Franchise factory's newest tall tales
Uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer just celebrated his best year ever, thanks to the total global domination of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.” That hugely successful summer sequel neatly illustrates how Bruckheimer has honed his Midas touch over the years, gradually eschewing more marginal projects (think “Coyote Ugly”) in favor of major tentpoles to emerge as one of Hollywood’s most consistently successful producers. Here’s an inside look at five upcoming Bruckheimer pics, accompanied by analysis to suggest why each could be a bigger Bruck-buster than the last.Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End Although the first “Pirates” was a surprise hit, its sequel swashbuckled straight into movie history, becoming just the third film ever to sail past the billion-dollar mark and breaking multiple box office records along the way (biggest opening-day gross, $55.8 million; biggest opening weekend, $135.6 million; fastest to reach $300 million…). In the third outing, Bruckheimer ups the ante, even bringing Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow inspiration Keith Richards onboard, as the crew sets sail for the Far East. Next port of call? Expect No. 4 — Depp says he’d “love” to keep making them. National Treasure 2 When 2004’s “National Treasure” grossed nearly $200 million, it took a lot of people by surprise with its infectious blend of history, adventure, thrills and laughs, all anchored by a major star, Nicolas Cage, obviously enjoying himself. Once again, the savvy Bruckheimer philosophy of “If it ain’t broke…” makes perfect sense for this Indiana Jones-style sequel, which reteams Cage and director Jon Turteltaub. In round two, Cage’s Benjamin Franklin Gates chases after some missing pages from Abraham Lincoln’s diary to help uncover the truth about the president’s assassination. G-Force “Babe” may have paved the way for smart talking porkers, but it’s “G-Force’s” team of genetically enhanced guinea pigs working as spies for the U.S. government who look likely to bring home the bacon in this live-action/CG family adventure. Combining good clean fun with comedy and cutting-edge effects, this project puts former vfx supervisor Hoyt Yeatman (“Crimson Tide”) in charge of directing. Finding new behind-the-camera talent (Yeatman also worked on “Con Air” and “The Rock” and came up with the original idea for “G-Force”) has always been part of the Bruckheimer equation. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Think a PG-13 “Arabian Nights” meets “The Lord of the Rings,” add a bit of time travel and a princess with attitude, then throw in a power-crazy villain for good measure. Result? A pleasing mix of jeopardy and adventure, suitable for kids of all ages. Based on the hugely popular “Prince of Persia” vidgame series that debuted back in ’89 (Ubisoft’s last three console titles sold 9.4 million units), this high-concept idea has all the makings of another “Pirates,” thanks to widespread awareness among devoted gamers. And the saga lends itself well to sequels, having spawned six installments and several spinoffs already. The Monstrous Memoirs of Mighty McFearless When Disney and Bruckheimer Films paid $1.5 million for rights to Ahmet Zappa’s kidlit manuscript a full year before publication, it was a calculated risk. After all, Harry Potter and the gang are getting a bit long in the tooth now, and “Lemony Snicket” wasn’t the runaway hit the studio expected. But the “Chronicles of Narnia” series proves the young-adult fantasy market is wide open for fresh heroes. And in Bruckheimer’s hands, this pic, about a monster-fighting brother and sister who must rescue their father, features just the right ingredients to kick off another monster franchise.