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George Lucas may be the "King of the World" this summer, but plenty of other filmmakers are ready to tackle "The Phantom Menace."

The Heat is On

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Finally! It's here; it's opened; and, it's breaking box office records. But wait, "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace" isn't the only movie heading our way this summer. A mere six weeks or so after the latest from George Lucas, Will Smith takes to the screen as the coolest cowboy ever. Smith stars in the big bucks screen adaptation of the popular TV western "The Wild, Wild West" (July 2). Playing Artemis Gordon to Smith's James West is none other than Kevin Kline. Kenneth Branagh is the evil nemesis Dr. Loveless, and Salma Hayek, the comely damsel in distress.

Two weeks later comes the summer's other much-discussed and equally shrouded-in-mystery movie — the late Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut" (July 16). While "Phantom Menace" and "Wild, Wild West" battle it out for most expensive movie ever made, Kubrick's final film certainly earns the longest-movie-in-the-making title. Production on this graphic exploration of sexual obsession and submission by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman took more than two years. Perfectionist Kubrick even went so far as to recast and reshoot the movie with two new actors in the main supporting roles.

On a more sophomoric note, get ready for the feature-length "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" (June 18).

Speaking of sequels, Mike Myers returns as the snaggle-toothed spy in "Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me" (June 11).

The summer appears to be a Julia-Hugh kinda season. First up, Roberts and Grant co-star in the star-crossed romance "Notting Hill" (May 28). Here, she plays a famous star who falls for a quiet English bookstore owner. Will the crush of the prying paparazzi crush their budding romance? Then Grant goes solo in the romance "Mickey Blue Eyes" (Aug. 13). Here he plays an art dealer about to marry the woman of his dreams (Jeanne Tripplehorn) whose uncle (James Caan) happens to be a mob boss who'd like Grant's help in a little money-laundering. For her second at-bat this summer, Roberts reunites with "Pretty Woman" co-star Richard Gere in the remake of the 1930 Mary Astor movie of the same name, "The Runaway Bride" (July 30). Roberts plays a much-engaged young woman whose notorious penchant for leaving grooms at the altar attracts the attentions of newspaperman Gere.

Other romances for the big dating season include the remake of the very sexy "The Thomas Crown Affair" (June 18). This time out, Pierce Brosnan stars in the Steve McQueen role and Rene Russo tries to fill the role coolly fleshed out by Faye Dunaway.

The House of Disney has an interesting slate this summer. First come Academy Award-winners Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding Jr. in the anthropological/psychological thriller "Instinct" (June 4). Then it's time for the Mouse Factory's animated take on Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic "Tarzan" (June18).

Interestingly, Disney is also releasing the latest from Spike Lee. It's called "Summer of Sam" (July 30) and presents a look at the summer "The Son of Sam" serial killer held New York City hostage. Auteur Lee is currently re-editing the movie to garner it the Disney-required R-rating. Disney finishes up the season with a live-action retelling of the popular cartoon "Inspector Gadget" (July 23). Matthew Broderick stars as Gadget; Rupert Everett, his nemesis.

Spielberg and company at DreamWorks have a very quiet summer planned, with only one movie slated for release — "The Haunting" (July 23). Originally titled "The Haunting of Hill House," like the Shirley Jackson story on which it is based, this Gothic psychological thriller remakes the 1963 classic starring Julie Harris. Lili Taylor, Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones star.

Another horrific tale with terrific buzz is "The Blair Witch Project" (July 16). Hands down, the most-talked-about-entry at this year's Sundance Film Fest, "TBWP" is about three college students in Maryland who spend the night in woods with a history of strange disappearances and cult-related murders. "TBWP" has been described as the next step in the evolution of the horror genre.

If your summer viewing pleasure wouldn't be the same without a "Streepie Weepie," dry those tears. The grande dame of the multihankie movie will be hitting area theaters this summer with "50 Violins" (July 2). Streep stars as violin teacher Roberta Tsavaras in this true story of a woman who leads a group of Harlem musical students through all sorts of trials and tribulations culminating in their performance at Carnegie Hall. While it may sound a little too much like "Mr. Holland's Opus," consider this — the director is none other than "King of the Slashers," Wes Craven. Hmmm.

Even odder is the movie "Detroit Rock City" (Aug. 13). It's based upon the 30-year career of KISS. Yes, this flick details those makeup-wearing-rockers in the late '70s, their heyday when fans followed them instead of The Grateful Dead around the country.

All in all, I'd call this an intriguing summer

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