'South Park,' 'Battlefield,' 'Romeo' attempting to beat heat

ROME — Adding its commercial muscle to that of UIP Italia, which recently announced a strong summer lineup, the national division of Warner Bros. is also angling to beat Italy’s traditional warm-weather box office blues with three high-profile releases for the May-July period.

On May 12, Warners will open Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s animated “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.”

The appearance of the film on Italian screens looked uncertain for a time, with its release repeatedly postponed. But decent results in other Euro territories and the cult success of the TV series, which recently began airing on Mediaset’s youth-oriented Italia 1 web, have prompted Warners to mount a serious marketing push and a 70-100 print release.

Following on June 2 will be sci-fi actioner “Battlefield Earth,” starring John Travolta. Warners’ summer assault will continue July 21 with the martial arts-gangsta hit “Romeo Must Die,” headlining Jet Li. Both pics will go out on a minimum of 150 prints.

UIP Italia’s summer sked will be led by “Gladiator,” “Mission: Impossible 2” and “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas.”

Unlike the U.S., summer in Italy has long been synonymous with empty theaters as locals head for the beaches and distribs stockpile their strong titles for the September-Christmas stretch.

With the continued upgrading of Italy’s exhibition circuit and expansion of the national multiplex network, the lack of air conditioning that in the past kept Italians out of theaters from late May through September is no longer a factor.

If the risks taken this year by Warners and UIP pay off, other distribs are expected to follow suit with strong summer lineups next year.

“I’m convinced that the prolongation of the moviegoing season or a rationalization of the market could immediately raise annual theater admissions by 20%,” said Paolo Ferrari, president of Warner Bros. Italia.

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