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Fox, Imax will send in ‘Clones’

Yoda & co. to run in large-screen format for 7 weeks

Twentieth Century Fox is cloning an Imax version of “Star Wars: Episode 2 — Attack of the Clones,” and execs predict mega-resolution visuals will stoke big interest when re-formatted prequel unspools in more than 70 giant-screen theaters Nov. 1.

“You couldn’t find a movie better suited to the Imax format,” Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder said Monday.

“Clones” thus becomes the second live action re-release to be skedded for Imax re-formatting since company unveiled a proprietary conversion process (Daily Variety, March 19). An Imax version of Universal/Imagine’s “Apollo 13” bows Sept. 20 in 22 locations.

Snyder plans to unspool “Clones” in about 50 Imax commercial venues in the U.S. and Canada, and another 20-30 Imax theaters based in science museums and other institutions.

Execs believe pic could add at least $20 million to pic’s current $300 million-plus domestic cume. There aren’t plans for distribbing the Imax version of “Clones” internationally.

But the domestic re-release effectively serves to hype impending release of “Clones” in homevid. Title hits homevid stores Nov. 12.

Mouse’s ‘Planet’ coming

Imax-format “Clones” is expected to run about seven weeks, skedded just after “Apollo” and before “The Lion King.” Mouse House has its own process for converting tooners into Imax format and plans to release its upcoming first-runner “Treasure Planet” simultaneously in conventional and giant-screen theaters in November.

Snyder said Fox is likely to do a simultaneous Imax release of one of its first-run live actioners eventually. But the frame-by-frame conversion process takes at least five weeks, so studio can’t commit too far in advance to any specific title until a conventional print is delivered.

Snyder wouldn’t speculate on any possible slate titles that might prove Imax-friendly. But early speculation elsewhere has February’s “Daredevil” as a likely candidate, and there’s talk that Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report” could become a second title from the Fox catalog to be converted into the Imax format.

Mainstream content

A second studio’s embrace of Imax’s conversion process is notable, as tech vendor has long searched for a way to deliver more mainstream Hollywood content to Imax-equipped theaters. Disney’s offering tooners for Imax distribbing for the past few years has repped a welcome addition to the usual assortment of Imax nature and science docus, but the holy grail has been Hollywood-quality live action features.

Now, it appears that push is finally paying off. Other studios are believed also interested in eventually joining Fox and U in converting live actioners to the Imax format, with Warner Bros. considering the possible simultaneous release of a first-run film in giant-screen theaters.

“They’ve been very interested in a couple of our movies, and we are interested as well,” Warners distrib topper Dan Fellman said.

But nothing’s imminent, Fellman added. And though sci-fi and other visually dense pics potentially benefit most from conversion to the high-res format, Warners definitely won’t be sending May-slotted “The Matrix Reloaded” into any Imax theaters, he said.

Lucasfilm marketing veep Jim Ward said the planned “Clones” re-release “will provide an entirely new way to experience the ‘Star Wars’ universe.”

Enhanced resolution

But the lure isn’t simply getting to see a bunch of rocket ships and aliens on a 100-foot-wide screen. Imax’s new proprietary conversion process allows studios for the first time to cheaply convert live-action motion pictures into a resolution vastly enhanced from conventional images.

Previously, films including Warner Bros.’ “The Matrix” and DreamWorks’ “The Gladiator” have been shown at a few Imax theaters. But those involved similarly blowing up images projected from a conventional 35mm negative.

The new Imax format has produced uniformly enthusiastic responses from press and execs attending demos of selected stock footage converted to Imax specs. And the re-release of 1995’s “Apollo 13” — which detailed heroic struggles of ill-fated moon mission’s heroic crew — would seem to neatly bridge both the educational origins of Imax exhibition and the format’s burgeoning commercial possibilities.

“We believe that ‘Apollo’ — as a piece of history — will play for 15 or 20 years in the Imax system,” Imagine Entertainment prexy Michael Rosenberg said.

Slow, steady return

For that reason, U and Imagine aren’t focused on big theater counts or early box office bang from the re-release but rather a slow-and-steady return on project’s multimillion investment, Rosenberg said.

Imax Filmed Entertainment prexy Greg Foster has been Toronto-based company’s point man in Hollywood for the pic-conversion campaign. A spokesman said meetings with execs at various major studios continue, but no other announcements are imminent.

For now, Imax co-CEOs Richard Gelfond and Brad Wechlster are understandably jazzed to be getting into the re-release biz with George Lucas’ Lucasfim and Fox.

“(T)hey share our vision to deliver the world’s best cinematic presentation,” execs said in a statement.

Imax stock got giddy over the news as well. Shares climbed 91¢, or 19%, to close at $5.74.

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