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Sony stakes claim on summer ’06 slot

Studio selects May 19, 2006, for 'Da Vinci'

With the clock ticking on 2004, Sony is already staking out 2006 and declaring when summer will begin.

The studio has selected May 19, 2006, for the worldwide release of tentpole pic “The Da Vinci Code,” the adaptation of the phenomenally bestselling novel by Dan Brown.

Selecting release dates this far in advance is not atypical; indeed, most studios are beginning to sort out their 2006 summer. Nevertheless, Sony is one of the first to weigh in with a date more specific than simply a season.

The May date further reinforces the reality that Hollywood’s summer season starts well before the Fourth of July, historically the summer’s most coveted weekend.

“The Da Vinci Code” has spent 87 weeks at the top of the New York Times bestseller list since its release last year. Over 20 million copies of the book are in print worldwide, and it has been translated into 42 different languages.

Aware of that sprawling core fan base, the studio is, unsurprisingly, betting big.

“The Da Vinci Code” is the “cornerstone of our 2006 slate,” said Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group chair Amy Pascal.

In past years, that role has been played by Sony’s first two “Spider-Man” pics — movies that are more blatant popcorn fare than “Da Vinci,” which is about a 2,000-year-old secret allegedly hidden by the Catholic Church.

Besides its built-in fan base, “The Da Vinci Code” is lining up top talent. Tom Hanks is starring as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Daily Variety, Nov. 15); studio is working on finding a leading lady. The Oscar-winning “Beautiful Mind” team of director Ron Howard, producer Brian Grazer and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman are also reuniting for the film.

John Calley is producing.

“Da Vinci” marks Hanks’ third collaboration with Howard and Grazer. Thesp previously starred for Howard in the space drama “Apollo 13” and the comedy “Splash.”

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