Contributed by: P Dodds

So soon the wait shall be over. The months (nay years) of hype will be at an end. The anticipation will be at an end. We can finally pack away our imaginary light sabres and go and see some proper ones. Yep, The Phantom Menace will blast onto our screens very soon and the legend will continue. George Lucas will obviously want the legend of his saga to continue. The studio will want the legend of the Star Wars money making franchise to continue. Even remote tribes in the depths of the Amazonian Rain Forest who are unaware of the existence of celluloid know that Star Wars means money.

Fine. No problem. These people want to make money as much as the rest of us. Art has been prostituted for money long before the idea of The Phantom Menace was ever conceived. What concerns me is the amount of third parties who are going to try and make money from the legend. Specifically the cinemas. We all know it is going to be bad. We all know that our screens were going to be blasted. What none of us can anticipate is how blasted we are going to be. To say nothing of the number of baddies blasted in the film. Already the “sneak” previews next Thursday have been advertised. I knew it was going to be bad. I didn’t expect it to be this bad: our local multiplexes are screening absolutely nothing else at all on that day. They are showing The Phantom Menace hourly from 10am until 3pm on all ten screens. That is 180 screenings in one day. Perhaps I am over-reacting but this does not bode well for the official release.

Or possibly not? Reports from the States show that the film is not having the longevity in the cinema that was perhaps hoped for. Equally I cannot really believe that once it goes on official release that it is going to dominate the programming of the multiplexes in such a complete and total way. But you can be sure that it is going to dominate it. I would not be surprised to see it showing on at least half of the screens. There is great comedy potential to be had from the ordering of tickets. I can visualise scenes reminiscent of Marge’s attempts to order a cup of coffee in Australia in the famous Simpsons’ episode. The barman translates her every request for coffee into beer…

Punter, grasping hard-earned cash: Two tickets for Notting Hill, please.

Eager assistant: “Certainly. Two for Phantom Menace.”

Punter: “No, no. Notting Hill, please.”

Assistant: “Phantom Menace?”

Punter: “Notttt-ting Hillllll.”

Assistant: “Phaaan-tom Meeeen-ace?”

And so on. Repeat until bored.

So, I hope this farce proves that it will not be all doom and gloom. Indeed, I will also be eagerly queuing to see the film. Not because I am overly bothered about seeing it, but simply because I don’t want to find myself ostracised from polite society. I remember a poor friend of mine who loathed football and had nothing to do with the last World Cup (notable for the rare presence of England). Alas, he found himself unable to communicate with anyone else in the country until the resonance of the team’s defeat had faded. I seek to avoid a similar fate with The Phantom Menace. But obviously I shall be trying hard to enjoy it. After all, one has one’s principles, and there is a lot to be said for cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

However, most of my problem lies with the attitude of the multiplexes to the phenomenon that is Star Wars. Companies open multiplexes in order to make money. It’s as simple as that, and I have no problem with this. However, few of us will deny that the making of films is an art-form. Indeed cinema is art: some of it is bad, some of it crass, some of it is pretentious, some of it is noble, some of it is great and, occasionally, sometimes it will genuinely change your life; our opinions on it vary and the motivation behind its creation vary just as much. But it is an art-form. I am confident that the multiplexes will be the first to condone this sentiment. They might be doing it for the more cynical reason of getting bums on seats, but the means justify the ends in this instance. What concerns me is that they appear to have lost sight of the fact that they have commitment to the art that is made to be shown in their hallowed screens, and that helps them become so rich. They have commitment to all films. Yes, I understand that they are going to want to show the films that are going to be bigger crowd pullers and show them as frequently as possible, but I argue that they still have a commitment to other films. Yes, I also understand that they are never going to be showing the latest Angelopoulos’ film, but there are plenty of other films that are going to suffer because of their rampant Star Wars profiteering. And even if I have no interest in going to see Notting Hill or The Mummy I will defend people’s right to go and see these kinds of film in preference to Star Wars.

The multiplexes are targeting a specific group of cinema-goers. They are essentially targeting the majority. Despite this rather vague definition it nevertheless follows that the films they are going to show are those that are going to appeal to the widest cross-section of the public. They can make more money this way. And they are going to want to show these films are much as possible. However, you will find me fighting my corner for the argument that we cannot completely subvert the art of film making to greed. I suppose what really annoys me with the contemptuous way in which the multiplexes are waving their profiteering flags. It has taken the phenomenon of Star Wars for me to have proof of what I have always suspected: that the forces behind the multiplex programming have absolutely no concern, interest, or passion in the art of film making in any shape or form. They are not even taking a passing interest in an art form that is so rewarding and valid. They want nothing more than our money, and they will do whatever they feel necessary to get it. I always knew that this was their primary concern but I had optimistically hoped that there might be some vague commitment to cinema lurking somewhere behind this. I think that The Phantom Menace is going to show us that there is the primary concern and none other. Perhaps this is naivety on my part. The loss of innocence is always such a traumatic rite of passage.

I suppose I could cynically argue that the contemptuous profiteering of the multiplexes is a microcosm of a cultural malaise that bites much deeper. But hey, I am rallying against the base forces of capitalism; the forces that made this country what it is. I am in danger of straying way off the celluloid path that I started out on. So I shall stop.

Can the multiplexes really be blamed for pursuing a goal that is becoming increasingly socially acceptable and desirable? Culturally we seem to celebrate and idolise the accumulation of wealth, so we should be saluting their flag waving. They cannot claim any responsibility for the cultural phenomenon that Star Wars has become so is it fair to blame them for cashing in on this? The answer to all these questions is a resounding and resonant no. My tiny, tiny, voice is just asking that they weren’t so obvious about it. Make yourselves rich, Mr. and Mrs. Multiplexes, but please have the decency to leave some of my dignity intact.