Yoda, Austin & Scooby-Doo

Above, <i>Goldmember</i>, reportedly George W. Bush’s most anticipated film; below, the thoroughly frightening <i>Scooby-Doo</i>.<p></p>

Above, Goldmember, reportedly George W. Bush’s most anticipated film; below, the thoroughly frightening Scooby-Doo.

It used to be that the summer movie season didn’t get underway until the end of May. This year, the blockbusters were rolled out early with The Scorpion King and Spider-Man already released. If this keeps up, future summer movie blockbuster battles will be backed up into the autumn of the year before.

Last year (actually, the last few years) have turned out to be duds, promising mountains of excitement but delivering mediocre movies like Planet of the Apes and Jurassic Park 3. Still, the latest dose of Star Wars and an already served helping of Spidey power may get things back on track and make this a summer to remember.

The Big Daddies: While its title is easily the worst of the series, early buzz pegs Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones as a return to greatness for writer-director George Lucas. Harry Knowles of the Ain’t It Cool News Web site managed to view a bootleg copy of the film last month, and the guy went nuts about it. The trailer reveals that Lucas has taken it up yet another notch with the CGI effects and has Yoda putting on his battle shoes for a nasty fight sequence.

Now I was a fan of Phantom Menace, although I consider it the worst of the series. But I’ll try to remain semi-pessimistic about Attack of the Clones until I’m sitting in my chair and that Star Wars title gets sucked back into space accompanied by John Williams’ booming soundtrack. Frankly, that film moment will be so cool the rest of the movie could be R2-D2 getting a lube job, and I’d still like the damn thing.

Steven Spielberg teams with Tom Cruise for Minority Report, a sci-fi story about a future society that convicts murderers before they commit their crimes. This will be Spielberg’s second sci-fi offering in two summers, after last year’s brilliant but under-appreciated AI: Artificial Intelligence.

Also, showing up on the potential blockbuster radar are the many flying, bad-assed dragons featured in Reign of Fire. This one stars Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale as inhabitants of a post-apocalyptic world where dragons are ruling the Earth and treating human beings very badly.

Comedies: While last summer was stacked with comedies, there aren’t many promising ones to be found on this year’s slate.

After a lot of legal squabbling, New Line finally got permission to title the latest Austin Powers film Austin Powers in Goldmember. Myers will reprise his roles as Powers, Fat Bastard and Doctor Evil, as well as playing the new title villain.

Adam Sandler stars with Winona Ryder in Mr. Deeds, a modern update of the Frank Capra classic Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (production on this film was apparently stalled when Ms. Ryder stole Mr. Sandler’s underwear and Tylenol).

Action/adventure: Harrison Ford will surely butcher a Russian accent in K-19: The Widowmaker, the film he decided to make for a $25 million dollar paycheck after stupidly walking away from the role eventually played by Michael Douglas in Traffic. Ford and Liam Neeson co-star as commanders of a Russian nuclear submarine that might go boom, supposedly based on a true Cold War story. Ben Affleck inherits Ford’s role of Jack Ryan in the Tom Clancy franchise’s The Sum of All Fears, a tale featuring yet another nuclear contraption with a major probability of going boom.

The long delayed John Woo WWII epic Windtalkers will hit theaters in July, with Nicolas Cage playing a soldier who runs around in slow-mo a lot with a huge swarm of doves hovering over his head.

Kids’ stuff: Some old-style animation is coming your way, including Disney’s Lilo & Stitch, Nickelodeon’s quasi-intellectual epic Hey Arnold: The Movie, The Powerpuff Girls, and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. There isn’t an all-CGI cartoon in the spirit of Shrek in sight. But Robert Rodriguez will try to capitalize on last year’s success with Spy Kids 2, sequel to one of the coolest family films in recent years.

Michael J. Fox will once again lend his voice to Stuart Little 2, featuring that Jonathan Lipnicki kid from Jerry Maguire who hasn’t aged a day since verbal sparring with Tom Cruise. Meanwhile, the presence of Freddie Prinze Jr. has me worried about Scooby-Doo, a live action movie based on a cartoon character I never liked in the first place.

Brain food: Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York was supposed to be the summer’s big drama epic, but that’s been pushed to December, which leaves American Beauty director Sam Mendes’ The Road to Perdition, starring Tom Hanks as a 1930s’ hit man, as the big one with Oscar written all over it.

Rupert Everett, Judi Dench and Reese Witherspoon will star in The Importance of Being Earnest, a big-screen adaptation of the Oscar Wilde classic. Oddly enough, there are no Shakespeare adaptations in sight. Clint Eastwood gives crime dramas another shot with Blood Work, directing and starring as an FBI agent on a tough case right after getting a heart transplant. The catch is, he’s chasing the murderer of the person whose heart he received in that transplant. Weird.

Other offerings include Full Frontal, director Steven Soderbergh’s supposed sequel to sex, lies and videotape (a movie I despised) starring Julia Roberts (she might get naked) and David Duchovny. Director Neil LaBute will bring you the romantic mystery Possession, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart, LaBute’s first film since Nurse Betty. Ellen Burstyn and Sandra Bullock play mother-daughter in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood with a packed cast that also features Maggie Smith and Ashley Judd.

Thrillers: Determined to inject some edge back into his rep, Robin Williams will portray his second and third psychos of the year (his first was in the lousy Death to Smoochy) with Insomnia (he plays a serial killer), co-starring Al Pacino, and One Hour Photo (he plays a stalker). Insomnia is directed by Memento’s Christopher Nolan and also features Hilary Swank.

Looking to occupy that Sixth Sense box office slot would be Signs, where writer-director M. Night Shyamalan will offer his fictional reasons for those mysterious crop circles. This one stars Mel Gibson in a movie he claims may be his last as an actor (he wants to retire to producing).

All in all, if this summer doesn’t do it for you, the fall/winter season promises a Lord of the Rings film, the next Bond film, Red Dragon (prequel to Silence of the Lambs), the next Harry Potter and Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, just to name a few.