would wiggle my nose and say to Mom, 'Is that anything like it?'" said Kidman, who also stars with Sean Penn in the U.N. thriller "The Interpreter." "So I certainly can do the nose wiggle, but nothing happens. I wish I could do it and magic would occur."

Sports

Adam Sandler's a disgraced pro quarterback who leads fellow prison inmates in a football grudge match against the guards in the remake "The Longest Yard"; Billy Bob Thornton plays an ex-ballplayer coaching an inept Little League team in the updated "The Bad News Bears"; Martin Lawrence is a college hoops coach demoted to running a junior-high team in "Rebound"; Heath Ledger and Emile Hirsch reinvent skateboarding with "Lords of Dogtown," about surfers who pioneered extreme styles in the 1970s; Will Ferrell squares off against his overbearing dad (Robert Duvall) as they coach rival soccer teams in "Kicking & Screaming."

"It is the 'Rocky' of youth-soccer movies," Ferrell wisecracked.

Action

Christian Bale is wealthy young Bruce Wayne in "Batman Begins," chronicling the caped crusader's formative crime-fighting years; Ice Cube takes over for Vin Diesel in the sequel "XXX: State of the Union," playing a take-no-prisoners agent tracking a renegade soldier (Willem Dafoe); "XXX" filmmaker Rob Cohen directs "Stealth," about ace fighter pilots (Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel and Jamie Foxx) chasing an intelligent drone plane gone AWOL; Jet Li stars as a human attack dog for his mobster "uncle" (Bob Hoskins) who's taken under the wing of a compassionate piano tuner (Morgan Freeman) in "Unleashed"; Keira Knightley mixes it up in "Domino," inspired by the real-life story of actor Laurence Harvey's daughter, who quit her modeling career to become a bounty hunter.

"It's one of those things you hear about and think, 'God, this is an absolutely insane story. It's so crazy it has to be true,'" Knightley said. "She's an amazing woman to turn her back on everything that certainly we in today's society would think she could want."

Comedy

Rob Schneider returns as "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo," crossing the Atlantic to satisfy his female clients; Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are "Wedding Crashers," pals who sneak into strangers' nuptials to score with women; Hilary Duff plays matchmaker for her mom (Heather Locklear) after creating the ideal, though fictional, suitor in "The Perfect Man"; Steve Carell is "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," an electronics-store clerk who has never gotten around to doing the deed.

"He isn't damaged in any way. He's not weird. He's just kind of fallen through the cracks," said Carell, who co-wrote the script with director Judd Apatow.

"He had opportunities, but they were opportunities that went wrong, and at some point he decided to pull back from it and not try anymore because it was too hard," said Carell, adding that his conversations about the movie inevitably hit on double entendres.

Family Flicks

Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith are mouthpieces for pampered zoo animals shipped back to the wild in the animated "Madagascar"; Lindsay Lohan revs up the Love Bug for "Herbie: Fully Loaded" as the Volkswagen Beetle enters the NASCAR circuit; "Spy Kids" creator Robert Rodriguez crafts a 3-D adventure about a boy whose superhero idols come to life in "The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl"; Ewan McGregor provides the voice of a plucky British pigeon that takes to the skies in the World War II animated tale "Valiant"; the son of the world's biggest superheroes (Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston) enrolls in "Sky High," where he must cope with freshman year and the disgrace of being groomed as a sidekick; Johnny Depp is Willy Wonka in the update "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," about the reclusive candyman who opens his factory to five lucky visitors.

"He's sort of gone underground for several years," director Tim Burton said of the enigmatic Willy. "He's not Mr. Social, not Mr. Touchy-Feely. We were thinking of people like Howard Hughes. Sort of the 'Citizen Kane' of candy."

Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Matt Damon and Heath Ledger are the "Brothers Grimm" in Terry Gilliam's tale of the sibling storytellers as they journey among witches, trolls and other mythical creatures; Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson star in Michael Bay's "The Island," about clones trying to escape their fate as spare parts for real humans; the "Fantastic Four" (Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis) leap to the big-screen in the comic-book adaptation about astronauts mutated into superheroes; Douglas Adams' "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" finally lands in movie theaters, with Martin Freeman as the earthling who catches a comic ride aboard an alien ship moments before the planet is destroyed.

Adams, who died in 2001 but shares screenwriting and executive producer credits, had long cherished the notion that his peculiar cosmic odyssey could make its way to the big screen.

"I think he would feel it's massive global vindication of a belief he held in the tips of his toes, that this could be as good a movie as it was a book," said executive producer Robbie Stamp, a friend and business partner of Adams.

Drama

Orlando Bloom stars in Ridley Scott's epic "Kingdom of Heaven," playing a blacksmith-turned-knight who defends Jerusalem during the Crusades; Russell Crowe reunites with "A Beautiful Mind" director Ron Howard for "Cinderella Man," about boxer Jim Braddock, a 10-1 underdog who rebounded from an unsuccessful early career and hard times during the Depression to beat Max Baer for the heavyweight championship in 1935.

"There's a line in the movie that came directly from Braddock when he was making his comeback," Howard said. "'I know what I'm fighting for now.' People asked, 'What's that?' And he said, 'Milk.' "That's because he had been on the bread line with his kids. His family was nearly destroyed before he made it back to the ring.

"Every once in a while life provides a kind of fairy tale, a living fairy tale for us to witness. And this is one of those stories. It's why Damon Runyon dubbed him the 'Cinderella Man.'"

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