Warner Bros, Universal preview summer films

In grand Hollywood style, George Lucas made a surprise visit to exhib confab ShoWest in Las Vegas on Thursday to sell theater owners on his upcoming animated feature “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” which Warner Bros. releases Aug. 15.

WB’s ShoWest presentation was emceed by Warners prexy-chief operating officer Alan Horn, who used part of his time to tell exhibitors that he didn’t have much additional information to offer in the way of New Line, other than to confirm that New Line would be downsized to a standalone label, or company, within the Warners fold.

From here on out, Warners will distribute all New Line films.

Lucas — flanked by six stormtroopers — was perfectly at ease in the large theater at the Paris Hotel that studios use to tout their product to theater owners attending ShoWest.

“I think it can live up to the live-action movies,” Lucas said before rolling a clip of “Clone Wars,” based on an animated series Lucas is producing for Warners sister cable net Cartoon Network.

By far, Warners’ presentation — coming on the final afternoon of ShoWest — was the most elaborate of the week, and included plugs by “Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale, as well as “Get Smart” director Peter Segal and stars Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway, and “Speed Racer” producer Joel Silver.

House edge

Still, when it came to built-in advantage, Sony’s “21″ and 20th Century Fox’s “What Happens in Vegas” had an edge when screening in their entirety — both films are set in Las Vegas, home of the annual exhib confab.

ShoWest has historically been a time for studios to tantalize theater owners with clips of their summer slates, although in recent years, there’s been more action on the casino floor than in the two theaters used by ShoWest.

This year, more of the studios were back, providing exhibitors with glimpse of what spring and summer will look like, at least to some degree. Both Warners and Universal did their pitching on Thursday.

WARNER BROS.

Studio received the most spirited applause for the footage of “Dark Knight,” Nolan’s sequel to “Batman Begins.” Nolan took time to say how grateful he was to have worked with Heath Ledger, who appears in “Dark Knight” as the Joker. The clip played Thursday showed a sequence with Ledger. Producer Joel Silver took the stage to give a lesson on the Wachowski brothers’ family tentpole “Speed Racer,” promising that the film will be as much of a breakthrough as the “Matrix” franchise. He also stressed that the film is rated PG. The clip of “Get Smart” drew plenty of laughs, a good thing considering it is opening on June 20, the same date as Paramount’s Mike Myers starrer “The Love Guru,” clips of which also played well earlier in the week at ShoWest. Just before Lucas took the stage, Warners also previewed sequel “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2.”

UNIVERSAL

Studio’s summer slate is brimming with testosterone, from Angelina Jolie-James McAvoy starrer “Wanted” to Edward Norton topliner “The Incredible Hulk” to “Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Audience members in the overflow theater were generally bullish on clips of all three movies, although the picture was a bit blurred, thanks to a technical glitch. U prexy of domestic marketing and distribution Adam Fogelson led the presentation, with his comments piped in to the second theater. U’s all-audience summer tentpole will be Brendan Fraser starrer “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” which relaunches the “Mummy” franchise after a long hiatus.

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