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UPDATE: Fox Release Again Touts 'Phantom Menace' Sales

26 Oct, 2001 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Star Wars: Episode One — The Phantom Menace has gotten another press release proclaiming it the “fastest-selling DVD of all time,” with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm maintaining consumers bought 65% of the Star Wars sequel’s initial shipment in the disc’s first week in stores.

In a previous press release issued last Friday, Fox and Lucasfilm had pegged first-day sales at $17 million.Neither release provided unit sales; however, in the second announcement Fox said The Phantom Menace had a greater “sales velocity” than The Mummy Returns, which sold 2 million units its first week in stores.In both releases, Fox makes it clear the sales counts are from traditional retail outlets only and exclude online or advance sales.The Phantom Menace was released on DVD Oct. 16.

The previous week, both Universal Studios Home Video and Buena Vista Home Entertainment issued press announcing “record” sales of their respective fourth-quarter DVD starters.Universal said consumers bought more than 2 million units of The Mummy Returns disc its first week in stores. A day later, Buena Vista claimed first-day sales of 1 million units for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — a figure Disney concedes includes advance orders as well as online sales.

Previously, analyst Tom Adams of Adams Media Research had said The Phantom Menace could become the fastest-selling DVD of all time.

John Thrasher, v.p. of video purchasing at Tower Records and Video, a 100-store audio-video combo chain based in West Sacramento, Calif., says his strongest fourth-quarter DVD sellers to date have been The Phantom Menace, The Mummy Returns and Snow White, in that order.

The weekend before The Phantom Menace DVD was released, more than 150 fans posted messages on the Home Theater Forum Web site, looking for advance copies in the hope that someone knew of a store that had broken street date.

“If anyone has found The Phantom Menace somewhere in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago, please, please, pretty please email me,” pleaded one poster.

Meanwhile, Web reviewers had the highest of praise for the two-disc set, which comes with more than six hours of special features, including the first-ever feature-length audio commentary from director George Lucas, a 66-minute “fly on the wall” documentary on the making of the film and seven deleted scenes.

“This is as good as it gets,” wrote Geoffrey Kleinman on the DVD Talk Web site. “At long last, after more than four years of waiting…the day many of us have hoped for is here,” wrote Bill Hunt on The Digital Bits.

The Phantom Menace grossed $431 million in U.S. theaters alone. It was released on videocassette in April 2000, but no DVD date was announced. Fans launched an Internet campaign to get director George Lucas to issue the film on DVD and Hunt, who helped organize the drive, says backers received “30,000 signatures in a month.”

Jim Ward, v.p. of marketing at Lucasfilm and executive producer of the Phantom Menace DVD, denies reports that blamed the delay on Lucas’ concerns that the DVD market wasn’t big enough at the time.

“It was never an issue of economics,” he says. “George wanted to put out the best possible product rather than just slap together a vanilla version. George supported the DVD platform from day one, but you have to understand, to do what we did on this DVD is not something you can do in two months.”

On the Phantom Menace DVD, Ward says, the film itself is “the jewel of the disc.” The sound and visuals are “reference quality,” he says.

“We involved THX in the process from the beginning and gave them unprecedented access,” Ward says. “They were involved in every step, when we were configuring it, authoring it, compressing it and replicating it.”

Ward is particularly proud of the deleted scenes, seven in all, totaling 20 minutes of footage.

“As you know, in any Star Wars film, you can’t just put a cut scene back in — it would just be a couple of actors against a blue screen” he says. “What George wanted to do was take scenes that have fallen out of the movie and were never finished, and then have artists and designers go in and finish the scenes. So that’s what we did.”

Ward is also proud of the “making-of” documentary, a 66-minute film called "The Beginning" that was “culled together from more than 600 hours of behind-the-scenes footage shot by documentarian Jon Shenk.”

“Jon lived this entire process of making Episode One for four years,” Ward says. “So at the end of the day, when it came time to release it, we decided to do something more cinema verite, fly on the wall, with no narrator and no talking heads.

“I’m tired of documentaries in which studio talking heads go on for 15 minutes about how they made a movie,” he adds. “That’s why we decided to do something different.”

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