Pardon the Gene Roddenberry split infinitive, but the trick with most summer pictures, as the studios define them, is to boldly take audiences where audiences have been before, with just enough variation in the routing to make the trip interesting.
It’s why God invented sequels and franchises: to give us all deja vu, and make us pay for the experience. And like it.
Summer begins earlier each year, with the May 1 release of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” also known as Hugh Jackman’s workout video. A week later brings “Star Trek,” the early, hormonally addled years.
Here’s a quick game of 20 Questions, covering highlights (We hope! We always hope.) from the Summer of 2009. Dates subject to change.
1. Is it long and pointy, and does it shoot out of the top of my hand? Yes, it does, and in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” Hugh Jackman and his trucker sideburns take on Liev Schreiber’s Sabretooth and his sideburns. Opens May 1.
2. Is this the summer of prequels, or what? It is, yes, and the new “Star Trek” will introduce a new generation to some deeply beloved science fiction mythology. With luck the oldsters will go for director J.J. Abrams’ vision too. Opens May 8.
3. Will the Catholics like the new one better than “The Da Vinci Code”? Maaaaybe, but in “Angels & Demons,” Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard reteam for another one of Dan Brown’s paranoid symbol-laden thrillers, this one involving the Illuminati’s nefarious plans for the Vatican. Opens May 15.
4. How do you solve a problem like a cyborg? In the reboot of the “Terminator” franchise, “Terminator Salvation,” Christian Bale takes on an evil computer network and its metallic minions in post-apocalyptic 2018, under the direction of McG (who did the “Charlie’s Angels” films). Opens May 21.
5. What’s next, the Field Museum? Ben Stiller returns to guard duty in “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian,” co-starring Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart. Plus a special effect or two. Opens May 22.
6. How high is up? The new Disney/Pixar feature, “Up,” follows on the Pixar heels of two of my favorite films of the last two years, “Ratatouille” and “WALLE.” Can they do it again? This one opens the Cannes Film Festival on May 13, and opens near you May 29.
7. Is it stranger than the TV series? The big-screen version of “Land of the Lost” stars Will Ferrell as a scientist battling dinosaurs and the series’ signature lizardfolk, the Sleestaks. Anna Friel and Danny McBride co-star. Opens June 5.
8. Will it make Chicagoans long for a ride on the CTA? Director Tony Scott’s remake of the 1974 “Death Wish”-era thriller, “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3,” has John Travolta messing with Denzel Washington’s Manhattan subway system. Opens June 12.
9. Is it healthier than the diet soda I just bought at the concession counter? The documentary “Food, Inc.” questions what we put in our gullets, where it comes from, why some of it got past the FDA in the first place, and what we can do about it. Opens June 12.
10. Is it funnier than the Ringo Starr vehicle “Caveman”? In “Year One,” directed by Harold Ramis, Jack Black and Michael Cera play what Ramis describes as “the two worst hunter-gatherers” of the Stone Age, discovering for themselves a whole new world beyond what they’ve known. Opens June 19.
11. Can Music Box Films do it again? Chicago’s homegrown film distributor scored a big art-house success with last year’s “Tell No One”; their new acquisition, “Seraphine,” another French-language success, is based on the real-life relationship between outsider artist Sraphine Louis and art collector Wilhelm Uhde. Opens June 19.
12. Might this be a match made in sardonic ham-on-wry heaven? The new Woody Allen film “Whatever Works” stars Larry “Curb Your Enthusiasm” David as a misanthrope with, one hopes, the comic timing to bring out the best in Allen’s script. Opens June 19.
13. Is it louder than the first “Transformers”? I’M SORRY, WHAT? Director Michael Bay reunites with Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox for “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” which promises to be all, like, ka-BOOOOOM and “AAAAHHHH! LOOK OUT!” and deeply profitable. Opens June 24.
14. Will it do the gangster genre proud? “Public Enemies.” Dillinger. Hoover. Melvin Purvis. Biograph Theater. Bullets. Banks. Johnny Depp. Christian Bale. Marion Cotillard. Billy Crudup. Director Michael Mann. Opens July 1.
15. Will audiences turn out for an Iraq War movie that’s actually good? In director Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” we’re taken into the mind-set and the day-to-day, life-and-death routine of those who defuse improvised explosive devices for a living. I saw this last year at the Toronto Film Festival, and it’s the first Iraq-themed movie (not counting the odd home-front picture) to transcend the usual polemics and politics and concentrate, intently, on the human factor. Opens July 10.
16. Will the second-to-last be one of the best? “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” finally. Opens July 15.
17. Is it bigger than a breadbox? How about a whole fryer? In “Julie & Julia,” Meryl Streep, newly crowned queen of the summer blockbuster, thanks to “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Mamma Mia!,” stars as Julia Child, with Amy Adams as the young secretary devoted to her recipes. Opens Aug. 7.
18. Where were you in ’69? “Taking Woodstock” adapts Elliot Tiber’s comic novel for the screen, directed by Ang Lee, starring Comedy Central fixture Demetri Martin. Opens Aug. 14.
19. Will it erase memories of “Somewhere in Time”? Rachel McAdams stars in “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” the film version of the best seller about a man (Eric Bana) who can’t stay in one time zone and the woman (McAdams) who copes with the commuting issues. Opens Aug. 14.
20. Is the title spelled correctly? No, but it’s on purpose, because the original “Inglourious Basterds” rolled the same way. Quentin Tarantino wages World War II with a cadre of Jewish-American soldiers out for revenge. Brad Pitt stars. Opens Aug. 21.
(Distributed by MCT)