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April 23, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Dating season
It seems it’s never too early to start jockeying for summer release dates — for the year 2000. In addition to DreamWorks’ Mel Gibson-voiced animated comedy Chicken Run on June 23, there’s Jerry Bruckheimer’s National Treasure, which Disney has tentatively declared for July 4. ”It’s like saying ‘Stay out of our way — if you go up against us it’s at your own peril,”’ says Exhibitor Relations president Paul Dergarabedian. And sometimes the filmmakers are the last to know; Twentieth Century Fox has already staked out June 30 for the Tom Cruise futuristic thriller Minority Report, but did the studio tell director Steven Spielberg? ”I read that date in the newspaper one day and thought, ‘Isn’t that interesting?”’ Spielberg says. ”Ultimately it will be my decision…but so far it looks possible.” Just as long as it hits theaters before Thanksgiving 2000 — that day’s already taken by Warner Bros.’ animated Will Smith flick Osmosis Jones.

Earth first
In the realm of vanity projects, John Travolta’s Battlefield Earth has always seemed more intriguing than most. Maybe that’s because the actor is planning to play a 10-foot-tall alien who enslaves Earth. More likely, it’s because the sci-fi epic, once reportedly housed at MGM and Twentieth Century Fox, is based on a novel by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology. According to Elie Samaha, chairman of the film’s production company, Franchise Pictures (which has a distribution deal with Warner Bros.), the $70-80 million movie will begin shooting in July. Meanwhile Travolta, who has put his planned biopic of crooner Jimmy Roselli on hold, has enlisted Saving Private Ryan‘s Barry Pepper to costar and tapped director Roger Christian, who honed his sci-fi chops as a second-unit director on Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace. Battlefield Earth, which Samaha describes as ”Independence Day meets Planet of the Apes,” is gunning for a summer 2000 release.

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