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Tentpoles turn as Spidey spins ’04 bow

Webslinger to face Will's 'Robot'; 'Van Helsing' fills void

The summer of 2004 is already becoming a tangled web for distribs hoping to set their tentpole release dates.

Although Tobey Maguire will remain in the red and blue tights, Sony’s “Spider-Man 2” has backpedaled from a May 7 release to July 2. That has to be disconcerting for 20th Century Fox, which has its Will Smith starrer “I, Robot” slated for that date.

Universal wasted no time and claimed the vacated “Spidey” date for its effects-laden horror pic “Van Helsing.”

The “Spidey” move stemmed from a delay in lensing the comicbook sequel, which was pushed from January to mid-April earlier this year. The production postponement traces not to Maguire’s infamously sore back but to his turn as the jockey atop “Seabiscuit.” That pic wrapped in February, a month after “Spider-Man 2” hoped to begin production.

“Seabiscuit” is a Universal pic, so U effectively got a bead on the likelihood of “Spidey” bolting his initial slot. Studio then moved with Seabiscuit speed to fill the vacancy.

“The July 4 holiday weekend is traditionally one of the most anticipated weekends of the box office year, and it’s going to be a great date to launch ‘Spider-Man 2,’ ” Sony marketing and distrib boss Jeff Blake said Wednesday.

U and Fox reps declined comment, though U execs are known to be thrilled about the sudden availability of the first weekend in May — a sesh that’s proved fortunate for two “Mummy” pics. The Mummy and several other classic U creatures also figure prominently in “Van Helsing,” so studio execs are crossing their fingers that the frame will prove thrice lucky.

The jockeying may seem unduly frantic for a summer sked still 14 months down the movie-release track. But that’s the nature of the distribution biz these days with tentpoles, which are routinely encumbered by elaborate promo considerations requiring ultra-early slotting.

Sony is working on a tight production sked for the Spidey sequel, as co-topliner Kirsten Dunst begins her next shoot — U’s “Wimbledon” — in June. So execs were recently relieved when Maguire decided his much-discussed sore back would be sufficiently healed.

There was no immediate indication of how much Maguire’s miracle back therapy has cost Sony.

(Dana Harris contributed to this report. )

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