Warners revs 'Speed Racer' and welcomes Lucas back

Horn unveils studio's summer slate

Warner Bros. unleashed candy-colored, neon-bright footage from a supercharged "Speed Racer," promised an epic crime story in its latest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight," and welcomed George Lucas back to the studio after a nearly 40-year absence as it previewed its summer line-up at ShoWest on Thursday.

Alan Horn, Warner Bros. president and COO, presiding over the show-and-tell, drew applause from exhibitors when he announced "Warner Bros. is committed to theatrical distribution in the theaters, period," as he reviewed recent developments at the Burbank studio.

Acknowledging that Warners will take over distribution of the New Line slate, he said Time Warner's decision to fold New Line into Warners was so recent that "we're sort of figuring it out." He added, though, that "New Line will remain a freestanding company, with its own label and own set of films."

Producer Joel Silver was drafted to introduce a fast-paced four minutes and 10 seconds from "Speed Racer," the Wachowski Brothers' big-screen adaptation of the TV toon set for a May 9 release.

Silver explained that the Wachowskis took on the project because they wanted to make a PG-rated movie their nephews and nieces could see and also because they viewed it as a formal challenge, in which they proposed always keeping foreground, middle ground and background in focus.

The high-octance footage left the movie's three stars — Emile Hirsch, Matthew Fox and Christina Ricci, who were then called to the stage at Paris Hotel's Theatre des Artists — repeating virtually the same words. Each admitted to being "blown away."

Christopher Nolan took on the task of speaking on behalf of "The Dark Knight," which, he said, would continue "the epic tale" begun in his "Batman Begins" by telling "a really epic crime story" when it is released July 18.

He illustrated his point by showing the movie's opening bank heist sequence that has already played in theaters. Shot with Imax cameras, it was presented in a 35mm version.

The sequence introduces audiences to Heath Ledger as the Joker. And after calling the movie's other leads, Christian Bale and Maggie Gyllenhaal to the stage, Nolan paid tribute to Ledger, saying, though saddened by the late actor's absence, "It's a great performance. … I'm very proud to have been able to work with him."

Turning to lighter fare, Warners also previewed a sequence from its spy spoof "Get Smart," starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway. Director Peter Segal credited Mel Brooks and Buck Henry for creating the original TV show on which the film, which arrives June 20, is based. "Almost 50 years later, our movie adaptation stands in the shadow of that great series, trying just not to completely suck," he deadpanned.

The studio, which is in a recycling mode this summer, will launch the girls-night-out-movie "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2" on Aug. 8.

Sanaa Hamri, who has taken over direction of the film, which reteams America Ferrera, Alexis Bledel, Amber Tamblyn and Blake Lively, explained that the new installment takes up three years after the first ended. "The girls are a little older, a little wilder," she said.

Before the program was completed, Horn welcomed Lucas back to Warners, where he directed his first feature, "THX 1138" in 1971.

Accompanied by a phalanx of "Star Wars" storm troopers — "I never go anywhere without my army," he quipped — Lucas introduced the animated "The Clone Wars," which fills in the events in that long-ago, far-away galaxy between Episodes Two and Three of the "Star Wars" saga.

Although the film, set for Aug. 18, began as a TV series, Lucas said he decided it really belonged on the big screen since it contains "a little bit of anime, a lot of action and it's exactly like the features, only more stylized."

Horn also used the occasion to confirm to the exhibitors that Warners has decided to fashion two films out of J.K. Rowling's final book "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." "We wanted to do the right thing for this final, final episode," he said.

Horn also recognized Jeff Robinov, who's stepped into his new post as president of the Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group. "It's his vision that will be driving our motion picture slate as we go forward," Horn said.