Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered. That's how Hollywood left your local googaplex proprietor at ShoWest, the annual Las Vegas shindig where studios ply theater owners with celebs and chicken cordon bleu while hyping their upcoming movie slates.
Arriving at the four-day film convention, exhibitors were first and foremost bewitched by the prospect of lingering peeks at the year's most high-profile films, including Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, Eyes Wide Shut, Wild Wild West, and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Instead, they were left as much in the dark as a certain international man of mystery.
By far, the biggest come-on was Phantom Menace. Since details of Twentieth Century Fox's presentation were closely guarded, ShoWest attendees were convinced they'd be treated to more than a pedestrian glimpse of a Jedi. When the doors at Bally's Events Center didn't open as promised at 9:30 p.m., thousands grew antsy, angling for ways to box out line cutters. Once inside, theater owners endured a few words from Pepsi, trumpeting its Star Wars marketing partnership with Fox and Lucasfilm, and a rundown of the Fox films coming in the next four summers (of note: 2000's Steven Spielberg/Tom Cruise sci-fi thriller Minority Report and 2001's Planet of the Apes remake).
Finally, after the shaky debut of the newly assembled Las Vegas Philharmonic (!) performing the Star Wars theme with John Williams conducting, George Lucas appeared, looking like a frumpy Ewok, thanks to jowls and a beard. Greeted with a standing ovation, he told the jam-packed room, ''You're going to get to see the movie early.'' The entire room leaned forward. ''But not tonight.'' The entire room groaned. Announcing plans to open Phantom Menace Wednesday, May 19 (not May 21), the director introduced the new trailer that hit theaters March 12.
With the year's most titanic tease spoken for, Warner Bros. and New Line promoted Wild Wild West and Austin Powers, respectively, for the role of first runner-up. The trailers for both blew exhibitors away if only because the studios had the volume cranked to eardrum-rattling levels. (Organizers swore the sound was lower than in years past. Coincidentally, during the convention, movie chains announced plans to turn down the drum-piercing decibels of movie trailers.) Judging from the yuk-packed Powers clip, the sequel has catchphrases aplenty. Just don't ask Mike Myers which ones will take. ''I don't know,'' he says. ''It's not like I have a laboratory full of 17-year-olds with electrodes attached to their nipples and say a word and see how they respond.''
As titillating as these glimpses were, the quick-cut barrage of most studio reels bothered theater owners, who griped about the clips they saw at ShoWest. ''It's hard to tell from a 30- to 60-second spot what's going to be a hit,'' says Brad Wardlow, concessions director at Hollywood Theaters, Wichita, Kan. Chimed in one exec for a national theater operator: ''There's been a change in the way reels are cut. Everybody should go back to telling the story.''