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The Phantom Menace
20 May 1999 :
Twenty two years after the release of the original film Star Wars, as the whole world knows, is about to hit our screens again in the form of The Phantom Menace, the fourth film in the Star Wars sequence, although it is chronologically the first part of the narrative.

The extraordinary hype which heralded the films impending release really took off with the trailer which caused a sensation in America. Upon its release in November last year, queues formed at cinemas all across the country, paid their $9, and then promptly left a few minutes after curtains up. Some had even camped out early in the morning to be sure of a seat. The two-minute trailer for The Phantom Menace was unsurprisingly being dubbed The World's Most Successful Trailer of all-time. Many industry insiders claim that the popularity the teaser resulted in a 1,147 per cent increase in ticket sales for the three films it played before, The Rugrats Movie, The Waterboy and Enemy Of The State.

In April, Americans begin queuing outside a Los Angeles cinema for the opening of the film which would not be premiered for another six weeks. Because of fears about the illicit fortunes to be made from the resale of tickets, the studio has refused to allow advance booking. A video camera relays the experiences of the movie-goer first in line to an Internet website 24 hours a day.

Inevitably the film is accompanied by a huge merchandising campaign. It is estimate that there have been $4.5 billion in retail sales of Star Wars merchandise since the first film was released 22 years ago which is four times as much as the first three films themselves made. Some movie goers who managed to gain a prize ticket to the preview screenings were heard to complained that the film was too geared for children, they must have obviously forgotten that they were children when they saw it first and fanatical collectors to not spend billions on children's toys, harassed parents though do anything for a bit of peace and quite.

The films have made George Lucas a billionaire through a deal which 20th Century Fox Execs are still kicking themselves for - Lucas took a directors fee for the first film provided he retained all rights to merchandising and sequels. Since few had any faith in the first film even having moderate success it seemed a painless deal, but of course history has proven otherwise. Lucas is paying all production costs out of his own pocket for The Phantom Menace and therefore will retain all profits, Twentieth Century Fox will get a cut only for distribution.

Lucas has another highly lucrative income source in Industrial Light & Magic the special effects company he set up to create the ground breaking special effects for the original series and has for the past two decades been the top effects house in Hollywood. Lucas's knowledge of the effects industry and eye for innovation has led to a large part of the Phantom Menace being shot digitally, and his production company Lucasfilm has confirmed that it would be deploying a new electronic camera system developed by Sony and Panavision on the two remaining Star Wars episodes. Sony's 24-frame progressive scan high-definition production system means that Lucas need never leave the digital environment until he is ready to make the final transfer to 35mm celluloid.

With the all the hype the major studios were well aware when they set up their schedules that "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace," was going to dominate international territories this summer as 20th Century Fox rolls the film out overseas following its North American launch this week. The film seems to be so powerful that it is reported to have tied up European theatres for eight to 12 weeks.

The ultimate test for the film will not be the critics or the fans but the kids, and they're a far more sophisticated audience in 1999 than they were in 1977, after all the height of video game technology back then was pong !.

The film launch's in Australia; Brazil on June 3, South Korea and Taiwan come on board later in June; and Mexico, Japan, the United Kingdom and Ireland see the film early in July. In August, Fox is sending "The Phantom Menace" to Germany and Spain. Italy and France get the film in the early Autumn.

Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace opens in Ireland on July 16.

As of this morning (20/5/99) Twentieth Century Fox is estimating grosses in the vicinity of $7.5 million for Wednesday night shows between 12:01 a.m. and 6 a.m. "Menace," which opened Wednesday on a total of 2,970 theaters, is on track to top the record single-day gross of $26.1 million, set by Universal's "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" in 1997



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