Blockbusters return

EMMA LEE Get your popcorn ready – summer blockbuster season is officially under way. But, as EMMA LEE discovers, you might have a bit of a feeling of déjà vu.

EMMA LEE

Looking down the list of the blockbuster movies heading our way this summer, you won't find much that's unfamiliar to you.

Harry Potter is vacating his traditional Christmas release spot to try and cast a spell over school holiday audiences in July.

The latest film in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, is out on Friday the 13th - so the film's producers clearly aren't superstitious.

But it seems like others are.

Even the world's most famous cartoon family, the Simpsons, are giving it a wide berth, waiting until two weeks later to make their big screen debut - presumably so they don't have to compete for a share of the box office magic.

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Hollywood traditionally chooses to release 'event' movies - big-budget, special-effects laden films with wide appeal - in the late spring and summer, when people tend to take holidays and therefore have more leisure time, to increase their money-spinning potential.

Releasing a film then also gives the film a much longer 'shelf-life' in which it can recoup what money was spent on making it.

The trend was kick-started back in the 1970s by high-grossing films such as Steve Spielberg's Jaws and George Lucas's Star Wars.

Before that, Christmas tended to be the time when the 'big' films were released, and in recent years there has been more of a balance between the two.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong were released towards the end of the year - crucially at another time when people tend to be on holiday.

Now most 'blockbuster' films are supported by an advertising onslaught and merchandise tie-ins, which can encourage audiences to see a film, even if the critics aren't won over.

This summer, there's a slight variation on the theme emerging. Once a studio has struck gold with a film, it often tries to replicate or surpass that by releasing a sequel. More rarely, such as in the case of the Terminator, Die Hard, Indiana Jones, Batman and Star Wars franchises, an idea is stretched beyond two films.

But no less than five of the films destined for the multiplexes this summer are the third instalments of established franchises - dubbed the “three-quels”.

It started on Friday with Spider-Man 3, which is being followed later in the month by Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. In June, Shrek the Third and Ocean's 13 are slated for release. And in August, agent Jason Bourne gets his third big screen outing in The Bourne Ultimatum.

UEA senior film studies lecturer Peter Kramer points out sequels are not a new phenomenon, citing Mickey Rooney's Andy Hardy films and Abbott and Costello as examples.

“As far back as the 1910s, you've got sequels and more prominently from the 1930s,” he says. “Films that were using the same characters from the same universe. It's something that Hollywood has done for a long time, but some seasons it's more prominent with others.

“Films like Jaws 2 and The Empire Strikes Back proved that sequels have the potential to make as much, if not more, money than the original.”

Kramer adds that there is a difference between a sequel and a trilogy. While the Lord of the Rings has a pre-destined end, and the forthcoming Pirates of the Caribbean film is thought to be the conclusion of one story strand (although director Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp haven't ruled out more films in the future), some, like Spider-Man and Shrek could carry on indefinitely.

“You could see Spider-Man four or five,” he says. “I'm sure they don't know how it will end.”

Spider-Man 3

t Who's in it? Tobey Maguire dons his all-in-one lycra suit and Kirsten Dunst returns as his love interest Mary Jane.

t What's the story? Just as poor old Peter Parker has finally sorted out his love life and come to terms with his super-hero powers, some new villains turn up to spoil the party.

t When's it out? Now showing.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

t Who's in it? Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Jack Davenport, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Hollander.

t What happens? Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) and Will Turner (Bloom) join forces with back-from-the-dead Captain Barbossa (Rush) to sail off the map to save Captain Jack Sparrow.

t When's it out? It drops anchor on May 24.

Shrek the Third

t Who's in it? It features the vocal talents of Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas and Justin Timberlake.

t What happens? When King Harold falls ill, Shrek and Fiona must find an heir to the throne of Far Far Away.

t When's it out? June 29.

Release dates subject to change.

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