UIP fishes for Italo aud

'Misson' heads up summer slate

ROME — While luring Italian moviegoers into theaters during the summer months has long remained a pipedream, the local arm of UIP this year will attempt to counter the warm-weather slump with a strong slate of releases led by the eagerly awaited “Mission: Impossible 2.”

With the ongoing expansion of Italy’s multiplex network and general upgrading of the country’s exhibition circuit, the traditional reason that most Italians give movies a wide berth during the summer — uncomfortable theaters without air-conditioning — no longer holds.

But despite these improvements and despite the economic realities that have forced more and more Italians to stay in the cities during July and August instead of staging their annual exodus to the beach, little has changed. Movie theaters up and down the peninsula have remained poorly patronized from late-May through mid-September, with many screens staying shuttered for much of that time.

Ripe for plucking?

Exhibitors and distributors alike each year have suggested that just one powerhouse blockbuster — a “Titanic,” “Godzilla” or “Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace,” for example — could significantly contribute to cure the nation’s allergy to popcorn during the hot months. But until now, no distrib has been willing to risk a plum title during the lean period.

With its summer lineup, UIP is the first to go out on a limb. The initiative represents a concrete attempt to transform the Italian market into a 12-month territory in the same way summer moviegoing habits have been changed in territories like Spain, Portugal, Greece and parts of Latin America.

“There are no more excuses for not taking this decisive step that will align our market with the rest of the world,” said Richard Borg, director general and CEO of United Intl. Pictures Italy, which releases product from Paramount, Universal, MGM and DreamWorks. “Exhibitors that are willing to take the risk this time will see results.”

“M:I2” opens nationally July 7 on around 400 prints, following its European premiere in the ancient Greek amphitheater of Sicilian resort town Taormina as one of the key events of the Taormina Film Festival. Both director John Woo and star Tom Cruise are expected to attend, promising a major media splash that should get the release off to a muscular start.

Summer crop

The UIP summer campaign gets under way in spring, however, with the May 19 release of Ridley Scott’s “Gladiators,” starring Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix. Other titles due out during the June-August stretch traditionally reserved for reissues or commercial no-hopers are “Return to Me,” with David Duchovny and Minnie Driver; “Life,” starring Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence; “Mystery Men,” with Geoffrey Rush; critical hit “Election”; Drew Barrymore starrer “The Best Men”; and Brendan Fraser in “Dudley Do Right.”

Wrapping up the summer package on Aug. 25 is “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas,” which will mirror the release pattern of UIP’s 1999 megahit, “The Mummy.”

Opening in late August preceded by preview engagements in beachtowns and resort locations, “The Mummy” bowed completely clear of competition and ahead of the annual wave of strong September releases. It cleaned up at the Italian box office and became the territory’s sixth-highest grosser that year.

“The revolution in the exhibition sector began some time back,” Borg explained. “But summer 2000 will be the first in which the Italian market has a sufficient infrastructure of multiplexes to guarantee, together with single screens, a distribution plan that covers most of the territory, also taking into account the population migration during the summer period.”

The announcement of UIP’s summer plans has been applauded by industry representatives from the production, exhibition and distribution sectors, with key multiplex operators promising 100% support.

But while Borg and national industry associations have launched a challenge to other distribs to intensify the audience incentive by opening more strong product during the summer, the release skeds of UIP’s rival companies from June through August remain light.

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